The King Cobra
By Isabel Martin
The King Cobra - one of the deadliest snakes in the world.
The King Cobra (as shown above), is the longest, venomous snake in the world. It can grow up to about 6 meters, and is capable of taking down fully grown elephants with its bite. Its diet mainly consists of other snakes: rattlesnakes, pythons, krait and other members of the cobra family, although it sometimes does eat small mammals when food is scarce. The king cobra is found in Malaysia, India, Southern China, Indonesia, and the Phillippines. It usually inhabits dense, highland forests and prefers to be near to a body of water like a lake or river, since in can survive in both terrestrial and aquatic environments.
Within their forest habitat, cobras face very few threats. The main one is humans, who are clearing the forests and putting the snake at risk. However, birds of prey and the mongoose are the only other predators the snake has to fear, and even then they are able to defend themselves with their fangs and venom.
The King Cobra reproduces by cross-fertilization and is oviparous, which means it lays eggs. It usually mates during the season of January, which is when the snakes start to shed their skin. In females, the shedding process releases chemicals which allow the male to locate her. When they do finally meet, their bodies intertwine, and the fertilization is internal. They can stay like that for hours, while the male releases more and more sperm into the female's body; which can be stored there for some time for the snake to use at a later date.
After 2-3 weeks, the cobra will lay her 20-50 eggs in a nest of leaves - in fact, king cobras are the only snake that make a nest for their offspring. The female will guard these eggs for 60-70 days (which is the gestation period), before leaving as they start to hatch. No other parental care is offered, which means the cobra goes by r-selection. This is because king cobras, as stated before, eat other snakes, and the female is driven by instinct to abandon her young lest she eat them. As well as this, having to provide low levels of parental care means that the snake can produce more offspring, which is necessary because a larger number of young ensures that a larger number will survive, since young snakes are very vulnerable to predators.
When it's finally time for the eggs to hatch, the hatchling uses an 'egg tooth', which is found on the top of its head, to rip through the leathery membrane and shell. The babies are just as venomous as the adults, and won't reach sexual maturity until around age 6.
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