Note: About 50% of all bites from this krait results in human death – even with the administration of antivenin (antivenom). Death is the usual result if no treatment is given. The closely related Bungarus multicinctus is ranked 3rd in the world for toxicity of venom based on some LD-50 data (terrestrial snakes). Do be careful.
(Last updated: 26 July 2016)
Bungarus candidus (Malayan Krait or Blue Krait)
Thais say: Ngoo tap saming kla, or ngoo kan plong
Length: Max length about 1.6 meters.
Range: All over Thailand and much of southeast Asia.
Notes: I’ve seen these dead on the side of the road near rubber plantations. Their head is not nearly as large as the yellow / black banded krait. The body doesn’t have the high vertebral ridge like Bungarus fasciatus. Be careful around these snakes.
Habitat: These snakes appear to favor flat country though I have found them on hills of 250 and 300 meters elevation. Not found higher than 1,200 m ASL often. Prefer proximity to water. Prefer rice fields and rice dams. Invades rat holes to use as a nest.
Active Time? The snake is mainly active at night and is not fond of the sunshine. They are shy and attempt to cover their head with their tail. They are active most consistently between 9 pm. and 11 pm. This is when I tend to find them.
Food: Other snakes – primarily, but also lizards, mice, frogs and other small animals.
Defensive Behavior: Not usually very aggressive. Shy. They don’t tend to bite unless really provoked. Still, you should never hold one. I have only seen one in a dozen of these snakes attempt to bite, and it was the result of being grabbed with tongs near the head.
Venom Toxicity: Very toxic – even more so than the Naja kaouthia (cobras). Bungarus krait venom is neurotoxic and attacks the human nervous system, shutting it down. Coma, brain death, and suffocation due to paralysis of the muscles and nerves necessary for crucial functions like the diaphragm, and or heart, are frequent causes of death. Death results usually 12-24 hours after an envenomed bite that is not treated. Little or no pain is usually felt at the bite location. The black/white kraits in Thailand are more toxic to humans than are the yellow / black kraits. That said, the yellow-black kraits (Bungarus fasciatus) can still kill you easily.
Here’s a short overview of what happened to one victim of a bite by Bungarus candidus (black-white striped krait):
A patient bitten by Bungarus candidus (Malayan krait) developed nausea, vomiting, weakness, and myalgia 30 minutes after being bitten. One hour later, ptosis and occulomotor palsies as well as tightness of his chest were noted. Respiratory failure requiring mechanical respiration appeared 8 hours after the bite and lasted for nearly 96 hours. The two bite sites were virtually painless and resulted in slight transient erythema and edema. No specific antivenin was available, and treatment consisted of respiratory support and management of aspiration pneumonitis. Recovery was complete. (Department of Medicine, Chulalongkorn University Hospital and the Queen Saovabha Memorial Institute of the Thai Red Cross Society, Bangkok, Thailand)
Handling: The banded and Malayan blue kraits are not known to bite during the daytime. That doesn’t mean they don’t, it just means they don’t do it commonly. At night these snakes bite rather easily, as evidenced by the numerous bites that occur at night to people usually laying down to sleep on the floor. Handholding the kraits for any reason seems rather absurd to me, yet snake-handlers across the globe do it regularly. The krait venom is so toxic, it’s just not worth the risk – however small.
Antivenin / Antivenom: There is a specific krait antivenin that is given for krait bites. If you don’t have access to that antivenin you can ask the hospital if they have Tiger Snake antivenin – which can be used as a substitute for krait antivenin and works well.
Offspring: Lays 4-10 eggs. Juveniles are 30 cm long at birth. Hatching occurs in June-July in Thailand.
Species: B. candidus
(Classified as Bungaris candidus)
Very Recent Malayan Krait Find (5/19/16):
Releasing a Malayan Krait During the Day in a Palm Plantation:
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 from under your outdoor refrigerator can kill you. 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.
I just heard about Grant Thompson, an 18-year-old man in Austin, Texas that was bitten on the wrist by a monocled cobra and died of cardiac arrest. Authorities are looking for the snake. Tips that might catch the snake 1. If cool in the mornings, the snake might be found in bushes sunning itself. These cobras prefer hot weather over 80°F. 2. They are most active during daytime, but can move at night. 3. N kaouthia will eat eggs, mice, rats, if no other snakes are to be found. They prefer snakes, but I don’t know what Grant fed his snake. It might be unable to stalk prey and feed itself and die within a month.
