Added 9 May 2007. Last updated 7 January 2010: updated Bibliography.

A Look at the Family Elapidae


King Cobra, Hamadryad


A charismatic and legendary species that is the largest venomous snake on earth. Although the venom is less virulent than that of Naja species in India, the King Cobra can discharge a quantity equivalent to 10 lethal doses to man in one bite, and the snake will normally attempt to chew the venom into the bite: death may occur within 15-20 minutes. For these reasons this is not a snake to be lightly provoked or fooled with.

Having said that, Daniel notes that the temperament and aggressiveness of individual hamadryads varies considerably, and that some if molested may simply retire. Attacks may be more likely if humans are passing close to a brooding female or possibly its mate. As a rule Ophiophagus hannah inhabits dense forest and hence is unlikely to be encountered in more human-developed areas: nevertheless they may be found in other areas on occasion. It is mostly diurnal. A fast moving snake, it is also capable of rearing up to a third of its body length: thus an 18' specimen could rear up to the height of a man, although most hamadryads do not reach such a size. Like the Naja species it spreads its hood, but less extensively.

Although famed as an eater of other snakes, including venomous snakes, King Cobras will occasionally take monitor lizards in the wild, and in captivity will eat dead meat, including rats and horse meat, though it seems that scenting the prey with the smell of snakes may be necessary to act as a feeding stimulus. In captivity individuals have lived for 12 years.

Scientific Name Common Name Distribution Size Notes
O. hannah King Cobra, Hamadryad  Pakistan (Lahore), India (Western Ghats, Orissa, Bengal, Assam), Andaman Islands, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Thailand, China (SW Sichuan, Yunnan, Hainan, Hong Kong, Tibet), Philippines (Palawan, Mindanao, Mindoro, Luzon and Sulu), Vietnam, Bali, Indonesia (Sulawesi)


Max 5.5m/ 18'4": avg. 1.6m/4½' Scalation details prefrontals larger than internasals; no loreal; 1 preocular, 3 postoculars; 7 supralabials; 2 very large temporals and 2 large postparietals behind parietals; 15 scale rows at midbody; ventrals 245-266; subcaudals 90-116; single anal plate. Other: head flat, slightly distinct from neck; snout relatively short and rounded; eyes moderately round with round pupil. Coloration: adults blackish brown to light brown; 32-43 lighter bands around body, 11-13 round tail; bands conspicuous in juveniles fade with age but become more noticeable when the snake is excited; head olivaceous-brown; throat cream to dull orange, merging into a dark mottling which in turn posteriorly becomes uniform slate or brown; hatchlings are intense black with white bands, black head with 3 white bars, of which the last has an oblique stripe pasing to the side of the throat. See Alcala for details of coloration in preservative. Reproduction: in India, eggs are found April-July. Females appear to make an incubation nest from leaves or vegetable rubbish [SOURCE: Alcala, Daniel].


Guide to Philippine Flora and Fauna. Volume X, Amphibians and Reptiles, Prof. Angel C Alcala, Natural Resources Management Centre, Ministry of Natural Resources and University of the Philippines, 1986.

The Book of Indian Reptiles and Amphibians, J C Daniel, Bombay Natural History Society, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2002.

Herpetology of China, Er-mi Zhao and Kraig Adler, SSAR, 1993. Catalogue of practically every reptile and amphibian species found in mainland China, Hongkong, Macao, Tibet and Taiwan. Helpful here in giving range details for China.

"The King Cobra - Regal, dangerous, intelligent... and a little shy", Ramesh Avandhani, Reptilia 43.

"Introducing Cobras", Scott Pearson, Reptile Hobbyist 2:2, October 1996. Thought-provoking article that advocates private hobbyists not keep any of the Hemachatus, Naja or Ophiophagus species. Even if you disagree in principle, the author's arguments should still be read.