Species group: Cobras and other Elapids
Scientific name: Ophiophagus hannah
It’s difficult for reptile fans not to be drawn to this largest of the world’s venomous snakes, which also seems to evince learning abilities not possessed by other species. But with highly-toxic venom in amounts that could, theoretically, kill a small elephant after a single bite, this snake obviously has no place in private collections – in fact, zoo staffs give much thought before acquiring one!
The huge range extends from Northern India to southeastern China and south through Southeast Asia and Indonesia to western Malaysia and the Philippines.
The King Cobra occupies a variety of habitats, including rainforest, dry forest, open scrubland, overgrown fields, mangrove swamps and agricultural areas.
Appearance / health:
Adults reach 3.6-4.5 meters (12-15 ft) in length but may exceed 5.4 meters (18 ft). Color and pattern varies greatly and may be uniform yellowish-olive, olive banded with yellow or dark brown/black banded with white or yellow.
Zoo specimens have reached age 22, but are considered prone to stress-related disorders due to their intense reactions to the disturbances involved in captive care.
Behavior / temperament:
King Cobras are alert, active, and strike with amazing speed. Their agility renders handling with snake hooks especially difficult and dangerous.
It is impossible for a private snake owner to adequately prepare for or treat a venomous snakebite, or, prior to a bite, to arrange for treatment in a hospital.
Wild King Cobras feed almost exclusively upon other snakes, although lizards are occasionally taken (the Greek-derived genus name means “snake-eater”). Mice and rats that have been “scented” with a snake are the standard zoo diet. Some individuals eventually accept rodents without the need for snake-scent stimulation.
Written by Frank Indiviglio
incredibly beautiful animals, amazing snake species
bad eaters, line apex predator, live food, venomous snake species, snake venom
venom labs, serpent digestion, fast.Typically live food, King Cobra Sanctuary
King Cobra, a venomous snake species to avoid.
These are incredibly beautiful animals and fascinating to watch, as long as there is a thick plate of glass between you and them. Now that I have said some nice things, it goes downhill from here.
Your really, really have to be an expert to raise these and unless you work in a zoo or collect snake venom then there is ABSOLUTELY NO REASON you should get one. King cobras are extremely aggressive and they are killers. Their natural instinct in the main is to strike first and ask questions later. There are more venomous snakes out there, but not many that are more aggressive.
They also grow to be come huge. If you have ever seen a king cobra rear up so that it is taller than you as it prepares to strike, then this is something that you will never, ever forget and it will give you nightmares for years to come.
I got involved with snakes because I worked in haematology (the study of blood) and certain species of snakes have constituents in their venom that both inhibit and promote the normal clotting of blood.
Members of the cobra clan contain neurotoxins in the main, but they also have tiny little proteins in their venom that interfere with a huge range of biological processes. I worked on the venom of these snakes with herpetologists both in the UK and also in Thailand.
In Thailand things were much more hands-on and I had to learn how to handle, to feed, to capture and to milk the snakes. The kings they had there were truly huge and it was a three person job to catch them, and they are lightning fast.
Typically live food was introduced to their pen and they were captured when they began to eat. They were caged to allow the venom to re-accumulate, were re-captured and were then milked.
Of the various snake species I have dealt with, this is the only one I would truly count as being 'smart'. They remember you and if you have manhandled them they recall it and become aggressive when you come anywhere near them.
Venomous snakes only like eating live food and that can be small mammals, reptiles and other snakes. In fact, serpent digestion is rather slow so it's always a toss up as to whether the snake digests their food before it rots inside them or not. Venom helps prevent the rotting of the food they eat, making it safer to ingest.
Fascinating creatures, but I am very glad that my snake-handling days are over. Never, ever, even consider one of these as a pet..
From DLlE Sep 17 2012 11:37AM
Advice From a Zookeeper - "Never"!
I’ve had many close calls with dangerous creatures during my many years as a zookeeper and field researcher, but only being chased by a Kodiak bear ranks up there with the threat I felt when faced with an escaped king cobra. This largest of the world’s venomous snakes is even more alert, fast-moving, and high strung than are its irascible relatives. Although they are fascinating, king cobras are suitable for display in zoos only (and only the best-run of them!), and should never be kept in private collections. People who are genuinely interested in working with venomous snakes are best-advised to seek careers as herpetologists or professional zookeepers.
The king cobra’s venom is quite complex. Neurotoxins, which affect the nervous system by causing respiratory failure and cardiac arrest, predominate. However, all Elapid venoms have hemotoxic components as well, along with the enzyme Hyaluronidase, which speeds venom diffusion. It is one of the few snakes that, rather than trying a retreat, may attack and pursue a threatening person. At a 12-18 foot long adult is said to be capable of killing a small elephant with a single bite –this may not have been proven, but you get the point! Surely, you can find a more suitable, and equally interesting, species to keep!.
From findiviglio Jan 11 2016 5:08PM
King Cobra: Certainly Not Charming
Owning a King Cobra was quite the experience. As a young person, I have always had a fear of snakes, but as a child I was always around them. Hailing from India and Southeast Asia, King Cobras are one of the deadliest snakes in the world. Venomous, they can kill a man in thirty minutes or less. These snakes can grow to be quite large, growing up to be 18 feet long at its largest. King Cobras sometimes will strike unprovoked. This is yet another reason why they should not be kept as pets. All snakes are cold-blooded. This means that they can’t warm themselves up from the inside of their bodies. They need an external source of warmth. Normally, this external source is the sun. However, having owned one as a pet, the external source of warmth was a row of heat lamps.
In the wild, King Cobras lived in trees, under rocks, and abandoned burrows. When my family owned a King Cobra, its habitat was a large tank measured by gallons. Basically, it was a tank without water that consisted of fake branches and multiple heat lamps to keep the creature warm. Often times, I would not go near the cobra out fear that it would strike. Every time the cobra ate, it seemed like it would put on a show. A diet for a King Cobra consists of mainly snakes. I believe the cobra felt intimidated by my father who annoyed it first by dangling its food above its enclosure, before presenting the cobra with its meals. As the daughter of someone who owned this animal, a piece of advice: Don’t. Every time a person would walk past its enclosure, it would become easily irritated. Kids that came into the exotic animal shop were deathly afraid and would run past it quickly in fear. These snakes sense fear. When they feel threatened, they straighten up, opening a hood which flares out on both sides of their neck, making it appear twice its size. In addition, they will let out a loud growl-like hiss before they decide to strike. Not a family friendly pet, folks. Nothing cute and cuddly about a King Cobra..
From stmsnyder1 Nov 23 2015 4:13PM