All posts by Vern

All posts by Vern Lovic. Amateur herpetologist roaming about Thailand on field herping trips to find cobras, kraits, coral snakes, and other snakes native to Thailand. Thailand has over 200 snake species with many of them venomous.

King Cobra – Largest Venomous Snake in World

Large Thailand King Cobra head
Ophiophagus hannah. Venomous and potentially deadly. Grows almost to 6 meters. Eats other snakes primarily. If bitten, may die within 10-20 minutes.

Ophiophagus hannah
(Thailand King Cobra)

Thais say: Thai language sounds like Ngoo how chang, or ngoo chong ahng. There are many names for this snake.

Length: Max length about 5.8 meters. The presenter at the Saovabha Snake Farm in Bangkok said the largest king was caught in Nakhon si Thammarat in Thailand’s south, near Surat Thani province.

Range: All over Thailand and most of Southeast Asia.

Notes: I’ve seen a few king cobras in the wild. One I saw in a park in Krabi – just the tail as it crossed the road behind me. I’m guessing it was a 8 meter King. I know it is probably impossible, but I’m not joking. The tail was absolutely massive, long and thicker by nearly double that of other 5-meter kings I’ve seen many of. This was quite possibly the biggest King Cobra in the world.

Another king I saw on the island of Penang, in Malaysia. I was coming  down a very steep hill and I saw this 3-4 meter king cruising through the dense underbrush. It was absolutely awesome to see it there when there were so many people climbing the hill (dozens).

Another time I saw a king about 120 meters in elevation up a limestone mountain in Krabi province. This one rested on the steps of a popular temple – Wat Tham Seua and I had to move it away so people could come down the steps. A large 4 meter king that was very fast! Note to self – don’t try to move a king that is higher than you are (it was on steps up ahead of me and was very fast to come down to attempt to strike at me because it had the height advantage and probably felt fearless.

Kings are all over Thailand and can be found anywhere near houses, or really – anywhere. But they are not found often. They are tremendously strong and smart animals. Please give the snake a large space and do not poke it with a stick. They are very fast moving. Juvenile king cobras can also kill you. Their venom is every bit as toxic as adults.

Habitat: Like many types of habitat. Dense forest near water and open grasslands.  Love bamboo thickets for a nest. Ideal cover is a web of small bamboo growing about a meter high with soft bamboo leaves underneath. The King I found last night was up a limestone mountain around 100 meters elevation. In Thailand they are often found wherever rat snakes might be found because they seem to prefer them.

Kings seem to prefer mountains. The other two I found were also at some elevation (200 m and around 500 meters).

King cobras are usually terrestrial, but have been found many times in trees.

Active Time? The snake is mainly diurnal – found active during the daytime, but can also be active also at night.

Food: King cobras eat other smaller snakes primarily, but also will eat monitor lizards. Occasionally they’ll eat other king cobras, pythons, lizards, birds, rodents. I saw a 5 meter long king attempting to eat a 2.5 meter reticulated python. The King appeared intimidated by the strength of the python – it’s no pushover. Here is a photo of a 3 meter king eating a 2 meter red tailed racer snake.

King Cobra Eats Red Tailed Racer Snake - Thailand

Defensive Behavior: Lifts its head off the ground sometimes by as much as 4-5 feet, and flattens out the neck. The hood of a King cobra doesn’t flare as wide… but, a big King will scare you much more because they can be 5 times as long as the monocled or other cobras! These snakes are not usually that afraid of people, and move slowly to ‘escape’ if they move away at all. Last night I moved a 4 meter king off some steps at a local temple so people could pass. It was not in ANY hurry to get away, and it came at me a couple of times. Impressive snakes, and be very afraid… I know a man personally, his brother was bitten on the chest and died in less than 10 minutes on the way to hospital.

Venom Toxicity: Very toxic, but monocled cobras (Naja kaouthia) and kraits (genus Bungarus) are more potent on the LD50 scale. The power of the King is in the volume of venom it can inject in one bite – maximum around 7ml! Kings can kill elephants with a bite.

Antivenom: There is a specific antivenin for the king cobras, but if the hospital you are at does not have it there is an alternative. Tiger snake antivenin can also work well.

Offspring: Lay eggs which they stay with in the nest until ready to hatch. When the eggs start to hatch the mother leaves because it eats other snakes primarily – and would likely eat the young. The young are fast, and deadly from the time they hatch. Juvenile king cobras from Thailand have yellow bands across their black bodies and heads. They look radically different from adult king cobra snakes. There is a danger of mistaking them for mangrove cat snakes (Boiga melanota).

