King cobras are fascinating animals, and there are all sorts of interesting facts you can learn about them. The list below has 45 unbelievable fun facts that you won’t find anywhere else.
Table of Contents:
- 1 1) Why Are They Called King Cobras?
- 2 2) They Aren’t Actually Cobras
- 3 3) King Cobras Go by Other Names
- 4 4) Habitat Facts
- 5 5) How Can You Spot a King Cobra?
- 6 6) King Cobras Are Longer Than You Think
- 7 7) The Longest Ever Cobra Was a Captive
- 8 8) Males Are Bigger Than Females
- 9 9) They’re a Threatened Species
- 10 10) Humans Are Their Main Predator
- 11 11) They Eat Whatever They Can Find
- 12 12) Nowhere is Safe
- 13 13) King Cobras are Incredibly Venomous
- 14 14) Just How Venomous?
- 15 15) Their Teeth Are Quite Short
- 16 16) Don’t Treat the Bite
- 17 17) What Does Their Venom Do?
- 18 18) Morphine Isn’t Enough
- 19 19) Synthetic Cobra Venom is a Painkiller
- 20 20) People Believe In ‘Cobra Pearls’
- 21 21) They’re a Little Like Pitbulls
- 22 22) Do King Cobras Hunt Humans?
- 23 23) They Will Hunt for Prey
- 24 24) King Cobras Have Sharpened Senses
- 25 25) They Strike from a Distance
- 26 26) They Don’t Wait Until You’re Dead to Eat You
- 27 27) King Cobras Get Duller as They Get Older
- 28 28) King Cobras are Deadly from Day One
- 29 29) Very Maternal Snake
- 30 30) King Cobras Build Massive Nests for Their Eggs
- 31 31) Why Does the Female Leave?
- 32 32) Wild Boars and Mongooses Try to Steal Their Eggs
- 33 33) Mongooses Are Their Worst Enemy
- 34 34) They Don’t Hiss, They Growl
- 35 35) They Use Ribs to Make Their Hood
- 36 36) They’ll Wrestle for Dominance
- 37 37) How do King Cobras Mate?
- 38 38) Mating Takes a Long Time
- 39 39) Don’t Eat Each Other
- 40 40) Cobras Love to Stand Up
- 41 41) They’re Used in Snake Charming
- 42 42) Snakes Can’t Hear Music
- 43 43) National Reptile of India
- 44 44) Important to Indian Religion
- 45 45) It Doesn’t Stop Them Being Killed
1) Why Are They Called King Cobras?
When you get to know somebody, the first thing you learn is their name. So, let’s start by learning why king cobras are called ‘king’ anything!
King cobras are considered royalty because they’re the big, boss snake. They quite literally eat other snakes for breakfast. The same goes for California kingsnakes, which eat other snakes too.
That’s why their scientific name is Ophiophagus Hannah. Ophiophagus comes straight from Greek and means snake-eater.
2) They Aren’t Actually Cobras
True cobras are in the genus naja, but King cobras are in their own genus, Ophiophagus.
So, scientifically speaking, king cobras aren’t true cobras at all! They’re more closely related to the deadly black mamba from Africa than they are to true cobras.
3) King Cobras Go by Other Names
King cobras go by many names. Of course, almost everyone knows them as king cobras, but you can also call them Hamadryad, a term which comes from the name of a nymph or fairy in Greek mythology that lived in trees.
A group of king cobras is called a quiver, maybe because they make you quiver in fright.
4) Habitat Facts
King cobras live in southeast Asia. This includes India, China, and Vietnam. They’re equally comfortable in open spaces as they are in dense and humid highland forests.
They’re a completely wild species, of course, and you’d have to be mad to try and keep one in captivity. Unfortunately, their habitat is shrinking because of human agriculture and actions.
5) How Can You Spot a King Cobra?
King cobras aren’t the only species of cobra. The most common is naja naja, which lives in the Indian subcontinent. To identify a king cobra, look first to their hood.
The king cobra’s hood is narrower than that of other cobras. They’re also longer than other cobras and have different coloration.
King cobras have stripes, and one identifier you can look for is the top stripe on their neck. Instead of being a straight stripe like the ones further down their body, this stripe is a chevron shape pointing upwards.
