Golden Lancehead vs Pit Viper: What Are the Differences?

Written by Kyle Glatz
Published: April 13, 2022
© Nayeryouakim / Creative Commons – License / Original
Share this post on:


The golden lancehead snake is an interesting reptile because it can only be found on Snake Island, a small piece of land 20 miles off the coast of Brazil. The snake has been largely mythologized and made out to be one of the deadliest snakes in the world. However, it’s not even the deadliest pit viper in the world. Today, we will compare a golden lancehead vs a pit viper to show you how the lancehead compares to other pit vipers.

What Makes a Snake a Pit Viper?

Pit Viper on Bohol Island
The pit organ is located between the smaller nostril and the eyeball.


A pit viper is a snake belonging to the subfamily of venomous vipers that have a heat-sensing pit on their face, usually one between each of their eyes and nostrils. These pits allow the snake to pick up on heat signatures, helping them hunt without using their eyes!

90,756 People Couldn't Ace This Quiz

Think You Can?

Over 20 genera and 150 species of snakes fit under the pit viper designation, and they can be found in many places around the world, including the Americas.  

Comparing a Golden Lancehead and a Pit Viper

Golden lanceheads are much smaller than other pit vipers.
Golden LanceheadPit Viper
SizeWeight: 0.5lbs-5lbs
Length: 2ft-4ft
Weight: 0.5lb-34lbs
Length: 1ft-9.8ft or up to 13ft
Venom– Hemotoxic venom that kills red blood cells and causes tissue damage
– Fast absorption rate
– Causes severe necrosis of tissue
– Has enough venom to kill roughly 10 humans
– 5-7% mortality without treatment
– 3% mortality rate with treatment
– Venom ranges in potency
– Copperheads have a weak venom that may not even be treated with antivenom all the time
– Mojave rattlesnakes have deadly hemotoxic venom and neurotoxic venom
– 5%-25% mortality rate untreated
1% mortality rate with treatment but may be disabled
Range– Ilha da Queimada Grande, also known as Snake Island– Americas, Asia, Eastern Europe
Human Interactions– Few snakebites occur due to the snake living on a quarantined island.– Are responsible for the most venomous bites in the Americas (copperheads and fer-de-lance) – Responsible for the most deaths in South America (fer-de-lance)
Color– Yellow, tan, cream
– Yellow colors can be quite intense and bright
– Brown, tan, black, gray, olive
– Rarely integrate bright colors
– Usually blends into their environment

The Key Differences Between a Golden Lancehead vs Pit Viper

Mojave rattlesnake population in Alabama
The Mojave rattlesnake shakes its rattler when it is threatened.

©J.A. Dunbar/

The greatest differences between a golden lancehead and pit vipers are their size, venom, and colors. Golden lanceheads are small snakes measuring just 4ft long, have a potent venom that can kill many humans, and are known for their yellow skin. Other pit vipers can grow over 10ft long, possess earthy colors, and have deadlier venom with several times the mortality rate.

As we’ve said, the golden lancehead has been mythologized, but it’s not the largest or most dangerous member of the pit viper family.

Golden Lancehead vs Pit Viper: Size

For the most part, golden lanceheads are smaller than pit vipers. Golden lanceheads are rather small snakes, measuring up to 4ft and weighing perhaps 5lbs when fully grown.

However, other pit vipers can get much longer. The Lachesis pit vipers also called bushmasters, are the largest pit vipers in the world. They can apparently grow up to 13ft long. Yet, some of the smallest pit vipers only grow about a foot long, like the pygmy rattlesnake.

Also, small pit vipers can weigh as little as 0.5lbs, or they can weigh as much as 34lbs like the largest rattlesnake ever found! Either way, many pit vipers are larger than the golden lancehead.

Golden Lancehead vs Pit Viper: Venom

Side view of a Cottonmouth snake, ready to strike. The snake has a large spade-shaped head.
Although cottonmouths are venomous, their venom is not as powerful as a golden lancehead’s.


Golden lanceheads have weaker venom than many pit vipers. The venom of the golden lancehead is dangerous because it is a hemotoxin that contains a strong cytotoxin. The chemical cocktail they possess is powerful, killing 7% of all people who do not have the treatment and 3% of those who do.

However, research into this snake’s venom is difficult because their island is closed to the public. Thus, researchers rely on modern-day piracy to retrieve and test snakes.

Nevertheless, many other pit vipers have deadlier venom than the golden lancehead.  For example, the Mojave rattlesnake bites with a combined hemotoxic and neurotoxic venom that can kill upwards of 25% of all people that do not get treated with antivenom. Other pit vipers, like copperheads, have a very mild bite that needs treatment but may not require antivenom to save the victim’s life.

Golden Lancehead vs Pit Viper: Range

The golden lancehead is only found on Snake Island, a small island located 20 miles off the coast of Brazil. These snakes became trapped on the island due to terrain shifts that left a large swath of ocean between them and the mainland.

Pit vipers are found in Europe, Asia, and the Americas. Some vipers live in Africa, but they’re not pit vipers. Remember, all pit vipers are vipers, but not all vipers are pit vipers. The presence of the specialty organs is what makes them unique.

Golden Lancehead vs Pit Viper: Human Interactions

The golden lancehead does not have the opportunity to bite or interact with human beings very often. The island they live on is quarantined by the Brazilian government and controlled by the Navy.

However, thousands of people are bitten by pit vipers around the world each year. In South America, the fer-de-lance is responsible for thousands of bites. In the United States, copperheads inflict over 1,000 bites each year.

Pit vipers also bite a lot of people in Eurasia, but not so many as members of the “Big 4”, so their bites tend to get overshadowed.

Golden Lancehead vs Pit Viper: Color

Snakes in Mississippi - Southern Copperhead (Agkistrodon contortrix)
Copperheads can easily blend in with detritus.

©Jay Ondreicka/

As their name suggests, the golden lancehead usually appears in yellow, tan, or cream colors. The yellows on their skin can be vivid, too. However, most pit vipers blend in with their surroundings, contributing to the number of people they bite each year.

For example, the copperhead can sit on a pile of fallen leaves and look nearly indistinguishable. Sometimes, rattlesnakes can be hard to spot while sunning on some rocks. The color differences between pit vipers and golden lanceheads are profound.

All in all, even though the golden lancehead is a pit viper, it’s quite unusual. Its size, venom potency, location, and more make the snake very distinct. Fortunately, the chances of encountering that snake are incredibly low.  

Discover the "Monster" Snake 5X Bigger than an Anaconda

Every day A-Z Animals sends out some of the most incredible facts in the world from our free newsletter. Want to discover the 10 most beautiful snakes in the world, a "snake island" where you're never more than 3 feet from danger, or a "monster" snake 5X larger than an anaconda? Then sign up right now and you'll start receiving our daily newsletter absolutely free.

The Featured Image

golden lancehead vs fer-de-lance
Snake island is the only place in the world that is home to the golden lancehead.
© Nayeryouakim / Creative Commons – License / Original

Share this post on:
About the Author

I've been a freelance writer since 2013, and I've written in a variety of niches such as managed service providers, animals, and retail distribution. I graduated from Rowan University in 2014. When I'm not working, I enjoy playing video games, reading, and writing for fun.

Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.