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King Cobra in Name Only?

July 16, 2018

King Cobra in Name Only?

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Avishai Shuter Avishai Shuter

King cobras (Ophiophagus hannah), with their forked tongues and extended hoods, are one of the most famous species of snakes.

They are the longest venomous snakes in the world, reaching lengths of nearly 18 feet and are native to Southeast Asia. These reptiles are pretty unusual as far as cobras go — they get very large, eat other snakes, have relatively small hoods, growl when they’re upset, and make nests for egg laying. With all that in mind, is it possible that they’re cobras in name only?

Recent research has shown that “true cobras,” those in the family called Naja, are an African lineage (though a handful of species radiated into Asia). King cobras are not in the Naja family, rather, they are the only members of their own group, Ophiophagus. As it turns out, the king cobra may not be king of the cobra family after all.

Though they aren’t “true cobras,” king cobras are closely related cousins of the Naja group, with both families belonging to the Elapid group of venomous snakes.

Even though these snakes may not really be cobras, they can still be very dangerous!

EDITOR’S NOTE: July 16 is World Snake Day. Visit the Bronx Zoo’s World of Reptiles to see our king cobra on exhibit and to learn more about other snakes that need our conservation efforts. Watch for more zookeeper stories on Wild View and activities at the Bronx Zoo and zoos near you during National Zookeeper Week July 14-22 2018.

Nikon D5

Bronx, US Map It


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Meg Martinez
March 10, 2019 at 8:42 pm

I’m in California, a few yrs ago animal control rescued a illegal cobra & I always remember her because she is luesistic with dark eyes. She was sent to the San Diego zoo & her name is Adhira, I’m pretty sure she’s still there.