6) King Cobras Are Longer Than You Think
King cobras are the world’s longest venomous snake. If you’ve never seen a genuinely long snake before, it’s a real shock. The longest king cobra ever found was nineteen (19!) feet long.
For reference, that’s as big as one of the noses on Mount Rushmore and much taller than the average African elephant (which clocks in at 13 feet). Of course, cobras are quite thin, so they often coil their body, so they don’t appear quite as long as they really are.
On average, adult king cobras are 10 to 13 feet long, which is still quite long enough when you’re talking about such a venomous snake.
7) The Longest Ever Cobra Was a Captive
The longest ever king cobra, the nineteen-foot-long specimen described above, was a resident of London Zoo. Unfortunately, the zoo destroyed almost all of their collection just before the outbreak of World War Two.
Their decision was a cruel but logical one because the authorities were afraid that dropped bombs might hit the zoo and let the animals free. Only two pythons, a Komodo dragon and a group of alligators were deemed important enough to keep.
In another twist of fate, the day after the decision was made and the deed was done, the zoo received word that they’d just been sent a brand-new shipment of reptiles from India that had to be put down too.
Today, the Reptile House at London Zoo houses happy, living king cobras (and more besides).
8) Males Are Bigger Than Females
If you know anything about snakes, you might already know that females usually are bigger than males. But in king cobras, it’s the other way around.
Male king cobras are typically longer and fatter than females.
9) They’re a Threatened Species
King cobras are classed as a threatened species. Because of being ‘harvested’ for meat and skin, their numbers have plummeted, and their natural habitat is getting smaller and smaller.
According to the IUCN, their population fell by 30% over 75 years. The story is even worse in China, where the population fell by 50% over just ten years.
But the Indian government are taking steps to protect them, and have made it illegal to kill one. It’s punishable by six years in prison.
10) Humans Are Their Main Predator
Not only are we deforesting their natural habitat, but we’re harvesting them unsustainably too.
In China, much like the tiger, king cobras are harvested for ‘natural’ medicinal purposes. Elsewhere, they’re hunted for their valuable leather skins.
Despite laws prohibiting killing king cobras for any reason, let alone for trade, the IUCN still considers their population to be declining.
Much like other endangered species, there’s a lot we still have to do to prevent them from becoming entirely extinct.
11) They Eat Whatever They Can Find
In terms of eating facts, king cobras are anything but normal. So, as we said above, king cobras eat other snakes. Because of the number of other species available in their habitat, their diet is quite varied, because they’re opportunistic hunters.
They’ll eat any snake that they can find, including rat snakes, other cobras and pit vipers. Not only that, but king cobras are cannibals. If they can, they’ll gladly kill and eat another of their kind. They’ll also occasionally feed on monitor lizards, which are venomous enough in their own right.
12) Nowhere is Safe
King cobras live most of their lives on the ground, like most snakes. But they’re equally comfortable resting in a tree and hunting in the canopy. Plus, they can swim (although only over small distances). So, it doesn’t matter where you hide, a king cobra can find you.
13) King Cobras are Incredibly Venomous
Time for some king cobra facts about venom.
Fun fact—king cobra venom isn’t as toxic as that of the common cobra. The real kicker, though, is that king cobras have far more venom available to them than other cobras.
Naja naja, the normal cobra, has about half a teaspoon of venom saved up. King cobras have more than three times as much.
Now for the really crazy facts. A king cobra could—if it wanted—kill an elephant with its venom. Or, if it wished to, it could kill you within 15 minutes from just one bite. The amount of venom it has stored up is enough to kill fifteen or even twenty people, too.
14) Just How Venomous?
According to the University of Adelaide, between 50% and 60% of people will die from an untreated king cobra bite. There is antivenom that can help, but if you’re nowhere near a doctor and don’t have any, you’re done for.
15) Their Teeth Are Quite Short
Despite being one of the most venomous snakes in the world, king cobra fangs are only about 3/10ths of an inch long. That’s because they can’t fold them away like a rattlesnake can. Still, it doesn’t matter how long the fangs are; it’s more about what a king cobra can do with them.
