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Sunday, March 23, 2014

Species Fact Profile: King Cobra (Ophiophagus hannah)

King Cobra
Ophiophagus hannah (Cantor, 1836)

Range: Southeast Asia, Indonesia, the Philippines
Habitat: Rainforest, Bamboo Thickets, Mangrove Swamps
Diet: Snakes, Lizards
Social Grouping: Solitary
Reproduction: Breed January-March, males may wrestle to win access to a female, female lays 20-50 eggs in a nest of twigs and leaves, eggs are incubated by heat from the rotting nest for 60-90 days
Lifespan: 15-20 Years
Conservation Status: IUCN Vulnerable, CITES Appendix II

  • The longest of all living venomous snakes, with a maximum recorded growth of 5.5 meters
  • Body color may be tan, brown, green, or black, sometimes with white or yellow markings (which usually fade with age)
  • When threatened, they extend their hood (much narrower than other cobras), rear up (up to 1.5 meters) and hiss; their hiss is much deeper than that of other snakes, sounding more like a growl
  • Active by day and primarily found on the ground, they hunt with a combination of sight and smell
  • Though not as venomous as some other snake species, king cobras produce a large volume of venom in each bite; there are records of adult elephants being killed by their bite
  • Through the construction of a nest and the active defense of her eggs, the female king cobra shows more maternal instinct than other snake species
  • Feed almost exclusively on other snakes - the genus name Ophiophagus means "snake-eater"; hatchlings and juveniles are preyed upon by mongooses, civets, and other small predators
  • Often regarded as one of the most intelligent of all snake species; zoo specimens said to recognize individual members of the staff
  • Prominent role in local cultures and religions, but now threatened due to habitat loss, persecution, and hunting for meat, skin, and other body parts (for use in Traditional Chinese Medicine)

Zookeeper's Journal:  For many zoo visitors, the king cobra probably comes across as something of a disappointment.  It's a big snake, but apart from its size, there is nothing extraordinary about its appearance.  When its hood is flattened down and the snake is relaxed, it's just a brown-green snake.  Maybe that's why cobras - along with rattlesnakes - are the snake exhibits that seem to attract the most glass-banging.  Guests want a show, some proof that this snake is as fierce and deadly as pop culture tells them it is.  King cobras have always impressed me as deadly and powerful, but above all, it's been their intelligence that has struck me.  The first king I ever worked with was a confiscation, turned over to our zoo after it had been kept as an illegal pet.  The snake exuded intelligence, whether it was investigating every new object we put in its enclosure with obvious curiosity, or craning its neck trying to watch our comings and goings as we passed his enclosure.  To a degree that I never experienced with any other snake, I felt the wheels turning when I looked into his eyes.

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