King Cobra - Worst Snake to be Bitten By in Thailand. Death can occur in 10 minutes.

King Cobra – Largest Venomous Snake in World

Thailand King Cobra, Ophiophagus hannah, is the world's largest venomous snake, and is found across most of Southeast Asia, including this one found in Thailand.
Ophiophagus hannah. Venomous and potentially deadly. Grows to around to 6-meters. Eats other snakes primarily. If bitten, victim may die within 10-20 minutes.

Ophiophagus hannah (Thailand King Cobra)

Thais say: In Thai language, it sounds like Ngoo how chang (literally “snake cobra elephant”, 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 and it was around 19 feet in length (cannot recall exact length).

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 an eight meter long snake. I know it is probably impossible, but I’m not joking. The tail was absolutely massive, longer 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 one-hundred twenty 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 four-meter long 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.

Kings are all over Thailand and can be found near houses, or really – just about 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.

Another interesting bit of information is that the king cobra is said to be able to see as far as 100 meters during daylight.

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 not to be taken lightly. I know a man personally, his brother was bitten on the upper arm/shoulder and died in less than 10 minutes on the way to hospital.

King cobra skull showing large teeth and thick, rather short fangs for injecting venom during envenomation.
King cobra skull showing large teeth and thick, rather short fangs for injecting venom during envenomation.

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 (and have) killed elephants with a good bite.

Antivenom: There is a specific antivenin for the king cobras manufactured by the Red Cross Queen Saovabha Memorial Institute in Bangkok, Thailand and available online for about $110 (May, 2015) for enough antivenin to counteract .8ml of king cobra venom. If the hospital you’re in does not have it in stock and cannot order it quickly from another nearby source, there is an alternative. Tiger snake antivenin can also work well. Online – Snake-Antivenin.com (no affiliation).

Offspring: Ophiophagus hannah is the only snake known in the world that creates a nest (usually of bamboo and other leaves). This snake lays eggs which they stay with in the nest until ready to hatch. When the eggs begin hatching, the female king 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 dendrophila).

Young king cobras spend their early months, and possibly years in the trees.

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. Even better to interact with it. Gotta love Thailand!

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

Update 5/23/2015 – 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 slight. 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 snake, and though I have met few people that can identify other snakes, most know what a cobra looks like. There are even amulet necklaces of cobras!

More king cobra information and research here.

 

About Vern Lovic

All posts by Vern Lovic. Amateur herpetologist roaming about Thailand on field herping tours to find king cobras, kraits, vipers, coral snakes, and other snakes native to Thailand. FYI - Thailand has over 200 snake species with more than 70 of them venomous and dangerous to humans.

9 thoughts on “King Cobra – Largest Venomous Snake in World”

  1. i think its a very unique animal, its quite scary though, but i find it very amuzing, one of my friends got a king cobra tattooed on her arm and it looks down! i think this website is helpful incase one day we come face to face with one of theese dangerous creatures:]

  2. I have a King Cobra living under my house in Roi-et, Thailand (there may be a pair of them… I’m not sure). I ran into it only once and it was an amazing creature. However, when I came across it, it was moving VERY fast trying to escape my little dog that was nipping at its tail. It was so damn big, I was left breathless. It slithered right in front of me and didn’t seem to take any notice of me at all. It only seemed interested in getting away from my little dog (which I’m sure would have been only a small snack for him). It went directly toward my house and started knocking it’s head against the smoked glass sliding door. I can only assume that it thought there was a dark cave there. Eventually it slithered into some tall grass. I wanted to see more of it but reason got the better of me. I’m sure it’s still there but thankfully, I’ve only run into it that one time.

    1. Wow, wish it was me. You can call the ambulance people or the police and they’ll send a guy that picks up the king cobra for you. Not sure what they’ll do with it – but at least it won’t be under your house.

  3. Hi Vern,

    Great site!

    So – if you come face to face with a King Cobra do you freeze or leg it?

    Also, do you know if it’s possible to buy the anti-venom anywhere in Thailand (or elsewhere if not here)?

    Tom.

    1. Hi Tom,

      Hmm, good question. Probably better to leg it! But, if you are very close, freezing is best. They strike as you back away, so unless you’re moving fast, don’t bother. Another thing, they can only strike lower than their heads. All the major hospitals have the antivenin, or can get it from the Queen Saovabha Snake Farm in Bangkok. Cheers man, Vern

  4. Hey, do you have any photos of juvenile King Cobras? The info above says they have yellow bands across black bodies. I ask because around the beginning of the year I was riding a bicycle on the road out of Ob Khan NP and stopped as about a dozen little black snakes with a yellow band across their “neck” were slithering across the road. They would have been coming from a creek bed area. I know nothing of snakes other than the old adage to treat every snake as though it’s venomous. Actually, the only live cobra I’ve seen has been on that same road, smack in the middle, when I stopped at the top of a hill. He wouldn’t move and since it was a single lane I didn’t feel I had enough clearance to get past him. He was erect with his hood flared. I attempted to throw rocks near him (not at him) in hopes of moving him along (it was getting dark and I wanted to get out of the park). Every time a rock would land, he’d react to it, but not move. Finally, a jeep came along and ran over him, I heard a bang (like a balloon popping) and then saw the snake slither off to the side of the road and I still road past as fast as I could and as far away as possible.

  5. I was at Phu Mu Thailand in 1970 & 71. A fellow GI said he saw a King Cobra on site that was in a drainage ditch and he was in an Army 2 &1/2 ton truck. He said it reared up and was looking in the window at him as he eased by. Knowing the height of the truck and the depth of the ditch I estimated that it was reared up 11′. Now figure how high a King Cobra can rear up. If it can rise 1/2 of its body up then it was 22 foot. It long. He said at the time that it was almost as big around as a soccer ball. Now remember that Phu Mu mountain was a spiritual mountain jungle that the local natives stayed off of and thus lots of wild life to include tigers, black panthers, bears, and every type of snake imagineable.

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