16) Don’t Treat the Bite
Contrary to popular belief, you shouldn’t—in fact, you can’t—suck the venom out of a snake bite wound. You should also avoid massaging or even touching the wound, as this increases the spread of the venom in your bloodstream.
What should you do? Just get to a doctor as soon as possible, and leave it to them.
17) What Does Their Venom Do?
King cobra venom is what’s called a neurotoxin. Neurotoxins are a class of chemicals that attack the nervous system (the nervous system being the nerves that pass communications from the brain to the body).
The first thing that king cobra venom will do is enter your bloodstream. Their teeth are hollow, and the snake shoots venom through their hollow teeth into the bite wounds they made.
The venom is very fast-acting. In the best-case scenario, you’ll experience blurred vision, drowsiness and paralysis—and incredible pain. If you don’t have antivenom handy, there’s a very high chance that a king cobra could kill you.
If the cobra got enough venom into your bloodstream, the first thing you’ll notice is that you can’t breathe properly. That’s because the venom blocks acetylcholine molecules, which are what the nervous system uses to communicate to the diaphragm muscles.
The chemicals in the venom bind themselves to the places where acetylcholine normally goes, which stops communication. This means your brain can’t tell your body to breathe anymore, and you’ll fall into a coma and die soon after.
18) Morphine Isn’t Enough
If a king cobra bites you, morphine isn’t enough to kill the pain. Even the strongest classical painkillers do nothing to stop the pain of a king cobra’s bite.
That’s because king cobra venom has a unique protein called ohanin that causes hyperalgesia. This is increased sensitivity to pain, so all of your pain receptors are firing at once.
19) Synthetic Cobra Venom is a Painkiller
A team of scientists isolated specific amino acids in the protein ohanin to create a novel painkiller. It’s 20 times more potent than morphine and doesn’t have any side effects.
Research is still ongoing into the hidden effects that it might have, but as of now, it’s the only painkiller that can dull the pain of a king cobra bite.
20) People Believe In ‘Cobra Pearls’
Cobra pearls or snake stones are supposedly stones or bones that come from a snake’s venom glands. They’re highly polished and are supposed to be able to draw venom out of a wound.
However, cobra pearls are a myth—they don’t work, and it’s not even clear whether they even come from snakes or whether they’re all fake!
21) They’re a Little Like Pitbulls
Pitbulls are known for biting, but not letting go. King cobras can do the same.
A normal king cobra bite will only deliver a fraction of the venom that they have available. This makes sense from an evolutionary perspective because if they were to use up all of their venom in one go, they wouldn’t have anything left to defend themselves or to hunt.
But if they’re attacking bigger prey, a king cobra can bite and hold on. This gives them the time they need to release even more venom into your bloodstream.
22) Do King Cobras Hunt Humans?
Let’s say you met one in the wild but decided it was probably a good idea to leave it alone. Would a king cobra chase after you to hunt you down? No, thankfully they wouldn’t.
King cobras are quite shy. If you encounter one, the first thing the snake will try to do is escape. To them, you’re quite a big animal, and could potentially be a threat. That’s why they’re happier trying to escape than to fight.
They’ll only attack you if a) they’re cornered and can’t escape, and b) if you purposefully aggravate them. That’s why almost all the people who die from king cobra bites are snake handlers rather than regular folks like us.
23) They Will Hunt for Prey
All that being said, king cobras are active hunters. Other snakes like reticulated pythons are ambush hunters and wait for prey to come close to them before striking. King cobras hunt their targets down, either chasing after them or sneaking up behind them.
24) King Cobras Have Sharpened Senses
Because they have to hunt for prey, king cobras have highly accurate senses. In particular, they have a special organ called the vomeronasal organ that they use to detect the unique scent of their prey.
Every animal gives off pheromones and scents—even us—and king cobras can detect these chemical traces when they hunt.
25) They Strike from a Distance
So, as we said, king cobras are longer than you might expect. Not only that, though, but they can strike from much further away than you think.
Snakes coil themselves up into a defensive S-shape position before they strike because it gives them the ability to very quickly elongate their body and reach something that’s almost the length of their body away.
This, coupled with the king cobra’s ability to lift their heads quite far off the ground, mean that many people misjudge the safe zone around one when they encounter one in the wild.