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.
I’ve worked with two hatchling 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 bitten 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 Thailand kraits, and much more toxic than King Cobra venom when compared drop to drop. Even if the bite is a small one, a nick, or a scrape, 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. Most are very close to 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 long, a giant. 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. I’ve seen them most often in residential areas bordering forest, or near the ocean. 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.
Active Time? The snake is mainly diurnal – active by day, but I have seen a number of them still active at night. In fact, in Thailand – I’ve seen about a dozen active at night – the rest 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. When comparing the monocled cobra and the king cobra, the monocled cobras have a hood flare that is more extreme in relation to the width of their body and heads. They can hiss when they strike.
Monocled cobras are very active and ready to strike especially as the temperature climbs past 35°C (about 95°F). Do be very careful with them during this temperature range because they are very easily agitated and strike much more often.
Offspring: Lays 25-40 eggs. Young are fully prepared to envenomate as they hatch. Mating takes place after the rainy season. Eggs incubate in about 2 months. Eggs hatch between April-June. Hatchlings are between 8 to 12 inches at birth.
These are yellow and black kraits here in Thailand. In some other part of the world (Borneo) they are black and white. There are also “Blue Kraits“ aka “Malayan Kraits” which are black and white. And the really incredible looking Red-headed Krait which looks nothing like either of them.
(Last updated: 26 July 2016)
Bungarus Fasciatus (Banded Krait)
Thais say: (ngoo sam lee-um, or ngoo kan plong) This is a bit confused in Thailand where, in southern Thailand any viper is known as Ngoo sam lee-um. Lee-um means triangle, and so some people confuse triangle shaped heads of the vipers with triangle cross-section of the kraits.
Length: average 1.5 m up to 2 m (about 6.5 feet) In Thailand they don’t usually reach a full 2 meters.
Range: All over Thailand and most of Asia
Notes: I have yet to see a live banded krait in the wild, except a few dead on the roads – but I don’t go digging up ratholes or termite mounds. I may start if I don’t find one soon. I’ve been looking for three years to find a krait with yellow and black bands like these. At dinner last night I was looking around a small restaurant with many ponds, for snakes. I asked the owner’s son if they had seen any. He said, Ngoo Sam lee-um. That could be the one. I’ll get their permission for some late night herping and try to bag one. I’m sure they’ll appreciate it. This restaurant is located on a small hill close to sea-level in southern Thailand. There are many frogs at the ponds, and probably many snakes too.
Update 2015- I’ve been to that restaurant numerous times and not had a call from them about this krait. I am not sure they have been found in Krabi. I have never found road kill B. fasciatus here in Krabi. I have found a large 2 meter dead on the road banded krait in Surat Thani on the main highway leading to Krabi.
Habitat: This Thailand krait lives on the ground and in rat holes and termite mounds, under stumps or rocks and in other cool, damp places. Recently I saw photos of one in some limestone rocks here in Thailand. They prefer wide open areas near water. They have been found as high as 1,524 meters in Malaysia and about 2,300 meters in Thailand.
Active Time? The snake is mostly nocturnal and is quite active at night. Most bites occur at night, as the kraits move close to people sleeping – usually on the floor, and probably the person moves and the krait bites. More dangerous at night, during the day they are not biters. These kraits are common in the northeast Thailand provinces. Recently a six year old boy was bitten and could not be revived. The snake had come up into their home in Surin to escape some flooding.
Food: Other snakes almost exclusively – rat and cat (Boiga) snakes. In captivity I have seen them eat the following live snakes: Calloselasma rhodostoma, Chrysopelea ornata, and Gonyosoma oxycephalum. One noted herpetologist states that these kraits don’t like to eat water snakes. Will also eat rats, mice, frogs, lizards if snakes cannot be found.
Defensive Behavior: The banded krait is slow acting during the day, lethargic, and usually not interested in striking. However, it can protect itself quite well – it is a strong biter and has been recorded as killing a large type of cattle 60 minutes after a bite.
