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Cobra King

Basic information:

Chinese name:眼镜王蛇
Latin name: Ophiophagus hannah   
English name: Cobra King , King Cobra


Description :

The king cobra averages at 3 to 4 m (9.8 to 13 ft) in length and typically weighs about 6 kg (13 lb). This species is more slender than the Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake and the Gaboon Viper, who compete for the title of the heaviest venomous snake, but at average sizes, it is much longer and will weigh approximately the same as the two bulky vipers. The longest known specimen was kept captive at the London Zoo, and grew to around 18.5 to 18.8 ft (5.6 to 5.7 m) before being euthanised upon the outbreak of World War II. The heaviest wild specimen was caught at Royal Island Club in Singapore in 1951, which weighed 12 kilograms (26 lb) and measured 4.8 m (16 ft), though an even heavier captive specimen was kept at New York Zoological Park and was measured as 12.7 kilograms (28 lb) at 4.4 m (14 ft) long in 1972. The length and mass of the snakes highly depend on their localities and some other factors. Despite their large sizes, typical king cobras are fast and agile.

Scalation of the king cobraThe skin of this snake is either olive-green, tan, or black, and it has faint, pale yellow cross bands down the length of the body. The belly is cream or pale yellow, and the scales are smooth. Juveniles are shiny black with narrow yellow bands (can be mistaken for a banded krait, but readily identified with its expandable hood). The head of a mature snake can be quite massive and bulky in appearance, though like all snakes, they can expand their jaws to swallow large prey items. It has proteroglyph dentition, meaning it has two short, fixed fangs in the front of the mouth which channel venom into the prey like hypodermic needles. The male is larger and thicker than the female. The average lifespan of a wild king cobra is about 20 years.

The dorsal scales along the center of the king cobra's body have 15 rows. Males have 235 to 250 ventral scales, while females have 239 to 265. The subcaudal scales are single or paired in each row, numbering 83 to 96 in males and 77 to 98 in females.


Distribution and habitat

The king cobra is distributed across South Asia, Southeast Asia, and the southern areas of East Asia (southern China) where it is not common. It lives in dense highland forests, preferring areas dotted with lakes and streams. King cobra populations have dropped in some areas of its range because of the destruction of forests. It is listed as an Appendix II Animal within CITES



The venom of the king cobra consists primarily of neurotoxins, but it also contains cardiotoxic and some other compounds. Similar to other venomous creatures, toxic constituents inside the venom are mainly proteins and polypeptides.

King cobra skull, lateral view, showing fangsIn common with those of other venomous snakes, LD50 values of the king cobra venom vary with different injection methods and toxicological research, although 1.7 mg/kg of subcutaneous injection, 1.31 mg/kg of Intravenous injection and 1.644 mg/kg of Intraperitoneal injection are common data found in toxicological sources (Australian Venom and Toxin database and Dr. Bryan Grieg Fry's sources).Engelmann listed the Intravenous LD50 at 0.9 mg/kg[and the mean value of subcutaneous LD50 of five wild-caught king cobras in Southeast Asia was determined as 1.93 mg/kg in another study. The book "Snake of medical importance" (1990) gives a datum of 0.34 mg/kg of intramuscular injection for the specimens found in China in a passing sentence. Besides, toxicity may vary among individuals coming from different geographical localities.

This species is capable of delivering a fatal bite and a large quantity of venom can be injected with a dose anywhere from 200–500 mg on average,and up to 7 ml.Engelmann and Obst (1981) list the average venom yield at 420 mg (dry weight). A large quantity of antivenom may be needed to reverse the progression of symptoms developed if bitten by a king cobra.

During a bite, venom is forced through the snake's 1.25 to 1.5 cm (0.49 to 0.59 in) fangs into the wound, and the toxins begin to attack the victim's central nervous system. Symptoms may include severe pain, blurred vision, vertigo, drowsiness, and paralysis. Envenomation progresses to cardiovascular collapse, and the victim falls into a coma. Death soon follows due to respiratory failure. Moreover, envenomation from king cobras is clinically known to cause renal failure as observed from some snakebite precedents of this species.

The mortality rate and death time resulting from a bite can vary sharply with many factors including the quantity of venom delivered, the site of bite and the health state of the victim. Data provided by different sources, which may come from different regions, could also have a significant difference: while a report mentions that many bites from king cobras involved non-fatal amounts of venom, another report of clinical statistics released by the South Indian Hospital reveals that actually two-thirds of the bitten patients received severe bites from this species.According to the University of Adelaide Department of Toxicology, an untreated bite has a mortality rate of 50-60%. Bites from a king cobra may result in a rapid fatality which can be as early as 30 minutes after envenomation,depending upon several factors including the nature and severity of the bites. A bite from a king cobra is said to be capable of bringing down an elephant.

There are two types of antivenom made specifically to treat king cobra envenomations. The Red Cross in Thailand manufactures one, and the Central Research Institute in India manufactures the other; however, both are made in small quantities and are not widely available. Ohanin, a protein component of the venom, causes hypolocomotion and hyperalgesia in mammals.Other components have cardiotoxic,cytotoxic and neurotoxic effects.In Thailand, a concoction of alcohol and the ground root of turmeric is ingested, which has been clinically shown to create a strong resilience against the venom of the king cobra, and other snakes with neurotoxic venom.

The haditoxin in the king cobra venom was discovered by Singaporean scientists to be structurally unique and can have unique pharmacological properties. Biochemical studies confirmed it existed as a noncovalent dimer species in solution. Its structural similarity to short-chain α-neurotoxins and κ-neurotoxins notwithstanding, haditoxin exhibited unique blockade of α7-nAChRs (IC50 180 nM), which is recognized by neither short-chain α-neurotoxins nor κ-neurotoxins.


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