26) They Don’t Wait Until You’re Dead to Eat You
King cobras have got places to go and things to do, so they don’t wait around until their venom kills their prey. Because it incapacitates prey before it kills them, a king cobra will happily start eating their meal while it’s still alive.
It would be nice to believe that prey doesn’t know that it’s being eaten, but it probably does. Even though their venom can make you lose control of your body, that doesn’t mean your brain stops working. It just means your brain can’t communicate with your body and tell you to run away.
27) King Cobras Get Duller as They Get Older
King cobras can have a variety of colors. If they live in the forest, they’re likely to be a darker black or brown color. If they live in a more open space, they’ll usually be paler, perhaps in olive, light brown or gray.
But as youngsters, they look even more impressive than they do when they’re older. When they hatch, they’re a pure black color and have pronounced stripes in yellow and white.
28) King Cobras are Deadly from Day One
The point of their color scheme is to let the whole world know not to mess with them because they’re so venomous!
This is called aposematism, which comes from the Greek for ‘a sign to stay away.’ It’s the same reason why you see such colorful poison frogs in bright shades of red, yellow and black.
King cobras are born with fangs and venom, so even if they’ve just hatched, they could still kill you.
29) Very Maternal Snake
Ready for some king cobra egg facts?
Snakes aren’t renowned for being good parents, at least not in the sense that we know. Most just lay their eggs and slither on away.
It sounds crazy to us when we have to take care of our children for eighteen years at least. But king cobra hatchlings can cope. They’re ‘born’ with their fangs, bright coloration and venom, and can handle whatever the world throws at them.
But, either way, king cobras are more maternal than other snakes. When they lay their eggs, they stay close-by to protect them.
30) King Cobras Build Massive Nests for Their Eggs
King cobras are the only snake to build a nest for their eggs.
The mother will scrape up leaves, sticks and similar and arrange them in a sort of mound on the ground. The bigger the snake, the more eggs they’ll lay, and the bigger the mound will be. A king cobra will typically lay between twenty and forty eggs at a time.
She’ll then lay on top of the mound and threaten anybody or anything that gets too close. She’ll be even more aggressive than usual if anything comes close.
Both her heat and the insulation of leaves and twigs keep the temperature around the eggs at a steady 82 degrees. The mother won’t leave until they hatch, which can take up to 80 days, even if she gets hungry.
31) Why Does the Female Leave?
If females are so ‘maternal,’ why do they stick around until their eggs hatch, but then leave? That wouldn’t count as very ‘maternal’ if a human did it, but there’s a good reason why she leaves.
Remember, king cobras eat other snakes. It’s their natural instinct. If she did stay close by, there’s every chance that instinct could take over and she could eat her hatchlings.
Even if you don’t believe in the survival of the fittest, that wouldn’t make much sense.
32) Wild Boars and Mongooses Try to Steal Their Eggs
In the king cobra’s natural habitat, there are two main egg-stealing predators the mother has to watch out for. These are wild boars and mongooses. Mongooses, in particular, are a real pain for king cobra moms because, over time, mongooses have become immune to their venom.
33) Mongooses Are Their Worst Enemy
Mongooses are one of the very few animals that can kill a king cobra. They can sneak up on one and bite it from behind, on their back, before they can defend themselves. They’ve also got thick fur that makes them harder to bite.
They don’t eat king cobras, although they do eat other snakes. Mongooses might get into a fight with a king cobra when they’re trying to steal eggs, or when they stumble across one in the jungle.
34) They Don’t Hiss, They Growl
Other snakes make a high-pitched hissing sound, which is enough to scare anybody on a hike. But king cobras make a unique noise that’s much, much more frightening.
King cobras produce their ‘hiss’ in the same way that other snakes do. The only difference is that it’s a much lower frequency. King cobras achieve this by virtue of a special section of their throat in which the sound reverberates.
They sound almost like a tiny dragon or lion roaring. In fact, they sound more like a dog than a snake. This is often enough on its own to scare potential predators away.
35) They Use Ribs to Make Their Hood
So, king cobras are known for their hood. In fact, almost all cobras are. But do you know how a cobra’s hood works?
For starters, their hood isn’t ‘out’ all the time. During downtime, they’ll look like their neck is a little wider than that of a normal snake, but that’s not the full extent of their hood.
