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King cobra

Scientific name: Ophiophagus hannah

CLASS: Reptilia
ORDER: Serpentes
FAMILY: Elapidae

STATISTICS: Weight: 6-8 lbs.; Length: 13-17 ft.


The king cobra has a head that is flat on top, with small black eyes located in the front. Large folds of loose skin hang on either side of its neck. These folds expand when the king cobra becomes scared or disturbed, and the ribs in the neck flatten out. This creates the look of the characteristic “hood.” Although king cobras are seen in a variety of colors, this hood has no markings or patterns. The dorsal coloring is dependant on where the king cobra lives, and can be yellow, green, black, brown, or may have yellow and white patterns known as “chevrons.” The underbelly is typically a creamy beige color.

Southeast Asia, India, southern China, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines.

The king cobra is able to adapt to a wide variety of habitats including rainforests, savannas, bamboo thickets, and mangrove swamps.

The king cobra’s ability to adapt to a wide variety of habitats is due in part to its prowess as a hunter. The king cobra is also an excellent swimmer, and is therefore able to make its home near mangrove swamps and streams.
Although it lacks external ears, the king cobra can feel the sound vibrations that travel through its skin to the jaw bone (a common characteristic of all snakes). The vibrations next carry on to the quadrate bone, which is next to the ear bone, and from there they continue into the inner eardrum. The king cobra is able to taste and smell with its forked tongue, and has eyesight that allows it to see up to 330 feet away.
The king cobra is the longest venomous snake in the world. Its venom is not the most deadly of the venomous snakes, but it can deliver up to two-tenths of an ounce of venom in a single bite. That is enough to kill 20 people, or even an elephant. The venom is a neurotoxin that attacks the nerve cells. Paralysis usually occurs quickly in its prey.

The king cobra is oviparous (egg laying), and lays as many as 70 eggs at a time. This large group of eggs is called a “clutch.” While some snakes coil around their eggs to regulate temperature, it is evidenced that the only reason the king cobra does this is strictly for guarding purposes. Although both the male and female remain near the eggs until they hatch, only one at a time will remain tightly coiled around the eggs. Besides coiling around the eggs, the king cobra constructs its nest by using its coils to gather a pile of dead vegetation.


Prey to man
Predator to other snakes

Other snakes, particularly kraits and other cobras.

Unclassified by CITES and IUCN. It has always had a low population density, and now due to habitat destruction is becoming even rarer. This habitat destruction is causing the king cobra to encroach onto human development sites where it is usually killed on the spot.


  • The king cobra is not actually a cobra, and is therefore placed in a separate species. It is in fact the only species in its genus.
  • It is longer than a real cobra, and does not have a marking on its hood. The king cobra can raise one-third of its body length when attacking or threatened, and can chase its prey for some time in this upright position. When the snake is in this position, it can reach a vertical height of up to six feet.


  1. Mattison, Christopher. The Encyclopedia of Snakes. Blandford Press, London,1995
  2. “King Cobra.” National Geographic Animals. National Geographic. July 2008.
  3. Caldwell, J.P., Vitt, L.J., & Zug, G.R. (2001). Herpetology: An Introductory Biology of Amphibians and Reptiles. San Diego: Academic Press
  4. “King Cobra.” CITES Species Data Base. CITES. July 2008. 


Published: October 2008

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