Venom Toxicity: Very toxic. Deadly. This yellow/black banded krait from Thailand appears to have venom that is very toxic to humans. The typical LD-50 studies to assess the toxicity of venom in mice, rate this as a very toxic venom as well. These snakes rarely bite during the day, but if they do, they can transfer enough venom to kill you. I read about a person dying in 30 minutes, and another dying in 15 hours. A famous American herpetologist, Joe Slowinski, was killed by a baby krait (Bungarus multicinctus) in Burma while on a remote expedition. They can be quite deadly. The cause of death is that your muscles are paralyzed and your diaphragm can’t work any longer to pull oxygen into your lungs. Kraits are very deadly in this regard. However, if you are able to get to a hospital with a ventilator you will likely be OK. There is no specific antivenin for snake bites from this snake, but polyvalent venom is used – which can also treat bites from Naja kaouthia and Ophiophagus hannah.
Interesting to note… when fed on a live garter snake the krait venom acts instantly to cause death. Apparently krait venom is very efficient with snakes – the krait’s primary diet.
Handling: The banded and Malayan blue kraits are not known to bite during the daytime. However, at night time they bite rather easily, as evidenced by the numerous krait bites that occur at night to people usually laying down to sleep on the floor either outdoors or in their homes with the door open. I would never handhold kraits like the man is doing in the photo above. The krait venom is so toxic, it’s just not worth the risk – however small.
Update: I was contacted by a man who was bitten by this same type of krait during the day at an impromptu show at a bar in Bangkok during the daytime. It bit his arm. He was lucky to live, and had lingering effects for more than two years after the bite.
Antivenin: Polyvalent. It is advised by experts to get antivenin in your blood stream for krait bites before you have symptoms because, once symptoms develop you may have lost nerve functioning that will likely not return.
Offspring: Mating in March-April and 4-14 eggs laid about 60 days afterward. The mother krait remains with the eggs for another 60 days before they hatch. Baby kraits are about 30cm long at birth, and have venom. I couldn’t find in the literature whether the mother left the eggs as they started hatching – so she didn’t eat them herself or not. The King Cobra does this instinctively because it also eats other snakes.
Banded Krait’s Classification
Species: B. fasciatus
Binomial name Bungarus fasciatus
Classified by Schneider in year 1801
Photo of 2 Adult Banded Kraits:
Video of Jackie with Banded Krait from Nakhon Si Thammarat, Southern Thailand:
Length: These kraits grow to about 2 meters long, though most adults found are shorter.
Appearance: Somewhat pronounced vertebral ridge, which differentiates from the Malayan Blue Coral Snake (Calliophis bivurgata). Body is black or dark grey, the head and tail are bright red or orange. The tail on the venter is also the same color. The rest of the venter is creme to white colored. The head is more distinct from the neck than C. bivirgata. Dorsal scale count: 13-13-13.
Range: In Thailand the red headed krait is only found in the southern Thailand provinces from Ratchaburi and southward. Across the globe they are most heavily concentrated in Malaysia, Borneo, and a couple other places. Recently I found a large 1.9 meter specimen in rainforest in the Trang province. I have also found them in Surat Thani, and Krabi provinces.
Habitat: Lowlands and hilly rainforest type habitat. The last four of these snakes I saw were all found at less than 200 meters elevation.
Active Time? Probably active both at night and day. Three of four of these snakes in our local area were found during the daylight.
Food: Some say the red headed kraits eat more frogs, lizards, eggs, and rodents than other snakes. Probably they are opportunistic and eat whatever presents itself.
Defensive Behavior: Of the four snakes examined – none struck out, none attempted to bite at all. Note – all but one was handled during daylight hours.
Venom Toxicity: Venomous, and deadly. The venom has been shown to have an LD50 subcutaneous measurement of .35 mg/kg for Bungarus flaviceps, while Bungarus candidus (Malayan Krait) was .32 mg/kg, and Bungarus fasciatus (Banded Krait), .62 mg/kg and less than that in another study. This makes it one of the top venomous snakes on the planet and within the top three most venomous in Thailand. The black mamba is listed at the same .32 mg/kg by venom researcher, Dr. Bryan Grieg Fry at his site. (well, now he pulled down his chart). Only 10 other terrestrial snakes in the world were listed with more potent venom. Little is known of the this venom’s effect on humans after a bite, though it is likely very similar to a bite from Bungarus candidus, I could find no treatment studies due to bites being quite rare by this krait species.
