Pre-monsoon rain could hit king cobra breeding in Karnataka

Experts fear that the excessive summer downpours that hit the Tirthhalli, Sringeri and Hebri taluks during the king cobra breeding season could negatively impact the life cycle of the Western Ghats umbrella species.

Between March 1 and May 31, the three taluks received nearly one and a half to three times more precipitation than normal. While the largest poisonous snakes in the world are spread across the Western Ghats of Kerala to parts of Maharashtra, these three taluks in Shivamogga, Chikkamagaluru and Udupi districts respectively, are where research stations such as the station Agumbe Rainforest Research (ARRS) and the Kalinga Foundation have conducted regular studies. These are perhaps the only centers dedicated to the study of king cobras.

According to the Karnataka State Natural Disaster Monitoring Center, Tirthhalli received 359mm of rainfall between March 1 and May 31 against an average of 118mm; similarly, in Sringeri, against the normal pre-monsoon showers of 196mm in three months, the taluk received 321mm and Hebri recorded 422mm of summer showers against the normal rainfall of 200mm.

Herpetologist P Gowri Shankar of the Kalinga Foundation said that although there is not enough scientific evidence to link excessive rainfall to cobra breeding, heavy rains affect the nest building process. because female king cobras do not get dry leaves.

“When I started studying these king cobras in 2005-06, we used to get information on four to six nests from April to July. However, they are down to one to two. That’s a worrying trend,” he said.

King cobras are the only snakes known to build a nest. The heart of the nest, where 25-30 eggs are laid, must maintain a temperature of 26-28 degrees Celsius for 75-90 days for incubation, which is difficult with wet leaves.

Ajay Giri from ARRS says the wet leaves cause fungus to grow on the eggs, destroying them.

Normally, of the 30 eggs, only one or two hatchlings survive to adulthood.

Forestry Department sources confirmed to DH that a fortnight ago they found an abandoned king cobra nest near a house in Uttara Kannada district where nearly 22 of the 26 eggs had fungus and the survival of the remaining eggs was also doubtful. The heart of the nest was completely wet due to heavy rain, an officer said.

Showers before the monsoon

Gowri Shankar said king cobras are used to pre-monsoon showers.

“However, what we have been seeing for the past few years is erratic and excessive rainfall caused by climate change. King cobras, which are the top reptile predators of the Western Ghats, may not see sudden shifts in their population.

However, if this change in rainfall patterns continues, the future of these snakes will become uncertain,” he said.

Shock absorber

• King cobras are the only snakes to build a nest

• 25 to 30 eggs are laid at a time

• Normally one or two newborns survive

• Incubation period: 75-90 days

• Required temperature: 26 to 28 degrees Celsius

• With wet sheets this cannot be achieved