Classification:

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Reptilia
Order: Squamata
Suborder: Serpentes
Family: Elapidae
Genus: Ophiophagus
Species: O. hannah

Three King Cobras in Thailand
Notice the light band across the back of the mid-body (right) ? Until the King flares his hood you can tell it’s a king by those bands. In addition, the head is very distinctive, and large compared to any other snake except a Python.

The kings in these photos are all beat up from bashing their faces against the cages at a snake show in Thailand. In the wild they are so beautiful… majestic… amazing snakes. I was so glad to see my first one  in the wild last night. Even better to interact with it… Gotta love Thailand!

Video of a King Cobra breathing – you can hear it:

Update 3/13/2015 – I’ve seen a number of king cobras in the wild now over the years. Four of them have been hundreds of meters high on mountains. Many snake enthusiasts want to come to Thailand to see king cobras, and I have to tell them… the chance of seeing one is very little. I’ve lived in Thailand for ten years and I’ve seen only a handful, and I’m in the rainforest often. Your best bet is to come to the country and stay for a couple of months. Stay at PhanomBenchaMountainResort.com in a bungalow, and hike during the days around there. That’s my best advice.

Thais are a bit crazy about cobras – it is the most easily recognized snakes, and though I have met few people that can identify other snakes, most know what a cobra looks like. They even sell amulet necklaces of cobras!

Monocled Cobras – Venomous – Very Deadly

Monocled cobra siblings. Deadly venomous snakes - Naja kaouthia - Thailand
Naja Kaouthia – Venomous – VERY dangerous and very common Thailand snake.

Naja kaouthia, the monocled cobra is one of Thailand’s most deadly snakes – with highly toxic (neurotoxic + cytotoxic) venom. One bite on your toe from one that jumps out of your outdoor refrigerator can kill you. I just wrote a story about that on ThaiPulse.com/blog/. Monocled cobras seem to be everywhere in Thailand. I had a friend that found them in his kitchen often. I’ve seen them crossing the road (see video below), and there was a family of these cobras living under the office of my wife’s workplace – with many 18″ baby cobras.

Thais respect (fear) this snake because many have friends or relatives that have been envenomated (bitten and venom injected) by this snake. They even make Buddhist amulets with cobra snake images.

Currently I have two baby monocled cobras and even at 12-15 inches – they are fierce. One snake handler described monocled cobras as “spastic” – and I have to agree.

If you are bit by any cobra – get to the hospital as fast as you can. Monocled cobra venom is on par or even more toxic than some of the Thai kraits, and much more toxic than King Cobra venom when compared drop to drop. Even if the bite is a very small one – get to the hospital immediately. All it takes is a drop of venom to hit your blood stream for biological chaos to ensue.

Naja kaouthia
(Thailand Monocled Cobra)

Appearance: Monocled cobras are easily identified by looking at the back of the hood – there is a monocle – or – eye type shape there. They are light brown to dark grey to solid black. The two I have now, and the two I had before were almost black.

Thais say: Ngoo how hom, Ngoo how mo (long o sound)

Length: Typical maximum length about 1.5 meters. Recently I saw one in a mangrove forest that was 2 meters or larger. They can get up to 2.2 meters – about 7.5 feet long.

Range: All over Thailand and most of Southeast Asia.

Notes: Neuro toxic venom affecting nerves, brain, and causing death very quickly without treatment. They are very fast strikers. The baby monocled cobras are every bit as deadly. Please be CAREFUL!

Habitat: Both flat and hilly regions. I’ve seen them on hills, but usually near people – under houses and in places rats and frogs are likely to be found. In the mornings they can be in trees and bushes – trying to get some sun to warm up. They love to hide under leaves, wood, anything really. Lifespan is around 30 years.

Deadly venomous Thailand monocled cobra (naja kaouthia) in strike pose.Active Time? The snake is mainly diurnal – active by day, but I have seen a couple moving around at night. In fact, in Thailand – I’ve only seen three active at night – the rest – dozens of them, were active during daytime.

Food: Rodents, lizards, frogs, birds, eggs, other snakes.

Defensive Behavior: Lift head off ground and flatten out neck. The hood flares quite wide compared to the width of the body – versus that of the king cobras, which don’t flare out that widely.

Monocled cobras are very active and ready to strike especially as the temperature climbs past 35C (about 95F). Do be very careful with them during this temperature range because they are ‘extra-bitey.’

Venom Toxicity: Very toxic, deadly. Even a small bite can kill you. See “neurotoxic and cytotoxic venoms” (link).