From the abstract of a recent (2/2010) venom study in Malaysia: Bungarus flaviceps (red-headed krait) venom presents an intravenous LD50 of 0.32 μg/g and exhibits enzymatic activities similar to other Bungarus toxins. ELISA cross-reactions between anti-Bungarus flaviceps and a variety of elapid and viperid venoms were observed in the current study. Double-sandwich ELISA was highly specific, since anti- B. flaviceps serum did not cross-react with any tested venom, indicating that this assay can be used for species diagnosis in B. flaviceps bites. In the indirect ELISA, anti- B. flaviceps serum cross-reacted moderately with three different Bungarus venoms (9-18%) and Notechis scutatus venom, but minimally with other elapid and viperid toxins. The results indicated that B. flaviceps venom shares common epitopes with other Bungarus species as well as with N. scutatus. The lethality of the B. flaviceps venom was neutralized effectively by antiserum prepared against B. candidus and B. flaviceps toxins and a commercial bivalent elapid antivenom prepared against B. multicinctus and Naja naja atra venoms, but was not neutralized by commercial antivenoms prepared against Thai cobra, king cobra and banded krait. These data also suggested that the major lethal toxins of B. flaviceps venom are similar to those found in B. multicinctus and B. candidus venoms.
Treatment Summary Envenomation can produce moderate to severe flaccid paralysis, and respiratory failure requiring intubation and ventilation in severe cases. Antivenom available for major species (detailed below), could potentially prevent worsening of paralysis, but may not reverse established paralysis.
Key Diagnostic Features: Minimal to mild local reaction + flaccid paralysis
Antivenom Code: SAsTRC04
Antivenom Name: Banded Krait Antivenin
Manufacturer: Science Division, Thai Red Cross Society
Phone: +66-2-252-0161 (up to 0164)
Address: Queen Saovabha Memorial Institute, 1871 Rama IV Road, Pathumwan, Bangkok 10330
Offspring: Two clutches from two adult female red-headed kraits were studied by Chulalongkorn University scientists in Bangkok. One clutch was four eggs, and the other, six eggs. After 81-84 days in incubation at 26-27C and the other clutch at 30-32C eggs hatched. Less eggs hatched at the higher temperature incubation. Average hatchling length was 28.9cm +/- .8cm measured from snout to vent. Weight of each was 7.2 to 7.8 grams. Humidity in the incubation enclosures was 60-70%. After 7-10 days all snakes had shed.
Notes: I have seen four of these kraits, and they are quite incredible to find in the wild considering how rare they are. Bungarus flaviceps has not been studied very well, and I suspect that most of the information on Wikipedia and other information sources has been generalized from other Thailand kraits like the Blue Krait (Bungarus candidus) and Many Banded Krait (Bungarus multicinctus) because the wording seems too similar to be by chance. There are a number of Malayan Blue Coral snakes mis-identified on Youtube videos, and on Wikipedia.
These snakes have not been studied well in captivity or in the wild, except for the previously mentioned study in which the kraits lived surprisingly long. Usually the literature shows the red-headed krait dies quickly in captivity. These kraits are not known to bite during daytime, but, be exceptionally careful when handling them.
Substrate: Best? Leaves and something large to hide under – wood is best, rocks, something solid.
Ways to differentiate Bungarus flaviceps from the Malayan Blue Coral Snake (Calliophis bivirgatus):
1. B. flaviceps has a triangle cross-section, while C. bivirgatus has more of a round cross-section.
2. C. bivirgatus has a venter that is all red/orange. B. flaviceps has red under the tail only.
3. B. flaviceps reaches about 2 meters while B. bivirgatus grows to just 1.7 meters.
4. B. bivirgatus has lateral lines on both sides of the body toward the venter, that are solid light blue or white.
5. By studying some video one can see how their crawling pattern differs.
6. B. flaviceps has a more sizable head, a wider head, and larger mouth than the coral snake.
7/25/13 Update. At 11:30 pm in a Thailand National Park in Trang Province, a friend and I found a large 1.9+ meter long Bungarus flaviceps on the trail and photographed and shot video of it. Video #1 is of this snake. The photos on this page are all of the same snake. As with all snakes found, it was released in the same spot as where it was found.
