All posts by Vern

Snake posts by Vern Lovic. Amateur herpetologist roaming about Thailand on field herping tours and events to find king cobras, kraits, vipers, corals, keelbacks, and other snakes native to Thailand. FYI - Thailand has over 200 snake species. Here's our latest book with detailed information on Thailand's 35 Deadly Snakes. "Is That Snake In Your House Dangerous? Identify Deadly Thailand Snakes In Under 5 Minutes!" INFO HERE.

Brown Kukri Snake – Non Venomous – Not Dangerous

Kukri Snake in Thailand - non venomous, but biting snake found all over Thailand
Kukri Snake – Non Venomous – Not Dangerous

Oligodon purpurascens (Brown Kukri Snake)

Thais say: Ngoo koot

Appearance: Typical kukri shape – not long, but thick snakes with a short tail and no real separation between neck and head. Very small head. Pattern on top of head indicative of most kukri species. Venter is creme or pink.

Length: Average just under 1 meter (about 37 inches)

Range: All over Thailand. Brown Kukri snakes were once thought to be native to only the southernmost Thailand provinces, however J. Bulian has found one in Pattaya and there have been others discovered farther in the northeast. Assume the Brown Kukri’s habitat is across most of Thailand.

Habitat: These snakes prefer life in the forest and can be found at great elevations – about 1 mile high (1,600 meters). I have received numerous requests to identify this snake from readers who found them close to or inside their homes as well. The habitat is wide and varied for this species. Regardless where they are found, they enjoy living under brush, wood, rocks, and thick flora.

Active Time? Nocturnal, active at night and in the early morning as the sun rises. I have also found them in the middle of the day, and toward evening before sunset.

Food: Frogs, lizards, geckos, skinks, and their eggs.

Defensive Behavior: If the brown kukris are bothered enough they will roll their body to the side and lift up their tail – perhaps to present it as a place to attack – leaving the mouth free to strike when the aggressor does go for the tail. Kukri snakes have specialized egg-slicing teeth in the back of the jaw which are enlarged and shaped like a kukri knife. When held by the head, this snake can expertly twist the jaw around to stick the handler with these teeth. Holding is not recommended.

Venom Toxicity: No venom.

Offspring: Lay 6-12 eggs. A reader reported his snake had 8 eggs the first time and 10 the next. Eggs hatched after 60 days, incubated at 29 degrees C. Hatching in Bangkok latitude around late April.

Notes: Though this snake is not venomous, it is keen to bite and can inflict deep wounds due to it’s large, curved teeth and strong bite. Michael Cota, researcher, says, “Appears that it might be an evolutionary link on the way to being venomous, since it is the only snake that I can think of that has “fangs” (enlarged pair of teeth), but no venom delivery system or ducts to the teeth. They are not dangerous, but will give you quite a bloody bite that takes a long time to heal. What makes them so difficult is that their head is not distinct; therefore, it is extremely difficult to grab behind the head and keep proper control of it.  It maneuvers it head around on your grip and then uses teeth to bite – slash.”

You’ll need a tetatus shot if you are bitten, as with all snakes as a precaution.

Kukris are common and you might see one in Thailand if you live here.

Brown Kukri Scientific classification

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Subphylum: Vertebrata
Class: Reptilia
Order: Squamata
Suborder: Serpentes
Family: Colubridae
Subfamily: Colubrinae
Genus: Oligodon
Species: Oligodon purpurascens

Binomial name: Oligodon purpurascens
Classified by Schlegel in 1837.

Purple Kukri Snake - Harmless and common in Thailand.
Oligodon purpurascens, a very common kukri snake in our area. These have a fairly wide range in the south of Thailand. Brown or Purple kukri snake.

Snakes I’ve Found or Caught in Thailand

I thought I’d write up a list of Thailand snakes I’ve caught – just to try to keep track. Here’s a list of both venomous and non-venomous snakes I’ve caught (through 4/2017).

Thailand Snakes I’ve been lucky enough to find:

NEW SPECIES! I found a new Oligodon species that has not been named.

NEW SPECIES! I found another snake that I think is a new species. It is similar to a keelback, but thinner, longer. It was yellow with a white ring around the neck, about 70 cm in length around 400 meters elevation.

