What is a King Cobra?

S. Ashraf
S. Ashraf

The king cobra, or Ophiophagus hannah, is the world's longest poisonous land snake. Its length averages 12-13 feet (3.6-4 m), although individual snakes have been found that are as long as 18.5 feet (about 5.7 m). King cobras are slender snakes and typically do not weigh more than 45 pounds (about 20 kg). The male king cobra is longer and weighs more than the female, which is unusual in snakes. This snake will live about 20 years in the wild.

King cobras vary in color, depending on where they live. These snakes might be black, brown, green, tan or yellow and have either white or yellow bands around their bodies. The color of their bellies ranges from a solid cream to an off-white shade with dark bars. Scientists have noted that king cobras living in dark forests tend to be a darker color than those living in grasslands or more open woodlands. Its most distinctive physical feature is the hood on its head, which flares when cervical ribs along its neck are extended and cause loose skin to spread.

Geographically, the king cobra is found throughout much of Southeast Asia. It also is found in the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia as well as in India and the southern part of China. Although it lives on land, the king cobra is a good swimmer, and it likes to be in areas with streams and lakes. King cobras are at home in woodlands, bamboo thickets, grasslands, swamps and rain forests. In more mountainous regions, they might be encountered at altitudes as high as 6,500 feet (1,981 m).

The king cobra is carnivorous, with the majority of its diet being other snakes, such as the Asian rat snake, which is its favorite food. It prefers snakes of the non-poisonous variety, but it will eat other poisonous snakes, such as kraits, and even other cobras, including its own species. When it has difficulty finding other snakes to eat, the king cobra will eat rodents, birds, lizards and other small vertebrates. King cobras have excellent senses of smell and sight, and they can identify prey as far away as 300 feet (100 m).

Breeding season is from about January to April. The king cobra is the only snake that constructs a nest for its eggs. Females build nests from vegetation which, as it decays, serves to warm and incubate the eggs. The female lays 20-60 eggs, then stays and guards the nest. Eggs hatch after 60-80 days, and the young snakes are immediately independent.

Discussion Comments


@Lostnfound: I saw that show! Yowzers, but that was a long snake! Don't want to mess with anything like that! Seems like I saw something on National Geographic about them that said while bites are serious, they really aren't that common because these snakes are not usually that aggressive.


Of course, Rudyard Kipling mentions king cobras in his story, "Rikki Tikki Tavi," but I think he was talking about common cobras since the ones in his story were about five feet long.

I saw a Jeff Corwin show several years ago and he was on a tea plantation in India. The ladies harvesting the tea were refusing to go out because one of them saw a king cobra under a tea plant.

They caught it by getting a long sack and kind of running it out from the cover and held the sack open. The snake thought it was a hole and zipped into the sack -- caught! The ladies went back to work and the snake hunters released the animal well away from people. I think they said that one was about 10 feet long.

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