King cobras are fascinating but frequently deadly snakes.
In many ways, they are like no other creature in the animal kingdom, an animal you never want to meet by surprise.
Here are some of the most interesting facts about king cobras.
King Cobra is World’s Longest Venomous Snake
King cobras grow an average of 10.4 to 13.1 feet (3.1 to 4 m) long.
The longest king cobra ever captured was 19.2 feet (5.85 m) long.
A King Cobra Can Look You in the Eye
An adult king cobra can “stand up” so it can look you directly in the eye.
But don’t let it.
If it spits in your eye, you can go blind.
King cobras can lift up to a third of their bodies off the ground and still propel themselves forward to attack.
King Cobras Smell With their Tongues
King cobras open their mouths and wiggle their forked tongues as they use their sense of smell.
Their tongues, however, aren’t really olfactory (smell) organs.
A king cobra’s tongue delivers tiny odor particles it collects from the air to the olfactory nerves at the top of its mouth.
When it detects prey, the twin forks of its tongue act in stereo to pinpoint its exact location.
King Cobras have an acute Sense of Touch
A king cobra can sense vibrations from the movement of another snake up to 300 feet (100 meters) away.
King Cobras are Especially Deadly
Every year, thousands of people in Southern and Southeast Asia are killed by king cobra bites.
According to a study done by scientists at the University of Adelaide in Australia, about 60 percent of people who don’t get immediate treatment for cobra bites die.
Even with treatment, about 28 percent of people who are bitten by king cobras die.
King cobra venom is a toxic mixture of nerve poisons, chemicals that paralyze heart tissue, and toxins that begin the process of digestion before the kind cobra even swallows its prey.
A king cobra can inject up to 600 mg of venom in a single bite. That is enough toxin to kill 20 people or a small elephant.
One of the diabolical aspects of king cobra venom is that it causes both hypolocomotion and hyperalgesia.
In plain language, it makes muscle movements slow down, so it is difficult to run away or call for help, while it increases pain, making the bite excruciatingly painful.
In the small animals that king cobras eat for food, this venom makes resistance futile.
Add to those scary realities one more fact: King cobras don’t just bite and back off.
They sustain their bite to deliver the maximum amount of venom.
Sometimes a king cobra bites after its venom sacs have been drained, so not every bite is poisonous.
But most king cobra bites are poisonous, and quickly fatal if not treated.
King Cobras Eat Other King Cobras
King cobras mostly feed on other snakes—including other king cobras.
The snakes on which king cobras feed include the closely-related Indian cobra, rat snakes, pythons, green whip snakes, banded kraits, Blyth’s reticulated snake, Malabar pit vipers, hump-nosed pit vipers, and banded wolf snakes.
King cobras track the snakes they eat for food by smelling their odor trails with their forked tongues.
When king cobras can’t find other snakes to eat they will kill lizards and small birds.
Sometimes a king cobra will kill its prey by constriction as a python does, but most of the time it just paralyzes its volume, expands its jaws, and swallows it alive.
King Cobras Don’t Even have to Bite to Kill
A king cobra doesn’t have to bite its prey to kill it. King cobras can “spit” venom at their victims up to 10 feet (3 meters) away.
Strictly speaking, a king cobra doesn’t spit its victims.
It blows venom through front-facing holes in its teeth.
The cobra moves its head back and forth to send out venom in a spray that is likely to hit some part of its target.
People who get king cobra venom in their eyes often go blind.
King Cobras Don’t just Live in Jungles
Although king cobras are tropical snakes, they aren’t just jungle snakes.
King cobras can live comfortably in forests, bamboo thickets, sugar cane fields, rice paddies, swamps, grasslands, and rivers.
King cobras have been found at elevations ranging from sea level to 6,600 feet (2,000) meters in India, Bangladesh, Myanmar, southern China, Bhutan, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Malaysia, Vietnam, Indonesia, Singapore, Brunei, and the Philippines.
King cobras sometimes find their way into homes and barns.
Build Nests for its Eggs
Cobras usually mate during the Northern Hemisphere’s winter, between January and March.
The female king cobra carries the fertilized eggs in her body for 50 to 59 days, while she builds a nest in dry leaf litter.
King cobra nests are usually built at the base of a tree.