Venomous Species

King Cobra (Ophiophagus hannah)

Monocled Cobra (Naja kaouthia)

Malayan Krait / Blue Krait (Bungarus candidus)

Mangrove Pit Viper (Trimeresurus purpureomaculatus)

Wagler’s Pit Viper (Tropidolaemus wagleri)

Malayan Pit Viper (Calloselasma rhodostoma)

Beautiful Pit Viper (Trimeresurus venustus)

Red Necked Keelback (Rhabdophis subminiatus)

Red Headed Krait – (Bungarus flaviceps)

Small Spotted Coral Snake (Calliophis maculiceps)

Brown Long-glanded Coral Snake (Calliophis intestinalis)

 

Non-Venomous Species

Speckle-bellied Keelback (Rhabdophis chrysargos)

Golden Kukri Snake (Oligodon cinereus)

Purple Kukri Snake (Oligodon purpurascens)

Blood Python (Python Brongersmai)

Reticulated Python (Malayopython reticulatus)

Triangle Keelback (Xenochrophis triangularis)

Common Brown Keelback (Xenochrophis flavipunctatus)

Checkered Keelback (Xenochrophis piscator)

Striped Keelback (Amphiesma stolatum)

Big-eyed Mountain Keelback (Pseudoxenodon macrops)

Oriental Whip Snake (Ahaetulla prasina) green, yellow phases

Malayan Whip Snake (Ahaetulla mycterizans)

Malayan Banded Wolf Snake (Lycodon subcinctus)

Brown Whip Snake / Keel bellied Whip Snake (Dryophiops rubescens) both brown and red phases.

Butler’s Wolf Snake (Lycodon butleri)

Common Wolf Snake (Lycodon capucinus)

Dusky Wolf Snake (Lepturophis albofuscus)

Laotian Wolf Snake (Lycodon laoensis)

Malayan Bridle Snake (Dryocalamus subannulatus)

Puff-Faced Water Snake (Homalopsis buccata)

Red Tailed Pipe Snake (Cylindrophis ruffus ruffus)

Sunbeam Snake (Xenopeltis unicolor)

Common Water Snake / Yellow Bellied Water Snake (Enhydris plumbea)

Golden Tree Snake (Chrysopelea ornata)

Paradise Tree Snake (Chrysopelea paradisi)

Blue Bronzeback Snake (Dendrelaphis cyanochloris)

Striped Bronzeback Snake (Dendrelaphis caudolineatus)

Common Bronzeback Snake (Dendrelaphis pictus)

Banded Bronzeback (Dendrelaphis striatus)

Copperheaded Racer | Radiated Rat Snake (Coelognathus radiata)

Malayan Racer (Coelognathus flavolineatus)

Red-tailed Racer (Gonyosoma oxycephalum)

Banded Cat Snake / Mangrove Cat Snake / Black Cat Snake (Boiga dendrophila)

Green Cat Snake (Boiga cyanea)

Dog-toothed Cat Snake (Boiga cynodon)

Common Mock Viper (Psammodyanstes pulverulentus)

Ridley’s Racer (Othriophis taeniurus ridleyi)

Indo-Chinese Rat Snake (Ptyas korros)

White-bellied Rat Snake (Ptyas fusca)

Oriental Rat Snake (Ptyas mucosus)

Keeled Rat Snake (Ptyas carinatus)

Brahminy Blind Snake (Ramphotyphlops braminus)

Common Bridle Snake (Dryocalamus davisonii)

Rainbow Water Snake (Enhydris enhydris)

Orange-bellied Snake (Gongylosoma baliodeirus)

DORs (Dead on Road)

I don’t count these, I have seen more species in addition those above.

Fifty-eight different snake species. Well, there are 150+ more out there – so I’d better get herping.

Just to make it crystal clear for those that need it. I catch the snakes and let them go in the same place I found them – in all cases except rescues where I am removing snakes from someone’s property, and they must be relocated. I release snakes I catch almost always within 24 hours. I release the snakes back to another suitable habitat.