When they’re threatened or angry, they’ll extend their hood as far as they can using their ribs. The ribs in their neck don’t curve like the ones further down their body. They can stick out almost straight, which according to the BBC they achieve with a group of muscles in their neck.
36) They’ll Wrestle for Dominance
Snakes of the same species don’t use their venom to fight. It would be too dangerous, and a waste of venom, if they were to use their ultimate weapons (their fangs).
Instead, they save it for prey and will wrestle other snakes of the same species instead. Wrestling with no arms is pretty tricky, but the winner is the one who pins the other snake to the ground.
Males will often fight like this over a particularly attractive female during breeding season.
37) How do King Cobras Mate?
Time for some reproduction facts! King cobras, like all snakes, have a special duct called a cloaca. The cloaca deals with poo, pee, and mating.
The male has two organs called hemipenes that are like two penises on each side of his body. He’ll climb on top of the female and wrap around her to fertilize her eggs.
This is much the same as how other snakes mate.
38) Mating Takes a Long Time
When two king cobras mate, it can take a long time. If the female isn’t happy with the male, she won’t stop trying to crawl away. Persistent males can cling on for days, following her around, and trying to convince her that he is the one.
If she likes him, though, it can all be over in a matter of minutes.
39) Don’t Eat Each Other
Since king cobras eat other snakes, you might think that either the male or female are in danger during mating. Thankfully, king cobras only mate during warm weather, during which they produce hormones that dull their appetite.
This is in reverse to other snakes, that eat less during colder weather (i.e., brumation).
40) Cobras Love to Stand Up
Something else a king cobra will do when they’re threatened is stand up. Of course, they don’t have any legs, but that doesn’t stop them from rearing up to intimidate other animals.
Cobras can ‘stand up’ just by raising their head. They’ll keep approximately 2/3 of their body on the ground, and lift their neck and head as high as they can. They’ll do this when they’re threatened, or just when they want to have a look around.
If the snake is an adult, they’ll be able to raise their head to look you in the eye. This is the point at which you should start running.
41) They’re Used in Snake Charming
Snake charming is where a person plays a special musical instrument called a pungi to ‘hypnotize’ a cobra. If you ever visit India, you’ll likely find one somewhere on the streets, although it’s a lot less common than it used to be. It’s an ancient practice that’s even described in the Bible:
“The wicked turn aside from birth; liars go astray as soon as they are born. Their venom is like that of a snake, like a deaf serpent that does not hear, that does not respond to the magicians, or a skilled snake-charmer.“
Most Indian street artists use either common naja naja or a king cobra. Considering how deadly both species are, it’s probably not a good idea either way.
42) Snakes Can’t Hear Music
The idea behind snake charming is, as the name suggests that the performer charms the snake with music. The snakes will keep their eyes on the instrument, staring at it, and following it with their heads as it moves.
It was long thought that the music was behind this strange phenomenon, but it’s not. In fact, it can’t be, because snakes lack the outer ears needed to hear the ambient noise as we do.
Instead, the truth is that the snakes see the musical instrument as a threat. They’ll keep their eyes on it because they’re worried it might attack them.
43) National Reptile of India
The national animal of the U.S. is the bald eagle. The national animal of Scotland is the unicorn—even though it doesn’t exist—and the national animal of Australia is the kangaroo.
But the national animal of India is the king cobra. As if having one isn’t enough, the tiger, peacock, Ganges river dolphin, and Indian elephant are all national animals of India too.
44) Important to Indian Religion
In Hinduism, one of the main gods is Shiva, the destroyer and transformer. He’s also the god of yoga, meditation, and the arts. He’s often pictured with a king cobra around his neck, which is a sign that he’s fearless and immortal.
It could also be related to the endless cycle of birth, death, and rebirth that snake shedding represents.
45) It Doesn’t Stop Them Being Killed
Of course, king cobras are very dangerous snakes. That’s why they’re normally killed if one interrupts daily life in the Indian subcontinent. People believe they have a great memory, and that the image of a snake’s killer is ‘recorded’ in the eyes of the snake.
Other snakes will then hunt down the killer. That’s why, whenever a snake is caught and killed, their head is burned or crushed to destroy the ‘image’ in the eyes.