They are quite large: King cobra nests are up to 55 inches (140 cm) wide and 22 inches (55 cm) tall at the base.
The female king cobra builds her nest in several layers and creates a chamber for laying her clutch of seven to 43 eggs.
Cobra eggs take a long time to hatch. Baby king cobras emerge from 66 to 105 days after the eggs are laid, depending on temperature.
King cobra eggs get exposed to temperatures of 56 to 99° F(13.5 to 37.4° C). The mother king cobra may abandon her eggs just a couple of days after laying them, or stay to guard them for more than two months.
Many of the fatal bites from king cobras occur in people who got too close to the nest where the female king cobra was guarding her eggs.
Even newly hatched king cobras, it is important to know, can deliver a fatal bite. Hatchlings are alert, nervous, and very aggressive.
Mongoose is the Main King Cobra Predator (other than other Cobras)
Tiny, feisty, weasel-like mongooses are the natural enemy of snakes.
They eat and kill all kinds of snakes.
Two kinds of mongooses, the grey mongoose, and the slender mongoose, may confront and kill a king cobra.
Mongooses are fast enough to dodge king cobra bites and partially immune to king cobra venom.
Repeated king cobra bites, however, may kill a mongoose.
King cobras eat animals that are larger than mongooses but stay away from mongooses whenever possible.
Tastes like Chicken
There are over 40 restaurants in Hanoi, Vietnam that specialize in serving king cobras.
Although king cobras are thought to be aphrodisiac, they are not eaten at a romantic dinner—typically the restaurant offers them to a group of guests at a “snake party.”
According to a report in the Christian Science Monitor, king cobras are kept alive until it is time to eat them.
The chef makes two slits on either side of the throat of the snake and offers the raw, beating heart of the snake to the oldest guest.
The snake is then taken away from the table and butchered in the kitchen.
The first course is usually an egg drop soup flavored with morsels of the king cobra, cilantro, lemon-grass, mushrooms, and ground pepper. The soup usually has a side dish of cucumbers and mint.
The next course is “snake burgers,” fried ground king cobra meat served with rice crackers, flavored with chili, ginger, and five-spice.
This is followed by a stir-fried king cobra, flavored with garlic, ginger, and soy sauce, which has about the same texture as stir-fried squid.
Then there may be spring rolls with cobra and fish sauce for dipping.
The king cobra’s skin may be fried into chips resembling pork rinds.
The backbone is used to make a stew. The coffee and cakes in king cobra colors that finish the meal don’t contain any actual king cobra meat.
In the US, it’s Possible to Keep a Pet King Cobra
Most states will issue permits for keeping venomous snakes.
Counties and cities, however, have strict rules about keeping them safely.
Also read: Best Place to Buy Pet Snakes
It’s Not Safe to Grab a King Cobra by its Tail
King cobras can move quickly enough that when they are grabbed by the tail, they can turn around, stand up, and get ready to bite the person trying to capture them.
This viral video of a snake charmer, who survived trying to get a king cobra out of a bathroom, shows how fast a king cobra can strike.
Even if you are trying to rescue a king cobra from harm, it may bite and kill you.
There are Herbal Remedies for Cobra Bites
Ayurveda, the traditional herbal medicine science, uses some surprising herbs as remedies for king cobra bites: turmeric root, a plant more commonly used for treating common cold called andrographis, and, surprisingly, dandelions.
Scientists found that when these three herbs were used as a suppository for treating king cobra bites, they actually worked.
Taking the herbs by mouth, however, does not get their active ingredients into the bloodstream fast enough to do any good.
Scientists have Found King Cobra Flesh can Fight MRSA
Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, better known as MRSA, is a potentially deadly and often disfiguring infection that is hard to treat with antibiotics.
Scientists have discovered an enzyme in king cobras can fight the infection when antibiotics can’t.
In combination with a compound found in fat cells, this enzyme both kills infection and accelerates the healing of wounds.
Traditional Chinese Medicine Uses king Cobras as an Ingredient in Medicines
Practitioners of Traditional Chinese Medicine use cobra parts as a treatment for “damp heat,” a condition of swelling, fever, oozing, and inflammation.
Cobra is also an ingredient in “Three-Snake Powder” for treating arthritis. It also appears in Chinese formulas for strengthening the hands for martial arts practice.
