Copperhead vs Milk Snake: Comparison Between Two Phenomenal Snakes

Milk snakes are one of the most popular pet snakes in America. People love to peck at their heads and caress their soft, glossy body, firstly because they are harmless and secondly because they look absolutely breath-taking. However, milk snakes have close resemblance in appearance to certain venomous species like coral snakes and copperhead snakes.

When it comes to copperhead vs milk snake, you must know the difference between these snakes because one is venomous, the other is not. They look quite similar, and not only that, they also have similar dietary and habitat preferences. How would you know one when you look at one? That’s exactly what this article will discuss, and you will get to know much more!

A Glimpse Into The Lives Of Copperhead…


Source: @aaroncrank

Copperhead snakes are pit vipers belonging to the genus Agkistrodon. This genus consists of about 8 species, including the venomous cottonmouth snakes, moccasins, and the cantils. The eight species are closely related, the reason why they are often considered similar to copperheads. However they are not the same. Cottonmouths, for instance, thrive in areas close to freshwater sources, whereas copperheads can live in rocky and mountainous areas too.

The copperhead species that are going to be mentioned in this article are the Eastern Copperheads and the Broad-Banded Copperheads, and you will know more about them in the segments to come. All Agkistrodon species have a broad head and have short fangs located at the front of their mouth. Forested hillsides, wetlands and mountains are their habitat.

…And Milk Snake!

Milk Snake

Source: @envy_reptiles

Milk snakes are actually a species of the ever-so-popular kingsnakes that belong to the genus Lampropeltis, cradled by the giant family of Colubridae. Milk snakes are named so because there is a myth that they suckle on cow milk because they are seen around barns and farms quite frequently. Not only does their name sound innocent, they look just as harmless too.

Both forests and open woodlands are frequented by these beautiful snakes. Species of Lampropeltis genus have also been spotted in deserts, shrublands and tropical forests. King Snakes are known for their vibrant colors, the reason why they are often kept as pets within households or reserves. They are quite opportunistic as far as feeding is concerned.

Copperhead vs Milk Snake: Know Their Differences At One Go

Before you proceed into the discussion, you may want to run your eyes on this little chart.

Characteristics Copperhead Snake Milk Snake
Appearance Between 1 and 3 feet

Muscular body

Dark spots on the head

Head bigger than the body

Hour-glass bands

Plain beige belly

Between 3 and 4 feet

Thin body

V or Y shape on neck

Head the same size as the rest of the body

Saddle-shaped bands

Checkerboard pattern on the belly

Hunting Tactics They envenom their prey They constrict their prey, mimic venomous snakes to scare away predators
Behavior Gregarious, sociable Solitary, love to chill
Range and Habitat All over North America

Deciduous forests, canyons, junkyards, construction sites

Eastern and central North America + South America

Coniferous and deciduous forests, near people like in barns and sheds

Reproduction Ovoviviparous (give birth) Oviparous (lay eggs)

Are There Similarities Between Copperhead And Milk Snake?

Not all milk snakes look like copperheads, but eastern milk snakes do. They both possess copper-hued reddish-brown scales on their body, with brown to light-orange bands or blotches running across the whole length of their bodies. Not only that, but both the snakes occupy large portions of North America, especially in and around the United States.

Mixed woods of conifers and deciduous are both the snake’s preferences. By nature, neither of the snakes is aggressive, and both will shy away into crevices or thick vegetation when approached. How a serpent behaves, when thoroughly perturbed or harassed, is a whole different matter. Also, both the snakes emit a repugnant, musk-like smell in response to threat.

Besides all these similarities, both the snakes show cannibalistic tendencies, meaning they tend to feed off the flesh of their own kin. Venomous or not, copperheads and milk snakes have often been spotted attempting to swallow a whole mound of another snake! It is because of numerous such similarities that copperheads and milk snakes are often confused with one another.

Copperhead vs Milk Snake: Where Do The Differences Lie?

