Viper vs Cobra: What’s the Difference?

Written by Brandi Allred
Updated: June 4, 2022
Image Credit jaroslava V/Shutterstock.com
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Key Points

  • A viper’s fangs are longer than a cobra’s, and retract when they close their mouths. Cobras cannot fold their fangs in the same way, but can close their mouths with their shorter fangs.
  • While vipers go into a tight coil and shake their tails when threatened, cobras can stand erect, up to 7 feet off the ground, displaying their impressive hoods and sometimes hissing or even spitting venom in defense.
  • Cobras are only found in Africa and Asia. Vipers can reside anywhere on earth except Antarctica and Australia.

There are around 200 species of viper and close to 300 species of cobra around the world. When comparing a viper vs a cobra, there are many key differences to note. But, the two snakes share many similarities as well. Both snakes can be found in Africa and Asia, but only vipers inhabit other continents like Europe, North America, and South America. Vipers and cobras share one crucial characteristic: they’re both highly venomous.

In this article, we’ll learn more about the differences between vipers and cobras and a little more about some specific species of vipers and cobras. To help you learn how to distinguish between the two snakes, we’ll go over their size, appearance, locations and habitats, behaviors, and lifespan.

Read on to learn just what makes vipers and cobras different from one another.

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Comparing Vipers And Cobras

Vipers and cobras differ in size, location, habitat, appearance, behavior, and lifespan.

A-Z-Animals.com

ViperCobra
Size0.8 to 10 feet in length
0.1 to 45 pounds
4 to 18 feet in length
10 to 20 pounds
AppearanceAll vipers have two long, hollow fangs at the top front of the mouth. They range from one solid color to highly variegated camouflage patterning.All cobras have two short, hollow fangs and hoods at the head and neck. Some species are solid-colored, and others have patterning.
Location and HabitatFound on all continents except Australia and Antarctica. Habitats range from arboreal to terrestrial or semi-aquatic.Africa and Asia; found in rainforests, grasslands, savannahs, and agricultural margins.
BehaviorMost are non-aggressive; ambush hunters who strike, envenomate and wait for prey to die.Venomous, some species can spit venom. Flattens neck into the hood when threatened.
LifespanUp to 15 years, more in captivity17-20 years, more in captivity

The Key Differences Between Vipers And Cobras

The key differences between vipers and cobras are size, location, habitat, appearance, behavior, and lifespan.

Cobras grow longer than vipers, but vipers generally have thicker bodies. Both are venomous and have long fangs, but viper fangs grow much longer; vipers can retract their fangs like a switchblade knife to close their mouth fully. Cobras, on the other hand, cannot fold their fangs, so they have to be shorter for the cobras to close their mouth. Cobras are known for their hoods, while some viper species are known for the rattles on their tails.

Let’s take a closer look at the key differences between vipers and cobras.

Viper vs Cobra: Size

Deadliest Snake Bites - Forest Cobra (Naja melanoleuca)
Some cobras can grow up to 18 feet in length.

NickEvansKZN/Shutterstock.com

The longest venomous snake in the world is actually a species of cobra, the king cobra. King cobras can reach up to 18 feet long, while the much smaller Mozambique spitting cobra reaches only four feet long. Vipers, on the other hand, don’t grow quite as big as the king cobras. The longest viper globally is the South American bushmaster, which grows up to ten feet long. The smallest viper is the Namaqua dwarf viper of southern Africa.

Viper vs Cobra: Location and Habitat

Vipers are more widespread than cobras. Unlike vipers, cobras are found only in Asia and Africa. The most famous species of cobra in Asia is the king cobra, well known for its wide neck hood and ability to rear its head far off the ground. In Africa, the most famous type of cobra is the black mamba, which has only the smallest of hoods.

Vipers, also called adders in some parts of the world, can be found throughout North America, Central and South America, Europe, Asia, and Africa. Perhaps the most famous member of this family is the North American rattlesnake.

Viper vs Cobra: Appearance

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.
Cobras have a wide neck hood and can rear their head far off the ground.

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In general, vipers are heavier-bodied than cobras. Both families of snakes range from complexly patterned to solidly one color. Pit vipers have heat-sensing pits between their nostrils and eyes that other types of viper and all types of cobra lack.

Viper vs Cobra: Behavior

One of the most famous behaviors a cobra can exhibit occurs when threatened. When threatened, most cobra species “stand up,” elevating up to several feet of their bodies off the ground, and splay their hoods out. Many will also hiss, and some can even spit venom.

In contrast, vipers do not stand up. Instead, most species coil into a tight loop and rapidly shake the end of their tail. In rattlesnakes, this results in a characteristic maraca sound that warns would-be predators away.

Cobras have a broad and exotic diet featuring many varieties of other snakes such as Indian cobras, rat snakes, pythons, green whip snakes, banded wolf snakes, Malabar and hump-nosed pit vipers, and keelbacks. Their digestion process is very slow, and after a large meal, they won’t eat again for up to several months. Vipers’ diets are quite different, consisting of rabbits, frogs, lizards, insects, smaller snakes, birds and bats, and rodents.

Viper vs Cobra: Lifespan

viper snake
Vipers can live for more than 15 years in captivity.

Kurit afshen/Shutterstock.com

For vipers and cobras, lifespans differ for each individual species. But, a good rule of thumb is—the bigger the snake, the longer it may live. Some species, like the king cobra, have been known to live up to 20 years in the wild. Most species of rattlesnake, copperhead, and water moccasin may live up to 10 years. For all species, captive specimens tend to have much longer lifespans.

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