If you want to come and catch snakes in Thailand – give us an email:

Email address for ThailandSnakes.com

We go primarily at night to herp for a couple reasons:

1. More herps.
2. Cooler weather.

Nearly 7 Years of ThailandSnakes.com – Thanks!

Thailand Snakes stats.

When I started this website almost 7 years ago, I really didn’t think there’d be that many people interested in the herpetofauna of Thailand. I was so wrong. The stats above show the growth of ThailandSnakes.com over the years. This month we are already the 2nd highest traffic month ever. Traffic means people coming to the site and what they’re consuming – pageviews.

Now I need to come to a decision – either crank it up to be as big as it can possibly get, or just let it coast.

I certainly don’t have all the pages I want on the site yet. It’s slow going to add new species pages. It takes a few hours to write the information and find good photos. When I look at the traffic numbers, people are mostly interested in the common Thailand snakes, and venomous Thailand snakes categories.

I have few pit vipers listed. I have no seasnakes listed – I might have Laticauda. Can’t recall. I have very few snakes outside of the species I catch here in the South. I could really add another 100 species to cover more of the commonly seen snakes in Thailand.

I have a lot of helpful pages up. I’m not sure what else I could write to help people with snakes. If you have any ideas, do let me know!

I’m stuck about how to monetize the site. There is a ton of free info here, and I’ve written some books to cover more specific info people may want. I’m writing a new book that will be finished in a few days – “Venomous Snakebites and Near Misses – Southeast Asia Edition” which I hope everyone likes. Some of the stories are really fascinating. Danger lurking around every corner.

If you have any suggestions for the site, now is the time to let me know.

Cheers!

The Best Herping Headlamp? Petzl Ultra Rush!

OK, bear with me as I recommend this obscenely expensive headlamp for herping, but I have to do it. I doubt there is anyone else in the world using this headlamp to find snakes, reptiles, amphibians, etc… but, you know what?

The Petzl Ultra Rush Headlamp is the BEST Headlamp for Herping

How much is it? Don’t ask. You can’t afford it. I afford it because I reviewed it for my Headlamps101.com site, and then I’ve been using it for the past month, and it has absolutely blown me away. I have found more snakes and other wildlife than I would have found with other lights – by far. It’s not just the brightness, it’s bright. It’s a combination of factors reviewed below.

It’s really the best headlamp for herping that I’ve seen, and I’ve used dozens of LED flashlights and eight top of the line headlamps over the years. I have never found any headlamp even close to this one.

What Qualities Are Important in a Herping Headlamp?

LUMENS

It’s not just lumens. If it was, I’d go out and buy six of the 1,500 lumens lights for $70 each, and be done with it. It has little to do with lumens. I mean, you need a good number of lumens – say 400 lm to be bright enough for most of your herping needs. Four hundred does it for me for ground herping. It’s just about right. With the Ultra Rush headlamp, I get 420 lm for 5 hours straight. I can’t remember the last time I herped for 5 hours in a night, but yeah, it’s available if you need it that long. If you need it for longer than that, you can get 300 lumens for 7 hour out of it. That’s plenty long enough for even the most intrepid herpers. Three hundred lumens is still very usable for closer distances – say 3-4 meters in front of you, though it isn’t all that great for herping high in the trees.

With four hundred and twenty lumens, you will be able to light up the ground to about 10-15 meters and trees  – at every distance you could need to – because you sure aren’t climbing a 15 meter tree to get a snake down. You don’t need more lumens for most uses. That said, for road cruising – it is nice to have more so you can see 50 meters or so down the road and spot a snake. The Ultra Rush headlamp GIVES YOU THAT with 760 max lumens on demand. Switch on the super-bright 760 lumens occasionally as you need to see extra-far or need something you’re unsure about, lit up like Times Square. Or, you can just crank it up from the start to 760 lumens and it will go straight for 2 hours. Note – if you do it this way, it’s actually over 900 lumens for the first 15-20 minutes!

When I am riding my motorbike with the high-beams on and then turn on this headlamp at full power – the headlamp is easily 6 times as bright as my high-beams on the motorbike. That’s bright.

