Nest-building, snake eating kings!
Updated: Mar 22, 2021
King Cobra females save their babies from themselves!!!! :o
First, please do note that king cobras are different from the Indian spectacled cobras which are more commonly found across the country. In India, king cobras are only found in the Eastern and Western ghats, and north and northeastern India. Unlike the much smaller common cobras, king cobras can grow as much as 15-18 feet in length and other snakes form a main espart of diet of king cobras. In fact, they even feast on other king cobras!
A king cobra showing a rat snake who's the KING! The rat snake probably must have formed a good meal for the king. For more info on feeding habits, visit https://pogirigowrishankar.wordpress.com/2013/03/22/a-kings-platter/
In the mating season, females release ‘pheromones’, using which the males smell and track them. Often, multiple males can approach a female. In such cases, the males compete vigorously (check picture) and one male emerges the winner. The winner, as expected, gets to mate with the female.
Males competing over a female. For information on mating behaviour, see https://pogirigowrishankar.wordpress.com/2011/04/24/king-cobra-nests/
Interestingly, the female then starts collecting leaf litter to build a NEST (check pictures)! This is the only snake in the world which actually builds a nest! And the nest is not a small, haphazard nest but a carefully built, tightly packed pile of leaves which can be as much as 60-75 cm (around 2 - 2.5 feet) tall!
A beautifully built pine nest from Uttarakhand! The height of the nest must be around 2 feet.
Photo by Jignasu Dolia. His research article on king cobra nests can be found here : https://www.biotaxa.org/hn/article/viewFile/27841/31999
A king cobra nest from the western ghats. It is very interesting how the nest material changes with habitat and trees! Do visit https://pogirigowrishankar.wordpress.com/2011/04/24/king-cobra-nests/ for details on how a limbless creature manages to build a nest!
Once the eggs are laid and the nest is complete, the female sits on top of it, guarding the eggs from potential predators. The location to build the nest is carefully chosen – UNDER A TREE, ON A SLOPE. King cobras are usually found in areas where it rains a lot. The trees overhead help in slowing down the rain drops and the slope helps in water not getting accumulated in the leaf litter.
A female on her nest -- making sure the eggs are safe. Photo by Jignasu Dolia.
Well, if you think this is smart, read this -- Females stay on the nest and guard the eggs for as long as 60-75 days. However, they leave the nest JUST BEFORE the eggs are about to hatch. Why do they choose to not see the eggs hatch? Researchers suspect that instinct drives the females to do this to PROTECT HER YOUNG ONES FROM HERSELF — When on the nest, the females hardly get to feed and by the end of it are starving. And remember — king cobras eat other king cobras! The females leave the nest so as not to eat their own babies!
Special thanks to Jignasu Dolia for providing pictures and Gowri Shankar for confirming the facts for this post. Gowri has been studying king cobras for over two decades now. For more information, do check out his blog: https://pogirigowrishankar.wordpress.com/ and youtube channel https://www.youtube.com/c/KCREKalinga/videos. Also please do not miss the fabulous national geographic channel and NatGeo wild documentaries “Secrets of the King Cobra” and “Cobra King” featuring Gowri!