Think of a snake, any snake. Chances are a good many of you imagined the king cobra. Few snakes have as fearsome a reputation as these. They are one of the longest (measuring up to 5.5m) and deadliest, with venom powerful enough to kill an elephant!
King cobras live in the forests and swamps of India and Southeast Asia. They seldom come into contact with humans, as they prefer the densest parts of the forest with plenty of cover. However, the destruction of their natural habitat to make way for human construction has seen a rise in encounters with them. My advice – if you happen to be in a forest in southern Asia, keep to the paths and don’t be tempted to explore too far into the jungle!
A king cobra will never hunt for humans. Its favourite food is actually smaller species of snake, such as rat snakes or pythons. If it’s really hungry a king cobra might settle for a lizard or a small bird. Their venomous bite will immediately incapacitate their victim who they then swallow whole by opening their jaws wider than you’d think possible.
Despite their formidable reputation, king cobras are not top predators. They themselves are hunted by birds of prey or mongooses (though admittedly, only the smaller ones, not fully grown). If they are threatened king cobras will try to flee. If that isn’t possible, the next step is to try and scare off their attacker. They do this by raising the front part of their bodies (given their size, this can be to the height of a man), expand their hoods and hiss. Their hiss sounds more like a growl and is enough to scare off most of their enemies! As a last resort, a king cobra will bite.
A king cobra’s teeth can inject a strong venom. This is full of neurotoxins which attack the central nervous system. Small animals will quickly die but larger ones, like humans, will first suffer excruciating agony. A bite can kill a man in just 30 minutes. First (along with the pain) your vision will become blurred. Next you’ll find it hard to control your movements and will eventually become paralysed. The final stage is a coma during which your organs will gradually shut down. When the lungs stop working you can no longer breathe and when the heart gives out death soon follows. There is a cure for a king cobra bite and most hospitals in Southern Asia have it – but you must get there in time! Around 60% of king cobra bites on humans result in death for the victim.
Reading this you might be a bit worried about the king cobra but, truth be told, they have much more reason to be scared of us than we have of them. They are a vulnerable species at risk of becoming endangered. The reason – as well as losing their habitat to make way for us, king cobras are also hunted. Their meat and skin is used in traditional medicine and, despite the introduction of protective laws, their numbers are on the decline.
Don’t be scared of the king cobra – but do give it your utmost respect! I’m sure you’ll agree with us here at Education Quizzes that these amazing animals would be gravely missed were they to become extinct.