BEAM SHAPE

Keep in mind that the next factor – Beam Shape – greatly affects the measurement of lumens put out by the light. You can have 420 lumens spread out over 1 meter diameter at 4 meters, or at .5 meters, it is giving only half the light. The Ultra Rush gives you a large beam size – matching the capabilities of your eyes. Most beams are too tight or far too wide to give you what you need. For example, a headlamp with a 420 lumen rating that is spread out across 150 degrees of angle – will be so dim – you’d be lucky to be able to read a book by it. Lumens is a measure of total light leaving the headlamp. How it spreads out – substantially affects the brightness of the light. This leads us to the next factor…

For herping, you need a beam that matches exactly what your eyes are capable of. Your eyes are only capable of seeing snakes and other wildlife in a small range of area as you scan the ground or trees. At three meters from you, you’d be lucky to see a full meter in diameter. At four meters you could see a meter or so. The Ultra Rush was designed to match your vision.

Most headlamps have an overly-bright center spotlight beam which is too tight, too small, and too bright. At four meters distance, it is around a half-meter in size. That is too small and will contribute to eye-fatigue.

Another typical feature of headlamps and flashlights is that they try to do two things at once. They try to have a bright center beam (spot) and a wide beam going at the same time. The result is a too-bright center spotlight and a very weak flood light. Neither of these helps you find snakes. What you need is a circular beam that covers enough diameter so you can see what the light makes visible. The Ultra Rush is just perfect for this. There are 6 LED lights that blend perfectly to give you a round beam that is evenly lit and a big enough diameter to help you see everything that is there in front of you.

BEAM LIGHT BALANCE

Something I didn’t understand until recently is that, you want a WARM COLORED BEAM for your headlamp. Previous to the Ultra Rush, I was using the Nao 2 Headlamp – which I thought was awesome for 2016 – it’s dependable and I found hundreds of snakes using it. Guess what? It has a either a blue-tinted (cold) beam, or maybe it’s neutral – I cannot tell. But, when I compare the two beams – Nao 2 against the Ultra Rush – the Nao 2 beam has a bluish tint in comparison.

At first I didn’t know how that affected herping. Today I know, the slightly warm tint of the Ultra Rush is PERFECT for finding wildlife in the rainforest. For whatever reason, the warm light accents the differences between snakes and plants, snakes and the surroundings, lizards and plants, insects and plants or the ground. It’s really quite amazing to see the difference, but I’ve found so much more wildlife with this new Ultra Rush headlamp, than I ever found with my other headlamps with blue tints and tighter or looser beams.

DEPENDABILITY

The Petzl company has been around since the late 1970’s! No kidding. They were making headlamps for cavers and climbers for 40+ years now. They are definitely the best company for headlamps, and I’d not use anything else. I’ve used four of their top headlamps and all of them were durable, dependable, and gave a great quality of light. I’d certainly not switch to any other brand at this point. Go with what WORKS I’ve always been told.

When you’re in the deep rainforest and you need to depend on a headlamp to get you back out of the forest – and find you the most snakes and other wildlife – I strongly suggest you get this Ultra Rush headlamp. It’s expensive as hell. I encourage you to compare it to other lights – especially beam patterns. One-thousand lumens doesn’t mean much if the beam is super tight and laser-like. At least order this headlamp and try it out for yourself. I think you won’t be able to send it back. Like me. You’ll keep it and make excuses why you couldn’t possibly send it back. You’ll love it from the day it arrives.

Cheers,

Vern L.
ThailandSnakes.com
USASnakes.com
SnakebiteAid.org

 

Last Night’s Herp – February 22, 2017

Just a quick rundown of last night’s herping activity here in Southern Thailand – Krabi province. I walked around for two hours last night between 8 pm. and 10 pm. and found quite a lot of wildlife active. The weather has been dry and hot (33°C max during daylight, and around 29°C at night at this time). No wind, and dry air – maybe 50% humidity.

