Scientific Name: Ophiophagus hannah
Adam Nicholas, Quakers Hill
The Australian Reptile Park is the only institution to have held king cobras in Australia. The Park's founder, Eric Worrell, used to regularly extract venom from these monstrous snakes, a task which required at least three people to perform.
One of the most imposing snakes in the world, the king cobra certainly lives up to its name. With lengths in excess of 5m and a body diameter of over 12cm, it is the longest venomous species of snake. When threatened, it follows typical cobra behaviour by raising the front part of the body off the ground some 1.2m and expanding the neck hood. Few, if any, predators would consider tackling this reptile when confronted with this image. Normal colouration is dark brown or olive green, although some specimens may be almost black, while others may exhibit a banded pattern. King cobras will not usually bite unless harassed. A bite from this species is extremely dangerous because of the huge quantities of venom that are produced.
Distributed from India east to China and south to the Philippines, the king cobra is not a common species probably because it is the top predator in the food chain. It inhabits rainforests and bamboo thickets.
Although birds and mammals are sometimes taken, the favourite food of the king cobra is, surprisingly, other snakes. Pythons, tree snakes or other venomous species are all eaten. In captivity the species can be weaned onto more conventional food items such as rodents at an early age.
King cobras are the only snake species which actively construct a nest to incubate the eggs. The female gathers large quantities of fallen leaves and other rotted vegetation into a mound into which she lays her clutch of up to 50 eggs. She will then stand guard over the nest for the full incubation period of 2-3 months, chasing away anything that approaches the nest.