King Cobra vs Rattlesnake: 5 Key Differences

Written by August Buck
Updated: June 18, 2022
Image Credit A-Z-Animals.com
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Key Points

  • These two species of snake differ wildly in habitat, behavior, and size.
  • One similarity the rattlesnake and king cobra share is the ability to climb trees.
  • The king cobra is the more venomous of the two.

While a king cobra and a rattlesnake are unlikely to interact given their geographic locations, are there ways in which these snakes differ? Given that king cobras belong to a totally different family compared to rattlesnakes, you can no doubt imagine their differences. But what might those be, and how can you learn how to distinguish these two snakes from one another?

In this article, we will address the many differences between a king cobra and a rattlesnake, including their habitats and dietary preferences. We’ll address their behavioral differences and appearances as well so that you can learn everything there is to know about these snakes. Let’s get started!

Comparing King Cobra vs Rattlesnake

king cobra vs rattlesnake
When comparing their sizes, king cobras grow much longer than rattlesnakes despite rattlesnakes having thicker bodies.

A-Z-Animals.com

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King CobraRattlesnake
Size12-18 feet long1-8 feet long
AppearanceSmooth scales found in black, brown, green, and yellow shades; has a fanlike head with chevron patterns on its backColoring varies based on habitat; triangular head and vertical pupils; raised scales and diamond patterned body. Has a namesake rattle on the end of its tail
Location and HabitatAsia; lives in trees and warm, humid climates such as forests and marshesNorth, Central, and South America; mountains, deserts, grassy areas
BehaviorFans its hood out and rises up when threatened; often makes eye contact with its predator or prey. Considered incredibly venomousExtremely potent bite for humans, but prefers to be left alone; rattles its tail to ward off predators. Changes the times of day it hunts based on the season
DietLizards, birds, and other snakesRats, mice, lizards, rats, and frogs

Key Differences Between King Cobra vs Rattlesnake

king cobra vs rattlesnake
A king cobra is only found in Asia, while rattlesnakes are found throughout the Americas.

fivespots/Shutterstock.com

There are many key differences between a king cobra vs rattlesnake. When comparing their sizes, king cobras grow much longer than rattlesnakes despite rattlesnakes having thicker bodies. A king cobra is only found in Asia, while rattlesnakes are found throughout the Americas. Finally, rattlesnakes have a distinct rattle on the ends of their tails while king cobras have a hood or fan surrounding their head.

Let’s discuss all of these differences in more detail now.

King Cobra vs Rattlesnake: Size and Weight

king cobra vs rattlesnake
Rattlesnakes have a distinct rattle on the ends of their tails while king cobras have a hood or fan surrounding their head.

iStock.com/takeo1775

King cobras are considered one of the longest venomous snakes in the world, especially when compared to rattlesnakes. For example, depending on the species, rattlesnakes grow an average of 1-8 feet long while king cobras grow anywhere from 12-18 feet long. This is a huge difference, as king cobras are much larger when compared to rattlesnakes. This also means that king cobras weigh more than rattlesnakes do.

King Cobra vs Rattlesnake: Location and Habitat Preferences

king cobra vs rattlesnake
Rattlesnakes grow an average of 1-8 feet long while king cobras grow anywhere from 12-18 feet long.

Frode Jacobsen/Shutterstock.com

Rattlesnakes and king cobras do not exist in the same environments, given their geographical locations. To understand fully what this means, it is important to note that king cobras are only found in Asia while rattlesnakes are found in North, Central, and South America. This means that the paths of these two snakes will never cross!

Their habitat preferences differ as well, given their completely opposite geographical locations. For example, rattlesnakes enjoy arid desert and dry forest climates, while king cobras thrive in warm and humid climates. You can find king cobras in rainforests and marshy areas, while rattlesnakes prefer to avoid aquatic environments in exchange for dry rocks and grasslands.

King Cobra vs Rattlesnake: Appearance

king cobra vs rattlesnake
Rattlesnakes enjoy arid desert and dry forest climates, while king cobras thrive in warm and humid climates.

Vova Shevchuk/Shutterstock.com

The physical differences between a king cobra and a rattlesnake are obvious from just a glance. While rattlesnakes have a signature rattle on the end of their tail, king cobras do not have this feature. In fact, king cobras have a distinct hood or fan surrounding their head, while rattlesnakes do not share this.

The markings and colorations of king cobras differ from rattlesnakes as well. Rattlesnakes have a distinct diamond pattern along their backs, and king cobras have chevron patterns on their bodies. The body of a king cobra may also be striped in a variety of colors, such as black, green, and brown. Rattlesnakes come in many colors, depending on their environment, including brown, tan, peach, and black.

King Cobra vs Rattlesnake: Behavior

king cobra vs rattlesnake
While rattlesnakes have a signature rattle on the end of their tail, king cobras do not have this feature.

Alexander Wong/Shutterstock.com

While both king cobras and rattlesnakes prefer to be left alone, there are some key behavioral differences between these snakes. For example, rattlesnakes coil up and rattle their tails when threatened, while cobras rise up and expand their hooded heads when threatened. King cobras are also capable of maintaining eye contact and following their predators or threats, while rattlesnakes do not behave in this way.

Both rattlesnakes and king cobras climb trees, though king cobras enjoy hunting and living in trees often. Rattlesnakes prefer to be on land, and their hunting styles illustrate this. Additionally, while the venom in a king cobra is technically weaker than that of a rattlesnake, king cobras inject enough venom to kill multiple people when threatened. This makes king cobras more dangerous than rattlesnakes, but both snakes prefer to avoid conflict.

King Cobra vs Rattlesnake: Diet and Hunting Style

king cobra vs rattlesnake
Rattlesnakes have a distinct diamond pattern along their backs, and king cobras have chevron patterns on their bodies.

KitThanit/Shutterstock.com

Given their extremely different geographical locations and sizes, you may have already guessed that king cobras and rattlesnakes differ in their diet and hunting styles. King cobras are called king cobras because one of their favorite meals is other snakes. Rattlesnakes eat rats, mice, lizards, rats, and frogs, while king cobras eat birds, lizards, and other snakes.

This is an important distinction between them, as king cobras spend much of their time in trees. This makes birds a huge part of their diet, while rattlesnakes are more likely to eat rodents. King cobras also have better eyesight compared to rattlesnakes, making hunting a breeze comparatively.

And when it comes to hunting prowess and deadliness, there’s another big difference between these two snakes. The venom of king cobras is much more dangerous. Neither snake injects venom with 100% of its bites. But the king cobra’s venom is more potent and administered in higher quantities than even the eastern diamondback rattlesnake, one of the deadliest rattlesnakes.

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About the Author

I am a non-binary freelance writer working full-time in Oregon. Graduating Southern Oregon University with a BFA in Theatre and a specialization in creative writing, I have an invested interest in a variety of topics, particularly Pacific Northwest history. When I'm not writing personally or professionally, you can find me camping along the Oregon coast with my high school sweetheart and Chihuahua mix, or in my home kitchen, perfecting recipes in a gleaming cast iron skillet.

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