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12 Ferocious Facts About King Cobras

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One of the most feared and revered snakes on the planet, the king cobra is renowned for its imposing size and deadly bite. But it also has plenty of other unique qualities: a distinctive voice, remarkable nesting habits, and a name that obscures its true identity.

1. THE KING COBRA IS THE LONGEST VENOMOUS SNAKE IN THE WORLD.

This native of south and southeast Asia normally grows to be somewhere between 10 and 13 feet long, but the biggest ever recorded was an individual from modern-day Malaysia living at the London Zoo in the mid-20th century. From end to end, the animal measured 18 feet, 9 inches long.

2. TECHNICALLY, THEY AREN’T TRUE COBRAS.

Despite that common name, king cobras are not classified as true cobras, which belong to the genus Naja. The king cobra is the sole member the genus Ophiophagus; genetic evidence suggests that these big snakes are more closely related to the mambas of sub-Saharan Africa than to true cobras.

Physically, there are many things that set king cobras apart from true ones: Kings have proportionally narrower hoods than Naja species do; Ophiophagus’s head is larger relative to its body size; and at the base of the neck, king cobras have a pair of matching, elongated occipital scales, which are absent in Naja cobras.

3. THEY GROWL.

When threatened, king cobras spread their hoods to make themselves look bigger and raise their heads as high as 6 feet off the ground. But those aren't the only threatening tools in their arsenal: They also use sound to intimidate. Threatened kings take a deep breath and then rapidly exhale, forcing a burst of air through the tracheal diverticula in their respiratory tract which acts like a resonating chamber, resulting in a sound that one scientist compared to the growl of “an angry German shepherd.” It's much scarier than your standard issue hiss.

4. THEIR VENOM ATTACKS THE NERVOUS SYSTEM.

Drop for drop, king cobra venom is less potent than that of some smaller snakes, such as Australia’s inland taipan. But when it comes to toxic chemicals, quantity can trump quality: With a single bite, a king cobra can inject as much as 7 milliliters of venom—almost enough to fill 1.5 teaspoons—into its victim.

Different venoms do different things to the human body. Many vipers, for example, have venom that targets the victim’s circulatory system, destroying red blood cells as it spreads. But the venom of a king cobra inhibits communication between nerve cells, which can cause extreme dizziness, blurred vision, and—often—paralysis. Unless the right antivenom is administered quickly, a human bite victim can die within 30 minutes. Their venom is powerful enough that a single bite can kill a 12,000-pound elephant in just three hours.

5. THEY MOSTLY EAT OTHER SNAKES.

Most true cobras have a varied diet that may include lizards, birds, rodents, and fish. But the king cobra almost exclusively dines on other serpents, a fact that’s reflected in its genus name: Ophiophagus means “snake-eater.” They're equal opportunity eaters, devouring harmless rat snakes as well as venomous kraits, various true cobras, and other kings. Not even pythons are safe (although king cobras apparently can’t swallow constrictors that exceed 10 feet in length). King cobras will also eat eggs and the occasional monitor lizard.

6. MALES WRESTLE.

Like many other species of animal, male king cobras fight over females during breeding season. First, the snakes size each other up, raising their heads as high as 4 feet off the ground. Then, they wrestle. Bodies intertwined, the snakes try to pin one another to the ground. (There's no biting involved—these snakes are largely immune to their own venom.) When one of the participants is finally pinned, he leaves.

7. SCIENTISTS SEQUENCED THE KING COBRA GENOME.

In 2013, an international scientific team sequenced the Ophiophagus genome [PDF], which revealed that the animal's venom glands can trace their evolutionary origins to the pancreatic system. The team also concluded that the snake’s deadly venom was developed during an eons-long “arms race” with prey items: Over many generations, these would-be victims grew increasingly immune to the snake’s chemical cocktail, so cobra venom evolved to be more and more dangerous as time went by (which is why, despite the fact that the snakes don't eat elephants, their venom is strong enough to kill one). “Our results," the scientists wrote in the paper, " ... provide a unique view of the origin and evolution of snake venom.”

8. KING COBRAS ARE MAINLY ACTIVE DURING THE DAY.

While many true cobras are crepuscular, king cobras snakes are diurnal, meaning they're most active during daytime. After sunset, they take shelter under logs, buttress roots, or termite mounds.

9. THIS IS THE ONLY SPECIES OF SNAKE IN THE WORLD THAT BUILDS NESTS.

Snakes, by human standards, are not model parents: 70 percent of snake species lay eggs, usually in a convenient hole or crevice, and many will abandon their clutches immediately. But the king cobra is an exception. The reptile builds a nest. First, the female gathers leaves, using her coils as a makeshift rake. After she lays 20 to 30 eggs in the middle, she gathers more leaves, layering them over her clutch (the decomposition of the leaves helps keep the eggs warm). The process can take four full days to complete, after which the female curls up on top of the nest for the next two or three months until the eggs begin to hatch. Females don't eat the entire time they're guarding the nest and are unusually aggressive, lashing out at pretty much anything that comes too close—but just before the eggs hatch, they take off.

10. BABIES—AND SOME ADULTS—ARE BANDED.

At birth, baby king cobras are just around a foot long and, with alternating black and whitish-yellow bands running the length of their bodies, are more vibrantly-colored than adults. As they grow up, most snakes gradually lose the bands; when fully grown, king cobras have an almost solidly-brown or olive color scheme (though the snakes do have faded yellow bellies). But not every snake goes solid: In Myanmar, adult kings tend to remain banded.

11. THESE SNAKES CAN LIVE TO BE OVER 20 YEARS OLD.

In captivity, the king cobra’s average lifespan is 17.1 years; 22 is the oldest verified age for this species.

