Gaboon Viper vs King Cobra: What’s the Difference?

Written by Brandi Allred
Published: March 18, 2022
Image Credit A-Z-Animals.com
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Key Points

  • Gabon vipers live in select parts of Africa, while king cobras live in Southeast Asia.
  • King cobras can’t sense heat like vipers, but they have better eyesight than most snakes.
  • Gaboon vipers like to hide in leaf litter and dense foliage in rainforests. You’ll find king cobras in forests, bamboo copses, mangrove swamps, and near freshwater or agricultural areas.

They may live on different continents, but gaboon vipers and king cobras have many similarities and many differences too. When it comes to a gaboon viper vs king cobra, each species has many unique qualities that make it both beautiful and deadly. King cobras are one of the longest snakes in the world, but gaboon vipers may be one of the stoutest.

Here, we’ll take a look at the exact differences between the gaboon viper vs king cobra, starting with their sizes. Then, we’ll compare and contrast their appearances, habitats, behaviors, diets, and lifespans. By the end of this article, you should be able to readily distinguish gaboon vipers from king cobras.

Comparing Gaboon Viper vs King Cobra

Gaboon vipers live in parts of Central, West, and East Africa. King cobras live throughout parts of India and Southeastern Asia.

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Gaboon ViperKing Cobra
Size4-7 feet; 20-45 pounds12-18 feet long; 11-20 pounds
AppearanceHeavy bodied snake with varied patterns made up of light brown, dark brown, yellow, and purple-pink scalesJuveniles are black with white or yellow markings; adults are dark brown to yellow or green
Location and HabitatCentral, West, and East Africa; lives on the rainforest floor, does not climb into treesSoutheastern Asia; lives in mangrove swamps, bamboo forests, and agricultural margins
BehaviorExtremely venomous yet non-aggressive; hunts by ambush strikingMales wrestle for breeding rights; females build nest and guard eggs
Lifespan15-20 years15-20 years

Key Differences Between Gaboon Viper vs King Cobra

Gaboon viper on the ground
Gaboon vipers are much shorter and heavier than king cobras.

Stu Porter/Shutterstock.com

Gaboon vipers are much shorter and heavier bodied than king cobras. Further, gaboon vipers live in select parts of Africa, whereas king cobras are native to India and Southeast Asia. One more key difference is their coloring – king cobras are solid colored, while gaboon vipers have complex patterns to help them blend in with their surroundings.

Let’s take a closer look at the biggest differences between the gaboon viper vs king cobra.

Gaboon Viper vs King Cobra: Size and Weight

Biggest Snakes: The King Cobra
The king cobra is the longest venomous snake in the world at over 18 feet long.

Vova Shevchuk/Shutterstock.com

The gaboon viper is a medium-sized snake ranging from 4 to 7 feet long. The king cobra is much longer, with some reaching up to 18 feet long. King cobras are actually the longest venomous snakes in the world. 

Despite the great disparity in length, king cobras actually weigh less than gaboon vipers. You may be wondering: how is this possible? When you compare the body mass of a gaboon viper vs king cobra, you will notice that gaboon vipers have extremely heavy bodies – so heavy that they can weigh up to 45 pounds, whereas the king cobra weighs only up to 20 pounds.

Gaboon Viper vs King Cobra: Location and Habitat

Gaboon Viper
Gaboon vipers have horn-like scales on their noses.

Danita Delimont/Shutterstock.com

Another big difference between the gaboon viper vs king cobra is their location. Gaboon vipers are native to Central, East, and West Africa. King cobras live in parts of India, China, Indonesia, and the Philippines.

Both species inhabit tropical rainforests, though only the king cobra hangs out in trees and bushes. Being so heavy, the gaboon viper sticks to the ground. Gaboon vipers can be found in rainforests; they like to hide in leaf litter and dense foliage. King cobras can be found in forests, bamboo copses, mangrove swamps, and near freshwater or agricultural areas.

Gaboon Viper vs King Cobra: Appearance

The King Cobra, Ophiophagus hannah. Portrait of a world's longest venomous snake.
King cobras range in color from yellow or green to gray or black.

Kletr/Shutterstock.com

King cobras may be long, but gaboon vipers are heavy. Other than the fact that they’re both limbless reptiles, the gaboon viper and king cobra share little in the way of looks. Gaboon vipers have thick bodies with extremely broad, leaf-shaped heads. They also have horn-like scales on their noses that project up from their bodies. King cobras have exceptionally long bodies and narrow heads. Their hallmark feature comes from the flattened ribs of their neck, which produce a wide hood that looks both intimidating and incredible.

In terms of color, the gaboon viper and king cobra are very dissimilar. Gaboon vipers are light-brown with dark brown, purplish, and pink scales arranged in complex patterns meant to mimic fallen leaves on the forest floor. King cobras, on the other hand, are mostly gray to black but may be yellow to green, with lighter crossbars down their bodies.

Gaboon Viper vs King Cobra: Behavior

Gaboon vipers are highly venomous, but only attack humans when threatened.

frantic00/Shutterstock.com

King cobras have better vision than most snakes. They need it since they can’t sense heat in the way that rattlesnakes do. When threatened, they rear up and display their hoods. Their hisses are so low-pitched that they sound more like growls. Males wrestle each other for breeding rights, and females guard their eggs.

Gaboon vipers have no hoods to flatten. They’re shy, non-aggressive snakes, and will only bite if threatened or provoked. They have two inch long fangs—the longest fangs of any venomous snake. Females give birth to live young instead of laying eggs. Both king cobras and gaboon vipers feed largely on rodents. To hunt, they strike and envenomate the prey, then swallow the helpless creature whole.

Gaboon Viper vs King Cobra: Lifespan

The Spectacled cobra is one the big four venomous species that inflict the most snakebites on humans in India. Many specimens exhibit a hood mark with two circular patterns connected by a curved line, evoking the image of spectacles.
King cobras and gaboon vipers live up to 20 years in the wild.

RealityImages/Shutterstock.com

For the gaboon viper vs king cobra, lifespans are one of the characteristics they have in common. Both species are thought to live up to 20 years in the wild, though captive specimens tend to live even longer.

Interesting Facts

The king cobra is the only snake that will build a nest to house its eggs, which can number up to 40. It will defend that nest fiercely until its young are born. King cobras are also known as cannibalistic–they will eat other king cobras, as well as Indian cobras, rat snakes, and pythons.

Gaboon vipers, unlike most snakes, give birth to live young, and can have up to 60 babies at once. They are also popular in snake exhibits at zoos because of their docile nature, size, and beautiful skin. Some are even kept as pets, but should be safely handled with hooks.

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