As previously mentioned, not all milk snakes look like copperhead snakes. The eastern milk snakes and the northern copperheads are often confused, mainly because of similar body coloration and behavior. At this point, it will be helpful for you to know that both the snakes have several alternative names variable with the state it populates or the morph it manifests.

Eastern copperheads are sometimes called northern and southern copperheads as per the older taxonomy. The broad-banded copperheads are at times called ‘moccasins’ and ‘thunder snakes’. As for milk snakes, the eastern milk snakes are often called ‘checkered adder’ or ‘chicken snakes’, among many other interesting sounding names that make you chuckle!


Copperhead: Copperhead snakes possess a stout and muscular body but they do not grow that long. Eastern copperheads, for instance, can grow up to a little longer than 3 feet, whereas broad-banded copperheads could be anywhere between 1 and 3 feet. Copperhead snakes could weigh about 200 gm, with the females being even shorter and lighter than the males.

Copperheads have been given that name for a reason. Their heads are actually copper-red. The head region is distinctively broader than the rest of the body and has a triangular shape with no marks or patterns. However, there are small black dots at the tip of the head. These small black or brown dots are also present on their flank, like in eastern copperheads.

The eastern copperheads have 20 to 25 dorsal scales and about 150 scales in the ventral region. The upper side of their body could be either pale tan, pinkish tan or brown. One of the most beautiful features of copperheads are the cross bands that run on their body. The bands are dumbbell or hour-glass shaped, lighter at the center and darker at the edges.

The broad-banded copperheads have a light tan color overall, with wide crossbands that are darker brown in color. There is a difference in how their crossbands look from the eastern copperhead species. Their crossbands do not narrow at the spine and therefore do not have an hourglass shape. Depending on where their habitat is, the brightness of the colors may vary.

The belly of all copperheads are cream, light brown, or yellowish colored, with dark patches or streaks along the sides of the belly. Juveniles have greenish-yellow tail tips that disappear as they age. Overall, the little ones appear brighter than their parents.

Appearance Differences Between Copperhead and Milk Snakes

Source: @snake_n_snek

Milk Snake: On the other hand, milk snakes are much thinner than copperheads. They have a slender and more streamlined body that appears uniform from head to the tail-tip.Their scales are much smoother than the scales of the copperheads, so milk snakes glisten and sparkle in the sun. Milk snake size could be between 3 and 4 feet, almost a foot longer than copperheads.

As mentioned before, most milk snakes have brightly colored bodies, with a black or red background, banded in white, black or red. They look glossy and attractive. Compared to the others though, eastern milk snakes of the northern range have a more subdued appearance, like a gray or tan background. The southern range eastern milk snakes appear brighter.

Unlike the other subspecies of milk snakes, eastern milk snakes have saddle-shaped or hour-glass shaped brown blotches on their upper sides, which are edged in black. The eastern milk snakes in New Jersey, for instance, have mottled or blotchy bands. This is the main reason why eastern milk snakes look so similar to the copperheads.

Their belly has a checkerboard pattern which is clearly missing in the belly of copperheads. Another strong distinguishing feature between the two snakes is the presence of markings on the milk snake’s neck. Milk snakes have a V or Y form on their neck, which is not present on the necks of copperheads. Baby milk snakes look brighter than their parents.

Diet And Hunting Tactics

Copperheads belong to the family called Viperidae, a large group of venomous pit viper snakes. They subdue their prey by injecting hemotoxic venom into their bloodstream with the help of their fangs. The venom is not lethal to humans but is quite deadly for small sized animals. Lethal or not, if you ever get bitten by a copperhead, make sure to pay a visit to the doctor’s.

Copperheads are ambush predators, meaning they stay hidden and wait for prey to pass by. They have high-sensory pits between their eyes and nostrils to detect even the smallest fluctuations in temperature. They also use their tongue to smell any odor being emitted by the creature near to the snake. As soon as the prey or predator comes too close for comfort, they bite and envenom the creature.