12. KING COBRAS ARE GREAT CLIMBERS AND DECENT SWIMMERS.

While kings do most of their hunting on solid ground, they can often be found hanging out in trees and will occasionally stalk their prey high above the forest floor. One individual which had been fitted with a tracking device pursued a pit viper up into the canopy of a south Indian forest, climbing more than 65 feet off the ground in the process [PDF]. And while no one would describe them as semiaquatic snakes, king cobras have been known to swim for short distances.

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Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Dogs
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Dogs: They’re cute, they’re cuddly … and they can smell fear!

Today on Scatterbrained, John Green and friends go beyond the floof to reveal some fascinating facts about our canine pals—including the story of one Bloodhound who helped track down 600 criminals during his lifetime. (Move over, McGruff.) They’re also looking at the name origins of some of your favorite dog breeds, going behind the scenes of the Puppy Bowl, and dishing the details on how a breed gets to compete at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show.

You can watch the full episode below.

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Sploot 101: 12 Animal Slang Words Every Pet Parent Should Know
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For centuries, dogs were dogs and cats were cats. They did things like bark and drink water and lay down—actions that pet parents didn’t need a translator to understand.

Then the internet arrived. Scroll through the countless Facebook groups and Twitter accounts dedicated to sharing cute animal pictures and you’ll quickly see that dogs don’t have snouts, they have snoots, and cats come in a colorful assortment of shapes and sizes ranging from smol to floof.

Pet meme language has been around long enough to start leaking into everyday conversation. If you're a pet owner (or lover) who doesn’t want to be out of the loop, here are the terms you need to know.

1. SPLOOT

You know your pet is fully relaxed when they’re doing a sploot. Like a split but for the whole body, a sploot occurs when a dog or cat stretches so their bellies are flat on the ground and their back legs are pointing behind them. The amusing pose may be a way for them to take advantage of the cool ground on a hot day, or just to feel a satisfying stretch in their hip flexors. Corgis are famous for the sploot, but any quadruped can do it if they’re flexible enough.

2. DERP

Person holding Marnie the dog.
Emma McIntyre, Getty Images for ASPCA

Unlike most items on this list, the word derp isn’t limited to cats and dogs. It can also be a stand-in for such expressions of stupidity as “duh” or “dur.” In recent years the term has become associated with clumsy, clueless, or silly-looking cats and dogs. A pet with a tongue perpetually hanging out of its mouth, like Marnie or Lil Bub, is textbook derpy.

3. BLEP

Cat laying on desk chair.
PoppetCloset, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

If you’ve ever caught a cat or dog poking the tip of its tongue past its front teeth, you’ve seen a blep in action. Unlike a derpy tongue, a blep is subtle and often gone as quickly as it appears. Animal experts aren’t entirely sure why pets blep, but in cats it may have something to do with the Flehmen response, in which they use their tongues to “smell” the air.

4. MLEM

Mlems and bleps, though very closely related, aren’t exactly the same. While blep is a passive state of being, mlem is active. It’s what happens when a pet flicks its tongue in and out of its mouth, whether to slurp up water, taste food, or just lick the air in a derpy fashion. Dogs and cats do it, of course, but reptiles have also been known to mlem.

5. FLOOF

Very fluffy cat.
J. Sibiga Photography, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Some pets barely have any fur, and others have coats so voluminous that hair appears to make up most of their bodyweight. Dogs and cats in the latter group are known as floofs. Floofy animals will famously leave a wake of fur wherever they sit and can squeeze through tight spaces despite their enormous mass. Samoyeds, Pomeranians, and Persian cats are all prime examples of floofs.

6. BORK

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According to some corners of the internet, dogs don’t bark, they bork. Listen carefully next time you’re around a vocal doggo and you won’t be able to unhear it.

7. DOGGO

Shiba inu smiling up at the camera.
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Speaking of doggos: This word isn’t hard to decode. Every dog—regardless of size, floofiness, or derpiness—can be a doggo. If you’re willing to get creative, the word can even be applied to non-dog animals like fennec foxes (special doggos) or seals (water doggos). The usage of doggo saw a spike in 2016 thanks to the internet and by the end of 2017 it was listed as one of Merriam-Webster’s “Words We’re Watching.”

8. SMOL

Tiny kitten in grass.
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Some pets are so adorably, unbearably tiny that using proper English to describe them just doesn’t cut it. Not every small pet is smol: To earn the label, a cat or dog (or kitten or puppy) must excel in both the tiny and cute departments. A pet that’s truly smol is likely to induce excited squees from everyone around it.

9. PUPPER

Hands holding a puppy.
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Like doggo, pupper is self-explanatory: It can be used in place of the word puppy, but if you want to use it to describe a fully-grown doggo who’s particularly smol and cute, you can probably get away with it.

10. BOOF

We’ve already established that doggos go bork, but that’s not the only sound they make. A low, deep bark—perhaps from a dog that can’t decide if it wants to expend its energy on a full bark—is best described as a boof. Consider a boof a warning bark before the real thing.

11. SNOOT

Dog noses poking out beneath blanket.
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Snoot was already a dictionary-official synonym for nose by the time dog meme culture took the internet by storm. But while snoot is rarely used to describe human faces today, it’s quickly becoming the preferred term for pet snouts. There’s even a wholesome viral challenge dedicated to dogs poking their snoots through their owners' hands.

12. BOOP

Have you ever seen a dog snoot so cute you just had to reach out and tap it? And when you did, was your action accompanied by an involuntary “boop” sound? This urge is so universal that boop is now its own verb. Humans aren’t the only ones who can boop: Search the word on YouTube and treat yourself to hours of dogs, cats, and other animals exchanging the love tap.

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