Saturday, October 2, 2010

King Cobra

The king cobra(Ophiophagus hannah) is one of the most feared snake in all of south Asia.  It is the world's longest venomous snake and is a very fierce and agile hunter.  Its venom is very dangerous and it delivers a lot of venom in one bite.

Physical Features                                                
Full grown male king cobra
The king cobra is the longest venomous snake in the world.  It grows 18.8 feet long.  It can be tan, olive green or black in color.  A full grown king cobra can lift its head high enough to reach a man or a woman who is standing upright.  It has cross bands which  are a faint, pale yellow.  The scales of the belly are smoothed and the color of the belly is pale yellow or cream.  Juvenile king cobras have narrow yellow bands.  The body color is a shiny black for the juveniles. These juveniles are often mistaken for banded kraits, but immediately identified with its hood.  King cobras have an average lifespan of 20 years.  Males have about 250 ventral scales whereas females have about 265.  They have 15 rows of dorsal scales on the mid body.  On the tail, they have a single or a paired subcaudal scales in each row.  Males have 96 of these scales, whereas,  female have 98.
The king cobra is the sole species of the genus Ophiophagus and is not classified in the genus of  Naja, which makes it different from other species if cobras.

Distribution and Habitat
The king cobra is widespread throughout southern and south eastern Asia.  It is normally found in thick forests.  It likes to live near lakes and ponds.  Population has dropped mildly in very few places and is not considered as an endangered species of snake.

The name Ophiophagus means "snake eater".  It is given this name as it eats snakes, sometimes sizeable pythons, kraits, ratsnakes and other venomous snakes.  When food is not available it may even eat small invertebrates, rodents and small birds.  Sometimes, if the the prey is too big, the king cobra may even constrict its prey to death.  This sight is seen rarely.  After it eats a meal, it will not eat another for a month.

The king cobra injects neurotoxic venom which also contains cardiotoxic elements.  If bitten, the venom will go straight to the victim's central nervous system and causes paralysis, vertigo and severe pain.  During a bite, the venom is forced through the snake's  half inch fangs.

The female king cobra is a devoted parent.  Before laying her eggs, she uses her long body to gather up leaves and make a pile of them.  She then lays 20 to 40 eggs int he pile of leaves which acts like an incubator.
She guards the eggs and if a trespasser comes near the eggs, she displays an aggressive bustle to scare the trespasser away.
The eggs get incubated steadily with a temperature of  28°C.  After the eggs hatch, the mother is forced to leave in search of food so that she doesn't eat the young.  The hatchlings are about 22 inches when they hatch.

When threatened, the king cobra raises it's body, displays it's fangs and hisses loudly.  King cobras are very fast and can attack at a striking distance of 7 feet.  Many people misjudge the sake distance.  Even though, it is very venomous, it normally prefers to escape unless it is provoked or cornered.  The king cobra gives multiple bites or it bites and holds on.  When it encounters a natural predator, like a mongoose can resist venom, the king cobra will flee.  If it is not able to escape, it will expand its hood and release a loud hiss.  This is a good technique to escape from predators.

Photo 1 credited to Prajwal Mujumdar,picture 2

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