Found:

  1. Malayan pit viper (C. rhodostoma) – male, 50 cm, on the move, actively hunting prey.
  2. Malayan whip snake (A. mycterizans) – very light green 80 cm, sleeping on large leaves at 2 meters off ground.
  3. Oriental whip snake (A. prasina) – light brown, sleeping on large leaves at 1 meter off ground.
  4. 5 Slow lorises () – all in trees and ranging from 4 meters off the ground to 30 meters or more.
  5. 30+ Lizards – most or all were Forest crested lizards (C. emma), though one or two I couldn’t see well could have been A. mystaceous).
  6. Stick Insect – about 4 inches long. Love these.
  7. Tiny green bird shaped like a sphere – not bigger than a golf ball. Sleeping on a large-leafed plant 1 meter off the ground on a sloping hill with 30% grade.
  8. Numerous Spiders, Millipedes, Centipedes, Forest Scorpions mostly, but including one very small and a thin scorpion I believe from the genus Heterometrus.
  9. 2 Nightjars – these are birds of prey which feed on insects in the air or on the ground – grasshoppers, mosquitos, beetles, etc. I also saw a number of them flying around overhead.

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Preparing for 2017 Herping Season – Excited…

Nothing quite like the anticipation of another amazing snake season here in Thailand and maybe some other parts of Southeast Asia in 2017.

We got some rain last week, flooded the hell out of Krabi in some spots, but most of it drained within a couple hours of bucketing down and flooding roads and places I’d never seen flooded before. A bit like the flood of May 2011, but worse.

Last night I went out and found 4 snakes in 25 minutes. That might be a record. There were trees all over the road, and I couldn’t go far, but I herped what I could get to, and I guess I really wanted to find snakes because it wasn’t difficult, but some were in difficult spots to see.

Here’s a rundown of what the year looks like at the moment.

February – Sisaket and Ubon Ratchathani trip.

April – Isaan trip – Yasothon, Sisaket, Ubon, and there’s a national park in Mukdahan I want to have a look at. There’s some things up here other than snakes that I’m interested in – and I’m not only talking about Spago’s Pizza either! Though, if my stomach will handle it, I’ll shovel some in.

May – Possibly having a couple visitors for herping. Anything could happen, so we’ll see.

June – SnakeStalk 2017. So looking forward to it!

July – Considering making a run up to Nakhon to see a few people and herp some new areas. Thing is, I really want to focus on hatchling king cobras here in our area – and I have a couple places to check on continually during June/July. It’s probably better I stay here, and make it August I go up to Nakhon (Korat).

Aug – Herping the heck out of this place, or going to Korat.

September – Herping the heck out of this place.

October – depends on weather

November – depends on weather

December – not much is likely

 

Thailand Snake Note – What is Field Herping for Snakes?

A lot of snake enthusiasts would like to go snake herping – or looking for snakes, but they’re not really sure what it’s all about. Here I’ll explain.

You book a number of days from someone offering herping trips (us). When you arrive we’ll meet you at your hotel and go from there for day 1. Day 1 might consist of a 30km ride out to a place we have found snakes in the past. A lot depends on the Thailand weather. Snakes love to come out during and after a rain. Reason is – the frogs and other wildlife are more abundant then. If it rains straight for 2-3 days, you won’t find many snakes out in that. But, if the weather turns sunny after a couple days of rain – bam, they’re out.

You can target certain snakes or snake family and we will create a custom itinerary for you based on the number of days you’re staying for.

Herping can be done in two primary ways:

  1. Walking through the forest, along streams, up mountains, etc.
  2. Driving around at night to find snakes crossing the road. It sounds almost ridiculous, but after a rain this is an especially productive technique if you’re in the right area.

Usually you’ll be walking and on your feet for a couple of hours at a time. There are always places we can stop and rest if you feel the need – the herping excursion goes according to what you need.

During the field herping you may be able to take photos right there where you find the snake, or, you might choose to bag it up and take it to another location for photos. The snake is then released in it’s natural environment. We don’t keep snakes. We cannot allow you to keep them either.

When you hire a guide to take you herping in Thailand, in our case anyway, we are not there to put on a show for you – you are the focus. The trip is focused on your experience. On occasion we might pick up a snake for you – but, it’s really all about you!  We can tell you where to look and tell you some things about the snakes you find, of course.

