California King Snake vs. King Cobra: A Comparative Analysis

If you’re an avid snake lover, you’ll know that the California kingsnake and king cobra are two of the most famous snake species. But do you know all the differences between these two magnificent snakes? 

The California kingsnake is not venomous and is endemic to the western United States and northern Mexico. It can reach a length of 3.5 feet (107 cm). You can find the king cobra in southern and southeast Asia, and it can grow up to 13.1 feet (4 m) long. The king cobra’s venom is deadly. 

In this article, I’ll discuss the key differences between California kingsnakes and king cobras. I’ll cover their diets, appearance, habitats, and more. Let’s get started! 

California Kingsnake vs. King Cobra: The Differences Explained

The California kingsnake (Lampropeltis California) and the king cobra (Ophiophagus Hannah) are both extraordinary and beautiful snakes. However, this is where their similarities end.  

Below is a table explaining the primary differences between a California kingsnake and a King cobra:

SpeciesCalifornia KingsnakeKing Cobra
Scientific nameLampropeltis CaliforniaeOphiophagus Hannah
Geographic locationEndemic to the United States and northern Mexico.Endemic to southern and southeast Asia.
ColorA range of color variations

Bands of different colors: 
Black with white stripes

Brownish gray with white stripes
Size2.5-3.5 ft (76.2-106.68 cm) in length

3.5-5 lb (1.5-2.2 kg)
10.4 -13.1 ft  (3.17 -3.99 m) in length

10-15 lb (4.5- 6.8 kg)
ActivityActive during the day and night Active during the day but can be seen at night
BehaviorDocile, but when threatened, they will coil their bodies, rattle their tail and hiss.Avoids confrontation, but when threatened, they will raise their head and neck flap while hissing.
ReproductionLays eggsLays eggs
CaptivityPopular exotic pet

Easy to care for
Not recommended to keep as a pet

Depending on where you live, it might be illegal to keep a king cobra as a pet
Lifespan30 to 40 years20 years

I’ll discuss these differences in more detail below: 


It’s easy to tell California kingsnakes and king cobras apart. California kingsnakes are much shorter, usually between 2.5 and 3.5 feet (76.2 and 106.68 cm), whereas the king cobra can grow between 10.4 and 13.1 feet (3.17 and 3.99 m).

California king snakes are lighter than King cobras, with the average adult weight ranging between 3.5 lb and 5 lb (1.5 kg and 2.2 kg). An adult king cobra can weigh between 10 lb and 15 lb (4.5 kg and 6.8 kg).

The King cobra is the largest venomous snake in the world.

Their color and patterns are also entirely different. The king cobra is usually black or dark brown with white crossbands and a cream-colored belly. The colors can vary slightly, but they are easy to identify. 

The California kingsnake has more color variations with alternating bands, which can be:

  • White
  • Black
  • Brown 
  • Cream

Behavior and Venom

The California kingsnake is a docile snake that will only attack when threatened. Its venom, however, is harmless to humans, but its bite can be extremely painful.

When California kingsnakes feel threatened, they coil their bodies while hiding their heads and hissing. They can rattle their tails like a rattlesnake which can be scary if you see one in the wild and aren’t familiar with the species.

They make popular pets and are often recommended to first-time owners as they are easy to care for.

On the other hand, the king cobra is highly venomous. If one bites you, you can die within fifteen minutes if you do not receive antivenom medication.

The king cobra is not aggressive and will avoid confrontation with humans as much as possible. However, if it feels threatened, it will attack. These snakes can accurately strike a person or their prey at a long range, and if they bite you, they inject a large amount of venom.

King cobras are solitary by nature; they do not live with or seek the company of others from their species. They are also monogamous and meet up with the same mate every breeding season. The mother builds a nest and watches over her eggs until they hatch, at which point she leaves. 

A baby king cobra’s venom is just as strong as that of a fully grown adult, and they are independent from birth.


Most snakes have similar diets, preying on rodents, birds, and reptiles. However, the California kingsnake and king cobra both enjoy eating other snakes.

The California kingsnake might not be venomous, but it’s a strong constrictor and resistant to a rattlesnake’s venom, making rattlesnakes easy prey.

The king cobra primarily hunts snakes, even eating other king cobras. It will, however, eat rodents, birds, and other reptiles if it is very hungry.

California kingsnakes get their name because they are excellent hunters and eat other snakes.

Geographic Location, Habitat, and Population

The California kingsnake and king cobra do not live close to each other, and you will only find them in the same vicinity if you are at an exotic pet show or store.

California kingsnakes are endemic to the western United States and northern Mexico. You can find them in these states:

  • Arizona
  • California
  • Nevada
  • New Mexico
  • Northwestern Mexico
  • Oregon
  • Southwestern Colorado
  • Utah

They are adaptable when it comes to their habitat, and they live in various habitats, including:

  • Deserts
  • Grasslands
  • Marshes
  • Suburbs
  • Woodlands

California kingsnakes are popular exotic pets, but if you want to sell or buy one in California, you will need a special permit.

King cobras are endemic to southern and southeast Asia. You can come across them in any of these countries or states:

  • India
  • Northeast India
  • Bangladesh
  • Brahmaputra River basin in Bhutan
  • Cambodia
  • Indonesia
  • Terai in southern Nepal
  • Philippines
  • Myanmar
  • Laos
  • Southern China
  • Malaysia
  • Thailand
  • Singapore

Like the California kingsnake, the king cobra has adjusted well to its environment and lives in the following habitats:

  • Forests
  • Mangrove swamps
  • Bamboo thickets
  • Agricultural areas

King cobras enjoy swimming in rivers, but it’s unlikely to see one in a lake or stream.

They are listed on the IUCN Red List as vulnerable because of forest destruction. People catch them for their meat and skin and use various body parts for medicine. Selling king cobras internationally as pets also contributes to their population decreasing.

Final Thoughts

These two spectacular snakes are different in almost every way possible. The California kingsnake is docile, and although it will bite if threatened, its venom is harmless to humans. The king cobra avoids conflict, but its toxin is lethal to humans, and without antivenom, a person will die if bitten.

Snakes should be treated with the respect they need, so instead of trying to capture one for yourself or buying one from a pet shop, help these creatures by admiring their beauty and leaving them to thrive in the wild.

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