Underdogs of the Animal World: King Cobra

Ah, snakes! So cuddly, so cute, so take-home-able. No wait, I’m thinking about puppies. But seriously, snakes are also awesome, especially when they’re hanging out with Jafar, who, as we all know, is the most weirdly hot Disney Villain. King Cobras are the strangely intriguing baddies of the snake world. Yeah, on the surface they seem pretty evil, but underneath they’re harbouring a heart of gold, just like Jafar. Oh, you don’t remember those orphans he saved or the cat he rescued from that tree? Totally happened.

The first thing that you need to know about King Cobras, just in case you’re on a quiz show or whatever, is that they get big – like, really big. They can get up to fifteen feet long (but a mere ten feet is more likely and not at all terrifying) and, if they fancy it, they can rise up to make eye contact with an adult man. What makes their length more impressive is that they’re also venomous, which makes them the world’s longest venomous snake. The amount of venom in one bite is enough to kill twenty people, or an elephant. Though an elephant would probably be a bit tricky to eat… They get a prize for enthusiasm, though!

But don’t worry, there’s no need to panic about king cobras worming their way up through your plumbing, because a) they’d probably get stuck, and b) they live in India and South-East Asia. Obviously if you live in these places, you should freak out and run around with your arms flailing wildly, screaming ‘We’re all gonna die!’ at the top of your lungs, just in case someone hasn’t got the memo about the giant, poisonous snake. Just kidding. Not kidding. Totally kidding.

Actually, there’s honestly no need to panic about the King Cobra situation. Cobras are not into attacking humans, since we’re so big and lumpy. They might get a bit fighty when cornered, hissing and opening their hood (which is the cobra spreading their ribs!) but they are, as the saying goes, ‘more afraid of you than you are of them.’ Or maybe the same amount of afraid. They might even smack you with their face, with their mouth firmly closed, just to let you know that they are totally fine with attacking you and that you should run away now, before they cover you in Peri-Peri salt and gobble you up. The best tactic is to not get into a confrontation with a King Cobra. I don’t care what they’ve done, just don’t. Let it be. Make tea, not war and all that jazz.

Anyway, you can’t really start a fight without being properly introduced. Where are your manners? The King Cobra’s Latin name is Ophiophagus Hannah, ophiophagus meaning snake-eater, and Hannah possibly derived from Greek mythology of tree nymphs. So allow me to introduce ‘Snake-eating-tree-nymph.’ The name is actually pretty apt, and way more so than the title ‘King Cobra’, since this snake isn’t a member of the Naja (true cobras) family, but instead has its very own genus, Ophiophagus.

So first, let’s talk about the snake-eating bit. If you were snake-shaped and into eating things whole, what could be easier than something snake-shaped? Yep, the King Cobra is a smart cookie. King Cobras will also eat lizards and rodents and birds, but they’re not that fussed. Basically, their general diet is cake, cake and more cake, but when the cake runs out, fruit will do. It’s not cake, but it’ll do. Just like when there’s no carrot cake, I’ll begrudgingly settle for a cake less yummy, so when there are no delicious rat snakes, the King Cobra will settle for a snake less yummy. Speaking of oms, rat snakes, as you’ve probably guessed, eat rats, which just so happens to lead them towards villages. That’s why a King Cobra can find himself backed up in an alley glaring at a bloke named Bob, wishing he would go away, because there’s a cake just down the road with his name on it.

When I hear the term ‘tree-nymph’, it doesn’t make me think of a fifteen foot venomous snake, but hey, I might just be old-fashioned. It turns out that the King Cobra is indeed a tree nymph. Well, it hangs out in trees, and may or may not enjoy dancing and singing and causing mischief. King Cobras are actually really good at climbing and it’s quite natural for them to slink up a tree and wait for some prey to wriggle along.

Not content to be awesome at pretty much everything (including Miley Cyrus impressions and breakdancing), King Cobras are also really good swimmers. They tend to live near streams and so get quite a bit of practice with the whole trying to catch their dinner malarkey, but even if they’ve never been near water, a King Cobra will know just what to do when he gets in.

King Cobras are also blessed with good eyesight, and they can spot something delicious from up to 300 feet away. However, just like other snakes, the King Cobra sheds its skin when it gets too big for it, starting it off by rubbing its body against something rough, just like exfoliation. An adult King Cobra will shed their skin four to six times a year, and may or may not co-ordinate their looks with current trends, (feathers and tartan being particular favourites). When the snake sheds its skin, it also gets a whole new wardrobe of fangs, teeth, a tongue tip and eyes. After that, the King Cobra has the suckiness of rubbish eyesight for up to ten days, but you have to suffer for fashion.

As well as being the annoying girl from Bad Teacher of the animal world, King Cobras are also wrapped in a mystery and coolness that goodie two-shoes girl can only dream of. Snake charmers have been using them in their acts for a super long time and, contrary to popular belief, King Cobras can hear, but can’t hear ambient noise, and it’s actually the movement of the charmer’s flute that gets them grooving, and not the funky music. King Cobras also have their place in religions such as Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism. The word Nāga is the name for a deity that takes the form of a King Cobra. Nāgas sometimes take human form and are thought to be nature spirits, bringing about disasters like floods, but also protecting the land. Nāgas are thought to be kind and curious, but can be vengeful when wronged.

King Cobras are the only snake known to build a nest for their eggs, perhaps because they hang out in trees and think that they’re birds, but whatever the reason, the King Cobra will guard their nest like, well, like a giant venomous snake until the eggs have hatched. As soon as the snake babies start to weave their way out into the world, the mother scarpers, leaving the babies to fend for themselves, just in case she fancies a snack; which, when you think about it, is pretty awesome.

Featured image via Shutterstock; additional image via Shutterstock

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