Range: These small coral snakes are found all over Thailand and some other countries in Asia. I have seen a couple dozen of these snakes in southern Thailand, usually found by people in their potted plants outside.
Habitat: These snakes enjoy the leaf litter, loose dirt, and cool areas under rotting trees and other foliage. Occasionally they are seen dead on the road during or after rain when they probably come up above ground to avoid water. They are very rarely found during the daytime, and one scientist said they are usually only seen during September and October. But, I’ve seen them year round.
Active Time? Nocturnal – active almost exclusively at night, or underground during the daytime.
Food: Very small snakes like the Brahminy blind snake, worm snakes, worms, and probably termite, ant, and other insect eggs.
Defensive Behavior: They curl up their bright red (pink or orange), white and black spotted tail as a defense mechanism. These snakes have little else for defense, as they don’t even attempt to bite. The mouth on the Calliophis maculiceps is very small.
Venom Toxicity: This is a coral snake, so, the potential for life-threatening envenomation does potentially exist. Their venom is neurotoxic. There are places on the human body where this snake could get a good bite in, given the chance. Between the fingers and toes is an ideal piece of skin to bite. Just be very careful with these, and all coral snakes. Just because a snake has not been known to cause significant envenomation in the past, doesn’t mean it won’t happen. If you keep this snake as a pet – be very careful not to get too comfortable holding it – it is potentially a deadly snake.
Offspring: One scientist noted a clutch of just 2 eggs.
Notes: These are remarkably beautiful snakes, and yet so small that they could be mistaken for a worm of some sort if. Body patterns can differ slightly. Some, like this juvenile exhibit black stripes and spots. Some have just spots. Some are almost uniformly brown with very few or light spots. The body of this coral snake is round, without a pronounced vertebral ridge. The belly is bright orange, and the tip of the tail has white and black. When the tail is raised, it is quite stunning. These snakes are common, and are kept as pets across the world.
The Blue Malaysian Coral Snake is a venomous elapid and is one of the most strikingly beautiful snakes you’ll ever see. I’ve been lucky enough to see one crossing the road in southern Thailand and I didn’t have any snake hook to grab him.
3 Sub-species: C. b. bivirgatus in Java – lacks blue stripes on ventral. C. b. flaviceps in Thailand, Burma, Laos, Cambodia (possibly, no records), Peninsular Malaysia, Singapore, Sumatra and various islands of the Riau Archipelago. C. b. tetrataenia in Borneo has a light yellow stripe on side, without blue stripe.
Thais Say: ngoo bik thong dang
Length: Up to 180 cm, however usually around 140 cm
Range: This beautiful coral snake is found from around Bangkok and south toward Peninsular Malaysia.
Habitat: Usually found at some elevation – over 400 meters. Calliophis bivirgata prefers heavily wooded and wet areas of primary and secondary rainforest.
They seem to prefer living under and foraging under leaves and fallen trees to rocks.
Active Time: These corals snakes are nocturnally active, but on rainy and cloudy days they can also be found to be active, like some other coral snakes.
Description: Medium sized, though large for a coral snake, this snake reaches 140 cm typically, and up to 170 cm. or so, have been recorded. The body is mostly deep blue with light blue or white stripes along the lower ventral side of the body. The head, venter (belly), and tail are usually brilliant red. The nose is blunt for foraging the leaf litter where it spends most of its time. Dorsal scale count: 13-13-13.
Defensive Behavior: Always avoiding man and other large threats, they can be very fast as they flip about almost spastically. When they are trapped and tailed, they may attempt to flip over on the dorsal side, exposing a brilliant ventral of red, orange, and pinkish color. During foraging these snakes are very slow moving.
Food: Prey includes other snakes, lizards, frogs, birds.
Danger: All coral snakes must be treated as potentially lethal snakes. That said, many people free-handle these snakes at their own peril. Deaths have occurred as the result of envenomation by this snake. One man in Singapore was reported to have died within five minutes of envenomation. Do be exceptionally careful and never hand-hold any deadly snake.