Herping, even in Thailand, is a little bit like fishing in Florida. There are many varieties of snake out there. They are in some hard to reach places. If you want to make the effort to find them – chances are you will find some. If not, if you don’t turn over every snakey rock or board, you may not find enough snakes to make you happy. On occasion the weather is wrong and we will only find a couple of snakes. Sometimes, for no reason we can understand – we don’t find many snakes.

We hope that isn’t the case, of course, and we try every time we go out herping in the field to find snakes!

If you have any questions about setting up a herping trip in Thailand while you’re here – zap us an email at: [email protected]

Here’s more info – Herping for Snakes (Tips) >

King Cobra – Largest Venomous Snake in World

An adult king cobra (Ophiophagus hannah) in southern Thailand, resting on a branch.

KING COBRA (Ophiophagus hannah – Thailand King Cobra)

In Greek, ‘snake eater.’ Sometimes called ‘Hamadryad.’ Discovered and described by Danish naturalist, Theodore Edward Cantor in 1836. The species name, hannah reflects the snake’s arboreal habits, from Greek mythology it refers to tree dwelling nymphs of the same name.

IDENTIFICATION

Ophiophagus hannah occupies its own genus, Ophiophagus. This is different from other cobras in the Naja genus which have multiple species within the genus. There has been talk about breaking up the genus into a number of species, as differences exist in coloration, scalation, and in comparison, king cobras can be easily distinguished by the shape and size of the neck hood. Kings have a longer, thinner hood. Other cobras grow to maximum length around two meters in length – much smaller than king cobras. The king cobra has chevrons lighter in color than the body color, on the neck and body that may be very pronounced, as in kings from China, or muted, as we see on melanistic king cobras here in Southern Thailand. A technical difference between Ophiophagus hannah and all other cobras is the existence of a pair of scales on the top and rear of the head called, ‘occipital scales.’ They are located adjacent to each other behind the usual 9-scale arrangement typical of colubrids and elapids.

King Cobra Scalation Reference Chart
King Cobra Scalation Reference Chart

Image from Creative Commons – Wikipedia. Link here.

THAI LANGUAGE

In Thai language, it sounds like Ngoo how chang (literally “snake cobra elephant”, or ngoo chong ahng. There are many names for this snake.

AVERAGE AND MAXIMUM LENGTH

Max length about 5.85 meters. The presenter at the Queen Saovabha Memorial Snake Institute in Bangkok said the largest king was caught in Nakhon Si Thammarat in Thailand’s south, near Surat Thani province and it was 19 feet 2 inches in length.

RANGE

All over Thailand and most of Southeast Asia.

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.

NOTES

I’ve seen a few king cobras (hamadryad) 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 close by.

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.

Recently Tom Charlton and I found a 3-meter king cobra in Krabi and got some great shots and video of it. Facebook photo of it here.

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. One study done by the Queen Saovabha Memorial Institute in Bangkok showed that king venom is actually more toxic the younger the snake is.

KING COBRA HABITAT

Kings 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 (PREY)

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
King Cobra eating a Red-tailed Racer (Oxycephalum gonyosoma) Snake – Thailand. Copyright 2009 Vern Lovic.

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. More information on venom constituents and treatment for king cobra snakebite here.

O. HANNAH 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 dendrophila).

Young king cobras spend their early months, and possibly years in the trees. However, recently (Spring 2016) I have found two hatchling king cobras dead on the road in Krabi. Did they attempt to cross the road immediately after hatching while in search of a proper tree to climb? Not sure. Would love to find out. If you have any insight – do let me know!

From Luke Yeomans: “A female usually deposits 20 to 40 eggs into the mound, which acts as an incubator. She stays with the eggs and guards the mound tenaciously, rearing up into a threat display if any large animal gets too close, for roughly 60 to 90 days. Inside the mound, the eggs are incubated at a steady 28 °C (82 °F). When the eggs start to hatch, instinct causes the female to leave the nest and find prey to eat so she does not eat her young. The baby king cobras, with an average length of 45 to 55 cm (18 to 22 in), have venom which is as potent as that of the adults. They may be brightly marked, but these colours often fade as they mature. They are alert and nervous, being highly aggressive if disturbed.”