Copperhead Diet

Source: @adrians_reptiles

After envenomation, if the prey is large and terrestrial, copperheads release the prey. This is mainly because the venom it uses is not strong enough to kill prey immediately. Later, the snake tracks the prey down and swallows it whole. Small-sized prey and aerial prey are however carried around in the snake’s mouth until they die, because tracking them down is difficult.

Rodents like mice and voles, lizards, birds, insects, and other snakes that remain hidden in  bushes are the favorite food items for copperhead snakes. Eastern copperheads feed on black rat snakes, timber rattlesnakes, arthropods and other invertebrates. Broad-banded copperheads go for lizards, anurans, and cicadas. Copperheads may feed on carrion as well.

Juvenile copperheads have their own hunting techniques. They stay motionless, flicking their tails only, mimicking caterpillars and other invertebrates. This tail movement attracts frogs and lizards that baby snakes feed on.

Milk Snake Diet Ad Hunting Tactics

Source: @dasilvasauro

Milk snakes, on the contrary, subdue their prey by coiling around them, constricting them, and suffocating them to fatality. Milk snakes are non-venomous and do not have any fangs either. Though they are not venomous, their coils are dangerously strong to subdue even the most venomous of prey like coral snakes or rattlesnakes. Juveniles eat slugs, crickets, earthworms, and other invertebrates.


Copperheads are quite sociable when among their own kin. They frequently participate in group activities like sunbathing, hibernating and courting suitable mates, sometimes with other snakes too. Copperheads have often been found hibernating with ratsnakes and timber rattlesnakes. They remain active during the daytime in the fall and spring seasons. However, in the summertime, they prefer to stay nocturnal.

Eastern copperheads are not aggressive at all but, when perturbed or harassed persistently, may strike and bite. Each bite releases 100 mg of venom, which is surely less lethal than cottonmouth venom, but must not be underestimated at any cost. Also, as a defense tactic, they sometimes give dry bites (without venom) as a warning to backout. Broad-banded copperheads are more shy by nature than their eastern counterparts. They avoid humans and hide within ground debris and water.

Did you know that milk snakes would mimic copperheads and other venomous snakes to scare away predators? They even beat their tail swiftly against dry leaves to create the sound that rattlesnakes make! Coyotes, raccoons and foxes often prey on milk snakes. Mimicking the horror-snakes of the wild really does work in favor of the innocent milk snakes.

Unlike copperheads, milk snakes are more shy and solitary. They congregate with other milk snakes only when they hibernate. Milk snakes are generally nocturnal and have been spotted many times crossing roads at night. They like humid warm evenings and they also like chilly or rainy atmospheres. On hot days, they prefer to hide in crevices or burrows and within debris.

Copperhead snakes are mostly found in North America

Source: @aaadventures2000

Range And Habitat

Copperhead snakes are mostly found in North America, especially in the south and southwest regions of the United States, and along the Atlantic coast. Eastern copperheads, for instance, are endemic to the eastern parts of North America,  whereas broad-banded copperheads are usually found in the southern United States, all the way from Kansas though Central Texas.

Places that provide both sunlight and shade are copperhead’s favorite habitats to hangout and forage. They are highly adaptive to habitat changes, therefore they can be spotted around canyons and oases, and also within rich and dense deciduous forests and mixed woodlands. Sites like junkyards and old construction locations are also frequented by these wrigglers.

Eastern copperheads, for instance, find their home in mixed woodlands and also within the low lying swampy regions. They have also been found in the Chihuahuan Desert of Texas, where they occupy riparian habitat near water sources. Variety is the key for them.

Where can milk snakes be found? The eastern parts of the Rocky mountains, bush heaps and decaying logs, conifer and deciduous forest, hardwood forest, prairies, farms, and agricultural areas, are frequented by the beautiful milk snakes.