Offspring: Lays 25-40 eggs. Young are fully prepared to envenomate as they hatch. Mating takes place after the rainy season stops. Eggs incubate in about 2 months. Eggs hatch between April-June. Hatchlings are between 8 and 12 inches at birth.

Classification:
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Reptilia
Order: Squamata
Suborder: Serpentes
Family: Elapidae
Genus: Naja
Species: Naja kaouthia

Classified by: Lesson, 1841

Monocled Cobra videos:
My Two Recent Baby Monocled Cobras:

Finding a Small Monocled Cobra on the Street:

My 2 Previous Monocled Cobras in the Tank:

What DON’T You Want Hiding in Your Motorbike?

Malayan pit viper (Calloselasma rhodostema), is a deadly snake that bites in response to heat sources. This snake is located in Thailand and is hiding inside a motorbike at night.

Malayan Pit Viper (Calloselasma rhodostema). Deadly bites are possible mainly due to brain hemorrhage (bleeding), but most people just lose some of their flesh to this snake. The venom is a very strong and is cytotoxic. It destroys living cells of all sorts, including muscle and bone. This is the snake you really don’t want to be hiding in your motorbike in Thailand!

Bharath contacted me by email just after I went to sleep last night. He said his wife was touched on the leg by the snake which was hiding in the motorbike. Apparently no bite. LUCKY DAY!

Photo ©2014 Bharath Bellur.

Worldwide Snake Identification Site

A few years back I implemented a feature on this site that I wasn’t sure would be used very often, but I thought it would be nice to have for visitors and expats living in Thailand. The feature was the Snake ID Form – you can see the link for it over on the right side column.

Well, after more than three years we’ve had nearly 1,500 form submissions by people requesting help to identify snakes. We charged nothing for it, and though it was sometimes a month or more before we could tackle the list of submissions, we eventually got around to all of them.

Yesterday I had a thought. Why not offer a worldwide service to help people ID snakes they find in ANY country?

It was a great thought, and again, I couldn’t figure out whether it would be worth it or not. It’s always a lot of time to build a new site and have it do well online. There is so much competition. Snakes are a fascinating subject and there are so many people that have their own websites they’re trying to make successful.

Long story short, I went for it this morning. I bought the domain SnakeIdentification.org and have the rudimentary beginning of a website there. A lot will be changing in the next few days. I hope to be able to make this work because I think it’s something the world needs. If you can help in any way by linking to the site, that would be so helpful. Let me know if you do and I’ll see if there’s anything I can do for you in return.

Cheers!

Vern

 

Snake Database Research Project

© 2014 Vern Lovic
© 2014 Vern Lovic

I’ve considered, on a couple of different occasions, creating a large database of snakes in Asia that could be used as a reference tool for anyone that wanted to join (free). I was thinking, start with Thailand snakes first. The data on each snake would be as comprehensive as possible. At the moment there are separate resources we can use to find information about specific species. The information is not up to date in most, and is not comprehensive by any means.

If anyone is interested in joining this project, do let me know. If there is enough interest, we can move forward with it. Information for each species would be exhaustive. Everything that is known about each. Photos of hatchlings, juvenile, and adult snakes. Photos of snake skins. Photos of eggs. Photos of environment typically frequented. Venom characteristics. Links to articles in the literature that provide more scientific information. Links to venom experts in the case of envenomation. Scale counts would be included. Latest finds would be included. New snakes not yet classified will have pages.

There really needs to exist a comprehensive database with everything that is known about a particular species, in one place online. This database would be an attempt at that.

This would be an ideal project for students looking to gain notoriety in the field and to make contacts with other snake enthusiasts around the globe.

Just a thought at the moment. Anybody want to move forward with it?

Recent Snake Bites in Thailand – King Cobra and Malayan Pit Viper

Malayan pit viper with eggs
Calloselasma rhodostoma (Malayan Pit Viper) with eggs.

Here’s a bit of news out of Krabi province. Just in the last month I’ve come across two people that were bitten by two of the worst snakes in the country, in all of the world really.

The first case was almost expected. I mean, you work with deadly snakes everyday, multiple times each day, and you’ll eventually slip up and one will get you. That’s what happened to a young 19 year old that works at a cobra show. He was doing the show with the king cobra (Ophiophagus hannah). He was on his knees and moving his head around to entice the snake to strike. He stopped moving for a brief second, and the snake struck at his shoulder. The bite was more of a scrape, but it definitely scraped the shoulder of the boy pretty deeply. His scar looks serious enough. To be bitten on the shoulder right there, near the heart and near some big blood vessels probably would not have resulted in a good situation had he been envenomated. But, he lucked out tremendously. The big cobra didn’t inject any venom. LUCKY OWEN!