CONSERVATION STATUS

The IUCN Red List publishes information about the conservation status of reptiles across the globe. Here is what they had to say about King Cobras:

Ophiophagus hannah has been assessed as Vulnerable. This species has a wide distribution range, however, it is not common in any area in which it occurs (with the apparent exception of Thailand, and there only in forested areas), is very rare in much of its range, and has experienced local population declines of over 80% over 10 years in parts of its range. Pressure on this species from both habitat loss and exploitation are high throughout this snake’s range, and while no quantitative population data is available, it can be conservatively estimated that the population size has declined globally by at least 30% over an estimated three-generation period of 15-18 years. More detailed population monitoring in the more poorly-known parts of this snake’s range may reveal that this is a conservative estimate.

I mentioned earlier having seen many dozens of king cobras run through the snake show here in our local area. That is just one King Cobra Show out of perhaps a dozen in the country. If every show caught and disposed of 50 king cobras annually, that’s 600 adult king cobras yearly that are being depleted from the forests just here in Thailand. Kings mate once per year and their eggs are highly vulnerable to predators like monitors, other snakes, rats, and weather phenomena like high humidity and monsoon rains. Kings lay eggs just before the rains start.

My best guess is that king cobras are disappearing from the wild at a frightening rate. We only mentioned snake shows here, but what about all the king cobras that are found and killed across southeast Asia for food, or out of fear? There must be hundreds more, perhaps thousands per year more that are killed by people that come across them.

I hope the IUCN Red List updates their listing for Ophiophagus hannah and assigns a label more serious than “Vulnerable.” Something drastic is needed to save the country of Thailand’s wild king cobras before they disappear like they did in Penang, Malaysia.

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 chevron 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. Copyright 2009 Vern Lovic.

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!

King Cobra's forked tongue is purple, red, and black.
King Cobra’s colorful tongue

An adult king cobra showing classic threat response, hooding and preparing to strike as it senses danger. Large adult king cobra showing hood and round pupils

This page is focused on King Cobra (Ophiophagus hannah) snakes because their demise is imminent here in Thailand, and already in most countries they are not found in near the numbers they once were. On the island of Penang in Malaysia, it is said that kings can only be found very occasionally on the mountain. They used to be common. I was lucky enough to see one there on a very steep section of the hill while descending. It was three to four meters long and much thicker than my forearm. It was in the underbrush, moving slowly, perhaps thinking it was unobserved. That was two years ago, and maybe that snake has been a meal for someone by now. It’s entirely possible.

In Thailand I’ve watched just one snake show take over fifty king cobras each year out of the wild. They ‘rescue’ them from homes, yards, businesses, gardens, and farms. The kings spend a couple weeks or months rubbing their faces raw and bleeding against the fence trying desperately to escape. Some of them are put in the king cobra show – where they are teased mercilessly three to ten times each day for tourists that are interested in seeing snakes, but don’t really understand the state of the kings that are held there.

I cannot imagine that king cobras as a species have more than another few years of existence in Thailand, Malaysia, Philippines, Laos, Singapore, and Taiwan. The IUCN Red List site lists king cobras as ‘Vulnerable.” Kings are being collected and sold in great numbers to buyers in Bangkok who cook them up as a meal, or send them on to China for the same purpose.

It wasn’t long ago that the Queen Saovabha Snake Farm – “The Red Cross Snake Farm” in Bangkok was ‘broken into’ and something like seventy king cobras were ‘stolen.’ Hmm, wonder where they went. Seventy king cobras had to fetch a nice price, I’d think. Tens of thousands of US Dollars – easy. Not accusing, it’s just a very sad state of reality for these and other snakes poached for their skin, blood, bile ducts, tongues, and meat.

So this page will be a collection of all the best information I can source about my favorite species of snake, King Cobra – Ophiophagus hannah. If you have some article, book, documentary, photo, video, or other bit of information you’d like to see listed here, just write via the contact form at this link. It is found under the HOME menu at the top of all pages.

 

Video of a King Cobra breathing – Listen – You Can Hear It:

Update 7/20/2016 – 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. Your chance at seeing a king cobra is not high – you would probably need weeks of walking around during the day to see one. It’s all luck!

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!