Eastern milk snakes can be found abundantly in the eastern and central parts of North America, in fact, they are indigenous there. Maine, Alabama, North Carolina, Central Minnesota, and throughout Connecticut see these serpents moving about from one place to another. Unlike copperheads, milk heads are more friendly with humans. They can be sometimes seen visiting backyards of active human settlements, as well as in outbuildings like sheds or barns.


Copperheads mate between February and May. In the mating season, mating balls form where males fight to compete for a single female. Successful copulations occur in the fall, ie, between August and October. Babies come into the world in the spring or summer season.

Copperheads are ovoviviparous. After copulation, the females reserve the sperms inside of her and go for hibernation in the winter. After hibernation, the fertilization of egg cells takes place. This is to protect the babies from the harsh winter conditions. Finally in the summer season, around 10 to 20 live babies are given birth, that are each 7 to 8 inches long.

Eastern copperheads, for example, typically produce 4 to 7 babies at a time. The baby snakes are yellowish-green at the tails. Same coloration is seen in the juveniles of broad-banded copperheads as well. Few reports of facultative parthenogenesis or asexual reproduction have been cited. This is when the female is enough to produce babies, and copulation with a male is not required. Such tendencies are not only visible in wild snakes, but also in captive-bred ones.

On the other hand, milk snakes produce young ones between April and June. They copulate in the winter lair that they have used for brumation or hibernation. Females leave a scent trail that males detect to track the ovulating female. Unlike copperheads, milk snakes are oviparous, meaning they lay eggs. Eggs are laid in the summer.

Milk snakes lay anywhere between 2 to 17 eggs within decaying logs of wood or beneath boulders. They incubate the eggs for 1 to 2 months and leave as soon as the eggs have been laid. Eastern milk snakes bury their eggs a few inches deep into the ground.


Though by now you have known plenty about copperheads and milk snakes, you still may have some lingering questions. The following FAQs may help.

Q: What is the number one difference between milk snake and copperhead?

Ans: Milk snakes are much longer and thinner than copperheads. Also, if you can see fangs when they open their mouth, you can be sure they are copperheads.

Q: How long do copperhead and milk snake live?

Ans: Milk snakes can survive for more than 20 years in captivity. It is 18 to 25 years for copperheads when bred indoors by humans.

Q: What other venomous snake looks like a milk snake?

Ans: Milk snakes look a lot like the venomous coral snakes. However, coral snakes have fangs and the sequence in how the bands appear in their body is different from that of milk snakes.

Q: What are the symptoms of copperhead bite?

Ans: Copperhead bite symptoms start with tingling or throbbing pain that can lead to swelling, nausea, allergic reactions, and necrosis. Copperhead bites must always be taken seriously.

Q: Can copperhead and milk snake be kept as pets?

Ans: Both make great pets, but both can bite. Copperhead bites are venomous and should not be left untreated. Copperheads are not a good choice for first timers. If you are thinking of keeping a snake as a pet and have no previous experience, milk snakes would be perfect for you.


Milk Snakes are often mistaken as venomous copperheads and get killed in the process, which is very unfortunate because milk snakes are harmless and beautiful. When it comes to copperhead vs milk snake, things do get a little tricky because they look and behave similarly.

They both have a tan-brown appearance with beautiful saddle-shaped bands running on their body. Not naturally aggressive by nature, milk snakes love to lead a solitary lifestyle, whereas copperheads prefer to hang around in communal groups. They both are lovely and cherished as pets by humans.

Hi dear readers! This is Rebecca, the lead analyst and blog writer for Snake Insider. Following in the footsteps of David’s guided path, I feel highly encouraged to make the most interesting snake-facts to a mass audience! In due time, I believe we’ll be able to present some jaw-dropping insight on snakes that’s sure to leave you begging for more! Personally, I’m a strongly motivated person to explore the most extreme environments should my work demand it. In many cases, I’ve ventured deep into territories that were never considered certain snake habitats and brought back necessary information. Rest assured I’ll surely be sharing them with you over the course of time.

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