A King Cobra is the biggest of all poisonous snakes and can grow to over 4 meters (13 feet) long.
Cobras, with their threatening hoods and intimidating upright postures, are some of the most iconic snakes on Earth. Their elegance, prideful stance, and venomous bite have made them both respected and feared.
"Cobras occur throughout Africa, the Middle East, India, Southeast Asia, and Indonesia," said Sara Viernum, a herpetologist based in Madison, Wisconsin. The word comes from the Portuguese cobra de capello, which means "hooded snake."
There is some disagreement about what exactly a cobra is, and the number of cobra species ranges from 28 to about 270 depending on how a cobra is defined. Genetically, "true" cobras are members of the genus Naja, but according to Viernum, often "the name cobra references several species of snakes, most of which are in the venomous snake family Elapidae. Elpididae includes other snakes like coral snakes, kraits, and mambas." Many of these snakes either possess hoods or the ability to raise the upper part of their body.
Cobras are Elapids, a type of poisonous snake with hollow fangs fixed to the top jaw at the front of the mouth. These snakes cannot hold their fangs down on prey so they inject venom through their fangs, according to the San Diego Zoo. They have an excellent sense of smell and night vision. In addition to their trademark hoods, cobras have round pupils and smooth scales.
Colors vary widely from species to species. There are red, yellow, black, mottled, banded, and many other colors and patterns of the cobra.
Cobras are large snakes; many species reach more than 6 feet long (2 meters). According to Cape Snake Conservation, the forest cobra is the largest true cobra, reaching 10 feet (3 m), and Ashe's spitting cobra is 9 feet (2.7 m), making it the world's largest spitting cobra. The smallest species is the Mozambique spitting cobra, which is about 4 feet long (1.2 m). King cobras, the longest of all venomous snakes, can reach 18 feet (5.5 m).
"The most well-known distinctive physical characteristic of cobras is their hood," said Viernum. "Hooding occurs when the snake spreads out its neck ribs forming a flattened, widened section of its body near the head." This creates a stunning, and threatening, spectacle.