Venom Toxicity: Neurotoxic venom which does not initially present with much pain at the bite site is immediately acting to block nerve impulses. The wound may become numb, and lips may also get numb. Difficulty in breathing occurs as the venom shuts down muscle contractions – the diaphragm and other major muscles.
Key Diagnostic Features: Local pain + flaccid paralysis General Approach to Management: All cases should be treated as urgent and potentially lethal. Rapid assessment and commencement of treatment for symptoms is mandatory. Admit all cases.
Offspring: Oviparous and clutches of 1-3 eggs.
Notes: One of the most impressive snakes to see in the wild. Fairly common in deep Southern Thailand and Malaysia mountains. This snake is easily confused with Calamaria schlegeli in Malaysia, Singapore, Bali, Java, and Sumatra. C. schlegeli is the Red-headed Reed Snake, which is harmless. The reed snake has smaller scales and no red tail or venter. Venter is grey and white.
Robert Abrams sent me some photos of a snake he said washed over Menora waterfall he was relaxing at, the location is about 40 km outside of Ampur Muang, Phattalung province, southern Thailand. It was none other than the ultimate venomous snake, the king cobra.
In his words –
“It was raining very heavy that day. Some friends and I went swimming at a waterfall outside the town where we teach. All the sudden it was swept down into the pool where we were sitting. It was pretty stunned, i think it was in shock because the water was abnormally cold. It also had a break in the scales along its side. It was still alive at the time. It almost managed to make it out of the water, a friend and I tried to get a stick but by the time we found one it had been swept further down stream. It may well have survived, but i doubt it. I think enough time in that cold water and the beating it took going over waterfalls would eventually finish it off.”
Amazing! Some people never get to see a king cobra in the wild – and this one almost dropped in Robert’s lap.
I’m glad he didn’t reach it with a stick like he was trying to. Originally he thought it was a rat snake, which is harmless.
It looks to me like the snake was probably run over by a motorbike or other vehicle and went back into the wilderness to try to mend itself. It was likely ready to die though. That looks like a wicked injury.
It’s a sensational headline, but I thought it was important that you read this if you handle venomous snakes at all – and even if you don’t. (King cobra video below)
I got a call from my friend this morning. He told me they caught a 2+ meter king cobra at a palm plantation the night before. He said it was super fast.
King Cobras are fast when young…
Well, my first thought was – when they’re young and smaller like that – under 3-4 meters – yeah, they are quite quick. The juveniles up until about 2 meters are usually fast. I have yet to work personally with a king cobra less than 2.5 meters. I want to – but, will respect their speed a lot more. The juvenile king cobras are like a completely different snake than the big ones. They move differently – darting their heads around constantly, and very fast and short motions. The bigger kings are more deliberate in their movements and are much slower, even when straight from the wild. Not to call them slow – but, you can work with them to some degree without dying.
I took the motorbike over to see the snake after lunch. My friend was sleeping on a bench. I woke him up with a clamp down on his foot – as if a snake bit him. He didn’t jump or anything, so I was disappointed my trick didn’t work. No matter – he woke right up and showed me the beast.
He told me it had eaten two red tailed racers that morning, both of which were about 2 meters in length – but thin. I figured the king would be a bit slow and conserving energy as it digested all that food. I was so wrong.
This king cobra was black with light bands – very light, I wouldn’t call the bands yellow- they were more like a yellow/green. It was under 2.5 meters and over 2.0. It had a very long hood – and was really gorgeous to look at. My friend always goes the extra mile… when he opened up the gate and showed him his face we got a big surprise from this snake.
See the video of this super fast Ophiophagus hannah below:
This king came up that tree stump faster than any snake I’ve ever seen. Not that I’ve seen it all – however, I have seen many fast snakes – rat snakes of all sorts, tree snakes, big, small, thin and fast… and no snake has ever pulled one of these maneuvers on me.
I wanted to post this to give you an idea that you “think you know a snake” – but then one will do something you’ve never seen before. This has happened to me often as I learn more about monocled and king cobras. I’ve probably spent 200 hours working with them and studying them – watching other people work with them. I learned a whole lot in the first 50 hours and still, I’m always learning new behaviors and what these snakes are capable of.