Some traditional formulas used in Chinese herbal medicine require king cobras to be gutted and dried, then chopped up and added to the “soup,” a kind of medicinal tea.
The toxins that find their way into the medicinal tea are thought to “relax” the central nervous system, relieving pain and tension.
Although drinking a medicinal tea made of dried cobra or dried cobra skin sounds dangerous, people survive it.
It often produces objective improvements in painful arthritic conditions.
Enough Chinese people use medications made with king cobras that it has become an endangered species.
King Cobras are Protected by Wildlife Agencies
In India, Thailand, Malaysia, and China, it is illegal to kill a wild king cobra.
There is even a wildlife agency in India that raises baby king cobras and releases them in the forest.
King Cobras are the Snake of Choice for Snake Charmers
Probably you have seen a video of a snake charmer playing a flute-like instrument known as a pungi while a king cobra emerges from a basket.
Seemingly, the snake charmer hypnotizes the king cobra, so it does not bite, just moving back and forth with the music.
These displays are real, but the “spell” the snake charmer casts on the king cobra has nothing to do with music.
King cobras can hear, but they can’t hear the pitches made by a pungi. They don’t have ears that can capture sound. They feel vibrations, instead.
The king cobra responds to the pungi as if it were a threat, but it is kept hungry and exhausted and trained not to bite at the pungi or the snake charmer playing it.
In some countries, the mouth of the cobra is sewn shut to make biting impossible. These snakes starve to death after 30 to 45 days and have to be replaced.
Some snake charmers use king cobras that have had their venom glands removed. They keep the snakes in bags or boxes for up to six weeks so their muscles cramp, and they cannot strike the charmer.
King Cobras Growl Rather than Hiss
Many snakes make a high-pitched hiss as a warning that they are about to strike.
These hisses usually vibrate at frequencies of 7,500 to 13,000 Hz. People over 40 can hear the 7,500 Hz pitch, but they miss the higher pitches entirely.
King cobras warm of their presence exclusively in pitches below 2,500 Hz.
Even older adults can hear king cobras, but most people hear them as a growl, not a hiss.
A Tribe in Myanmar uses Cobra Venom as Tattoo Ink
The Pakkoku clan in northern Myanmar receive ceremonial tattoos made with regular ink and king cobra venom once a week.
This practice is thought to protect them from poisoning should they be bitten, but no scientific study has confirmed that the practice really works.
If Your Pet King Cobra Gets Loose….
From time to time, even in the United States, king cobras are kept as pets and get loose.
In 2015, an Orlando, Florida king cobra owner Mike Kennedy returned home from a trip and learned that a tree limb had fallen on his roof and caused rain to flood the snake’s cage.
The 8-foot (2.7 m) king cobra escaped through a gap in the net covering the cage and roamed around the neighborhood.
Kennedy had hesitated to inform the city animal control office that his pet king cobra had escaped, because he was on probation.
He had previously had a leopard and a crocodile escape from their cages and terrorize the neighborhood. “This has been terribly traumatic for me,” he told TV news station WESH in Orlando.
The king cobra was found a month later about 1,500 feet (500 meters) away from Kennedy’s home.
It had slithered to another family’s garage. Kennedy eventually had to pay $4,000 in fines and restitution to stay out of jail.
In another incident, a cobra that escaped its enclosure in Raleigh, North been captured with long glue traps.
But when a king cobra took advantage of a “cage malfunction” in Grand Prairie, Texas, it was not found.
Neighbors resigned themselves to keeping their children indoors indefinitely.
First Aid for King Cobra Bites
If you are bitten by a king cobra, seek emergency medical help immediately, but make sure help comes to you.
Don’t go to an ER on your own. Any kind of activity can increase the circulation of the venom through your bloodstream.
If you are with someone who is bitten by a king cobra, call for emergency medical transport immediately.
Do your best to keep the victim calm.
Immobilize the part of the body that was bitten with a splint. This will slow down the circulation of the venom.
Cover the limb that was bitten with a crepe bandage. Don’t remove either the splint or the bandage until the victim is in the ER to get antivenom.
King cobra bites are treated with tiger snake antivenom if king cobra antivenom is not available.
Do not cut the bite. Do not try to suck out the venom. Do not apply ice.
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