Snake Brain: How Intelligent are Cobras?

King Cobra
King Cobra by Mark Dumont, CC License. Link:

The bone-encased snake brain and sensory organs are contained in the snake’s head. Snakes have almost all the senses we do, with several interesting modifications in the hearing, sight and smell organs. However, the really interesting question is what’s behind that brain, and how intelligent are they? How smart are Cobras?

I could find little research on the intelligence of cobras, so the following are my personal observations. I have owned two cobras over a period of 8 years. The second cobra I had, named Kachsa Khan, was a King Cobra (O.Hannah.)

Indeed…it was all fun ‘n games till he got to about 6’, then he became relatively unmanageable. I couldn’t take him out of the “Junglesphere” after that because if he got interested in, or distracted by something, I couldn’t stop him from going to investigate it. He was *quite* inquisitive. I could tell when he got sick or tired because his alertness level would diminish…it was that obvious. I would have to say that O.H. is probably one of the most intelligent herps with the possible exception of King Snakes. To watch either of them approach, attack and ultimately devour another snake, no matter what it’s size or defenses give one a great respect for the smarts of these beasts. This definitely says something about their snake brain capabilities.

King Cobra
King Cobra OH

I had the unfortunate “luck” of stopping in a back alley snake shop in Bangkok, Thailand one evening just in time to witness a 5-6 yr. old O.H. defending it’s “crown” against a variety of “foes”. It was like watching a car accident…incredible, awesome, yet perverse. The cobra, about 5′, was able to dispatch the following adversaries: a Black Mamba using strategy; some kind of boa with brute force; a ratel with *much* strategy and gnashing of teeth (he almost lost this one, but the ratel had been pitted against another snake earlier that day, I was told, so it was tired; and lastly the big battle, against another King Cobra that was about 3.5′ and 2 yrs. Old.


Mongoose vs Cobra
Mongoose vs Cobra

This last was an interesting one – they didn’t want to fight, and only the prodding and poking of the “handlers” caused them to actually go at it. Even then, neither would multiple strike, as if they knew that it was their “job” to put on a show, but with no real aggressiveness or heart in it. In the end, however, the “champion” did get tired of the abuse from the handlers, and realized that he wasn’t going to be left alone until the other cobra was removed, so with a very slow, methodical movement, he slipped his head around behind the others, and put both fangs through the neck right behind the other’s head. The entire “show” seemed oddly staged in that the champion cobra always seemed to know what was expected of it, and how to accomplish it. This would certainly indicate a level of intelligence far above what most would attribute to herps in general, even most snakes. This particular snake demonstrated the ability to learn fairly advanced techniques as well as interactive skills. Do you need any more evidence for an advanced snake brain?

Well, the fight with the ratel was the most amazing, because cobras usually lose when attacked by a mongoose or ratel. Cobras are not fast enough, nor can they access vital body parts due to the course hair on these animals. This cobra seemed to know this well, and planned his strikes so that he would hit the fleshy parts of the ratel, mostly going for the underside and it’s neck and nose.

For more fast facts about Cobras click here.

For further discussion on snakes, scientific classifications, venom research and much more, check the resources available in “The New Encyclopedia of Snakes”, available on

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“The New Encyclopedia of Snakes” 

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