Every snake species has a range of behaviors that they can exhibit. Snake handlers know, in general, what a snake is capable of – because it’s a certain species. However, there are snakes within the species, that, for whatever reason – learned behaviors that are different from most of the other snakes – and when they exhibit them – it can surprise the hell out of you.
Be careful with venomous snakes of all sorts – and never take them for granted.
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.
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.
Image from Creative Commons – Wikipedia. Link here.
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.
All over Thailand and most of Southeast Asia.
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.
The snake is mainly diurnal – found active during the daytime, but can also be active also at night.
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.
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.
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).
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.”
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.
Species: O. hannah
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!
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!
Length: Average length of 60 cm. Male smaller than female. Female maximum length at 100 cm.
Appearance: Wagler’s pit viper is short and the female is considerably thicker (3-4 times as thick) than the male. A marked difference in patterns is noted with the female becoming darker and with strong banding as you can see in the above image. The males are so radically different that they look like completely different species. In three reptile identification books I have for Thailand, they make no mention of the differences between the sexes. The female is pictured in each case.
Dorsal scale count ( 23 to 29 ) – ( 21 to 27 ) – ( 17 to 21 ) and usually 21 to 23 midbody dorsal scale rows in males and 23 to 27 midbody scale rows in females. Dorsal scales are strongly keeled in females, and lesser keeled in males.
Coloration can vary significantly among females. Here is a very yellow T. wagleri.
Here is a darker colored female, but not nearly as much as the top and bottom photos on this page. Not nearly as much lateral yellow as the previous photo.
Besides the difference in size, thickness, and pattern, the body type is also quite different. The male grows to be around 60 cm and is long and thin, more like a wolf snake or something similar.
Below is a photo of a male Wagler’s pit viper found within one meter of a very gravid female. Obviously quite a big difference.
Range: Southern Thailand south of Khao Sok National Park, Suratthani province. Other countries: West Malaysia; Indonesia; Philippines. There is a concentration of these common vipers on the island of Phuket, Thailand.
Habitat: Elevations up to about 1,200 meters but most abundant at elevations from 400 up to about 600 meters in lowland primary forest, secondary forest and jungle – especially coastal mangrove. During the day these vipers can sometimes be found as little as a meter off the ground, up to a couple meters. They seem to prefer bushes over trees. Recently I found a gravid female at one meter off the forest floor and resting on a strong vine just 1 cm in diameter.
Active Time? Mainly nocturnal, but occasionally found during the day, especially during or after rain. Crepuscular in nature, they are more often active during dusk and dawn, or on an unusually dark day during heavy rain. I have found these snakes during the day in a moderate rain at 400 meters elevation, and at 2000 hours after a light rain.
Food: Birds – especially baby birds in the nest, mice and other rodents, lizards, frogs.
Defensive Behavior: Coil back into s-shape before striking. Strike is typically less than .3 meters in distance. Mouth wide-open exposing very long fangs and white tissue. Can strike in succession rather quickly. Their strike is not very fast in comparison with some of the other vipers. The heat-sensing pits between the eyes can sense temperature difference as little as 0.003 degrees Celsius. If continuously threatened they may hold their mouth wide open, like the photo above.
Venom Toxicity: Potentially deadly. Strong venom that usually does not result in death to humans. Victims experience a strong burning sensation upon envenomation, and swelling, necrosis of tissue. The multi-valent antivenom for green pit vipers treats envenomation by this snake.
Antivenom Code: SAsTRC01
Antivenom Name: Green Pit Viper Antivenin
Manufacturer: Science Division, Thai Red Cross Society
Phone: +66-2-252-0161 (up to 0164)
Address: Queen Saovabha Memorial Institute, 1871 Rama IV Road, Pathumwan, Bangkok 10330
Offspring: Live birth in September is common, with up to 41 young per litter. Male and females look different from day one, the females having light banding and the males with creme / red or brown dots on the top of the body.
Notes: Though these snakes are said to be exclusively arboreal and nocturnal, I found one on a mountain recently during the middle of the day, on the ground, during a rain shower. See the video below.