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Genus/Species

 

Ophiophagus hannah, King cobra

Clinical entries

Species

  • 1. Ophiophagus hannah

Taxonomy

Serpentes; Elapidae; Elapinae

Common names

  • 1. King cobra, Hamadryad, K√∂nigskobra

 

 

  Fig. 4.58 Ophiophagus hannah in threatening pose (from behind).

 

Distribution

India, Southeast Asia and China. See link "Distribution" at the top of the page for detailed information.

 

  Map 30 Ophiophagus hannah.

 

Biology

With a length of 4–5 m and more, Ophiophagus is the largest venomous snake in the world. Appearance and defensive behaviour as for the true cobras (see Naja sp.), but with a narrower hood when it is spread. The venom fangs of large specimens are distinctly long compared to other elapids, being over 1 cm in length.

Light- to dark-brown colouring, but also greyish to olive. Light, speckled cross bands, sometimes absent, yellowish underside of neck. Young animals black with narrow yellow cross bands.

The King cobra mainly lives in dense forest, but at times is also seen outside of this environment, infrequently on plantations but never in densely populated areas. Diurnal or nocturnal; not found anywhere in large numbers. Unique among snakes is the unusual care of their eggs. They build a simple nest of leaf litter and other dead plant material. The nest is guarded and during this time King cobras display increased defensive behaviour. However, in general they do not live up to their reputation as aggressive snakes. During a threat display, the upper body of larger specimens can be raised to a height of over 1.5 m. Bites from this position are very accurate.

Risk

Accidents are relatively rare, as Ophiophagus is not found in large numbers and avoids human settlements.

Along with the enormous length of this species, it also possesses large quantities of venom and long venom fangs. In animal experiments, it has been found that Ophiophagus venom is not quite as potent as that of N. n. kaouthia, for example, but is still very potent. Accidents are therefore generally very dramatic and can quickly end in death. Nonetheless, the common assertion that there is practically no chance of surviving a King cobra bite is certainly an exaggeration.

Large quantities of antivenom are required for the treatment of severe envenoming. Two cases have been described where 0.5 and 1.1 litres of antivenom, respectively, were necessary for treatment (Wetzel and Christy 1989, Ganthavorn 1971).

Literature (biological)

Acharjyo and Murthy 1983, Cox 1991, Daniel 1983, Deoras 1978, Deuve 1970, Liat 1979, 1990, Murthy 1990, Toriba 1990a, Tweedie 1983, Zhao 1990, O'Shea 2005, Whitaker and Captain 2008