As you probably know, king cobras have a venom that is not all that potent. I mean, it’s comparable with pit viper venom as far as cytotoxic damage it does, but it also has the neurotoxic component that renders muscle useless and stops the heart and breathing. The exceptional power of the king cobras bite is that it can transfer up to 7 ml of venom into the body of a victim. The usual amount is about .5 ml, and that’s enough to kill most people with a good bite.

The second case of snake bite in Krabi happened to a woman that was working in her garden at mid-day. There had been no rain at all for about two months prior to the bite incident. She kept her garden water on a lot during the day so she could water her plants. The snake, a Malayan pit viper, was coiled under some plants enjoying the cool water. She put her hand close to where it was, and ZAP. It tagged her with both fangs on the hand. She quickly wento to the hospital, but never did present any symptoms. Another dry bite! So, two-for-two here in Krabi.

Venomous snake bites result in a dry bite around 50% of the time. That means that you have a 50-50 chance that there will be no other complications other than the damage to your skin where the fangs penetrated.

Be careful in your garden, and walking around. May through December is the time in Thailand and many bordering countries where snakes are at their most abundant and most active. Be especially careful not to tread on or near the Russell’s Viper or Malayan Pit Viper. These are two vipers that are well hidden on the ground and don’t tend to move out of the way when someone is walking toward them. At night – use a flashlight (torch) to see where you’re putting your feet as you walk. You do NOT want to be bitten by a venomous snake in Thailand. Take care!

 

Thailand Snakes Overview Video

Here is some general information about snakes in Thailand to put your mind at ease about the danger of the venomous snakes in the country. There is little to be afraid of if you are coming to visit Thailand for a few days, even a month. You are not likely to see any snakes at all unless you are out specifically looking for them. Even then, sometimes when I go looking, I don’t find any snakes after hours of looking. A friend just north of me in Hua Hin told me that he and another two guys just went out for 6 hours the other night and found nothing. That is the way it goes sometimes.

Anyway, watch this video for information about Thailand snakes in general. If you have any questions, just comment or write me an email. Cheers!

Thailand Herping Report by David Frohlich (Acrochordus granulatus)

Thailand Herping Report by David Frohlich (Acrochordus granulatus)

I decided to go herping in a mangrove forest near Pranburi, Thailand with a friend of mine, George. We arrived there at about 8:00 p.m. The weather during March was warm and the sky was clear. Surprisingly not many insects were calling. We found 3 Long-nosed Vine Snakes (Ahaetulla nasuta) in the first 30 minutes of the walk and we were very happy with that. But they were nothing compared to the next snake I spotted about 1 hour later at about 9:30 p.m.

I saw a black and white banded snake surfacing in mid-river for air. I immediately ran into the water to grab it! My first thought was that it’s a krait of some sort, but then quickly realized that its not. It turns out it was the rare Marine File Snake also known as the “Wart Snake” (Acrochordus granulatus)! These snakes grow to about 1 meter long and has black and white banding the entire length of the body. They are rather rare marine snakes that are active at night and are predominantly water dwellers. They eat small fish and saltwater eels. What a beautiful snake! I had never seen one of these before. The skin feels rough like sand, but at the same time very soft as well. Unlike any snake I have ever felt, very difficult to describe. The eyes are bright blue and the tail is slightly flattened into a paddle shape. Once I brought it out on land to get a good look at it, I felt 7 huge lumps in the snakes body in the back half of the body. I’m am assuming she is pregnant and those lumps are the juveniles, these snakes don’t lay eggs like most snakes, they give live birth. I am very happy to have found this truly awesome snake in Thailand.

The Marine File Snake is non-venomous and of no danger to humans. Acrochordus granulatus can be quickly identified by small blue eyes located on top it’s head, the lack of enlarged ventral scales, and loose-fitting skin with a gritty, sandy feel to it. On land, it is very sluggish and moves slowly. This snake is in the same Genus as the Javan File Snake (Acrochordus javanicus), which is brown in color, as thick as a human leg, and up to 3 meters in length.

Here is a short video of the snake:

Here are some photos of the Marine File Snake in the location found:

Achrochordus granulatus - Marine File Snake Handheld
Copyright 2014 David Frohlich.
Achrochordus granulatus - Marine File Snake Full Body Photo
Copyright 2014 David Frohlich.
Achrochordus granulatus - Marine File Snake Close up photo
Copyright 2014 David Frohlich.