King Cobra (spoiler alert: not a true cobra)

About

The King Cobra is a large snake with a scientific name of Ophiophagus Hanna. It is most well known as the longest venomous snake in the world, at a maximum length of 5.85m! In Singapore, it is only bested in size by the huge Reticulated Python.

The king cobra is a long, large, usually brown snake. Around its range, it varies in colour greatly, with colours ranging from brown in Singapore and Malaysia, to darker browns and blacks in places like India.

Furthermore, the King Cobra is sexually dimorphic, and in this case the male king cobras grow about 1.5 times longer than females on average, and have larger hoods to display when threatened.

Surprisingly, they are found in Singapore, and hopefully you’ll know more about our elusive slithery friend with the information here.

Native or Introduced?

Surprisingly, Native! The king cobra is found all over the Indian Subcontinent, Southern China and South East Asia, ranging from places like Pakistan to Singapore! In Singapore, we don’t usually see it, but it is native nonetheless.

Habitat

The King Cobra can be found in wooded area, marshes and lowland forests all over its range, mainly in areas where water is present.

Natural diet

The King Cobra is a true blue carnivore, but “King Cobras” are known as such due to their diet! The King Cobra is a “King” as it hunts mainly other snakes, even those that are larger than it. It uses its neurotoxins in its venom to subdue prey, ranging from non-venomous snakes to rodents and even birds and lizards when feeling particularly hungry.

Territoriality

Extremely territorial and aggressive during breeding season. It displays behaviour not seen usually since it is usually quite passive to humans and sometimes other King Cobras. Males might display territorial behaviour toward other males normally, but during breeding season, males are exceptionally territorial and display hissing, or growling in this case due to the low pitch.

To humans, the effect of their territoriality is usually seen in India, where King Cobras are notorious due to the number of run-ins with humans living along the edge of wildlife areas. They are known to display their hood and hiss when threatened, and will bite if they are close enough.

Video of the cobra hissing and someone picking it up.

Sociality
These snakes are usually solitary, only appearing during breeding season to mate. Otherwise, due to their territorial nature, they are not seen in groups at all.

Activity Pattern
The King Cobra is a diurnal snake, meaning that it appears during a day. As a result, it can be seen more commonly than other nocturnal snakes.

Where can you find it in Singapore?
Some places to seek them out if you’re feeling adventurous are Central Catchment Nature Reserve and Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve. Look out for them though, and never corner them as it would be an unwise decision to provoke them. In my own experience, I’ve only ever seen it twice at Sungei Buloh, once outside the main hide and once near the hide at the Aerie Tower. Other places to find it might include Singapore Zoo (looking at you Nasry) and our islands, like Pulau Ubin and Pulau Tekong.

Fun factssss!

Not a cobra! :The King Cobra is actually not a True Cobra! It is part of the big family Elapidae, which comprises of almost all cobras, but it has the genus Ophiophagus instead of Naja (true cobras). As a result, it’s not really a cobra, since it’s closest relatives genetically are not other cobras like the Equatorial Spitting Cobra, but the deadly Mambas, found in Africa.

Cannibalistic : Males King Cobras eat other snakes, but they sometimes go for other King Cobras too, which is really weird… Since they are that aggressive to begin with, when faced with starvation, the male snakes would then go for their own kind for their own survival. Harsh.

Threatened : Sadly, although this snake is one of the most dangerous in Asia, it is facing threats from a variety of things. From habitat destruction from deforestation and poaching for its skin and organs for traditional medicines, the King Cobra’s population is declining around the world. As a result, the IUCN classifies it as Vulnerable.

In Singapore, the King Cobra is also under threat due to our rapid urbanisation and loss of habitats for it. Also in the other parts of its range it is attacked due to the fear people have of it, and Singapore is not an exception. In 2002 a 4.42m long King Cobra was seen at Singapore Island Country Club, but was beaten to death. Now, you can see it on display at the LKC Natural History Museum, where the body has been preserved.

Cool other resources I used and I recommend

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5014348/ Really complex research/data about a lot of snakes and their phylogeny (how genetically related are they?).

Cool Reddit thread by user u/kodomodragon below, with mostly accurate info about the king cobra, in the Singapore context! Recommend you to check this thread out to learn more.

One thought on “King Cobra (spoiler alert: not a true cobra)

  1. Engaging write-up! Good that you also shared your own personal anecdotes and other resources 🙂 Yes, the King Cobra’s ravenous appetite has made for some exciting and even newsworthy stories.

    Like

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