Corn Snake Vs Copperhead

Corn Snake Vs Copperhead: 6 Striking Differences (With Similarities)!

Distributed across the North and Central American wooded forests, grasslands, lakes, rivers and swamps, one can find the home of several species of serpentine reptiles. Venomous and non-venomous snakes of all shapes and sizes wriggle around within vegetation and crevices.

Two of the most talked about and revered snakes of this area are corn snakes and copperhead snakes. One is venomous, while the other is not. They look very similar so identifying them is almost impossible. In this article corn snake vs copperhead, we will explore the differences between these two snakes and clear the confusion once and for all. Let’s begin, shall we?

A Sneak Peek Into The Lives Of Corn Snakes And Copperheads!

Corn snakes, also known as the red rat snakes, belong to a non-venomous family of serpents. They are named so because of the checkerboard pattern on their belly that resembles corn kernels. They also visit granaries frequently to prey on rodents– another reason for their name.

The southeastern parts of the United States see these wriggling critters within various kinds of habitats like open fields, on or near trees, abandoned human-made places like old buildings or sheds, and even highlands. They are gentle by nature and have a regular carnivorous diet.

Now let’s shed some light on copperheads. They are, in comparison to corn snakes, venomous and are sometimes confused with cottonmouth snakes which are also venomous and belong to the same family. The northeastern and central United States are home to these serpents.

Copperheads are pit vipers and their hunting habits are quite different from those of corn snakes. They look amazing with subdued earthly colors and look an awful lot like the snakes they are being compared with in this article. They may bite when threatened or disturbed.

Comparison Table

Some of the most prominent differences between the two snakes are listed out in the table below. Take a look before you proceed into the details.

Feature Corn Snake Copperhead
Family Colubridae, Non-Venomous Viperidae, Venomous
Color Orange Head

Orange With Reddish-Brown Saddles

Round Pupils

Checkerboard Belly

40+ Morphs

Copper Colored Head

More Brown And Gray

Hourglass Or Rounded Crossbands

Horizontal Lines On The Belly

Colors May Vary

Head And Eyes Small, Rounded Head

Narrow Snout

Large And Clear Eyes

No Pits

Large, Triangle Head

Flatter Snout


Heat Sensing Pits

Size And Weight 3 To 4 Feet

1 To 3 Lbs

3 Feet Max

Less Than A Pound

Copperhead Vs Corn Snake: Similarities

The eastern copperhead and the board-banded copperheads look a lot like the harmless corn snakes. Because of this resemblance to venomous copperheads, corn snakes are often unfairly persecuted by humans. But this comes to their advantage when it comes to deterring predators.

Both copperheads and corn snakes flaunt an overall orange color on their elongated forms. While corn snakes have deep orange, saddle-shaped crossbands on a subdued brown background, copperheads have copper-shaded heads and body saddles. Copper, orange and brown are similar shades or hues making the two snakes look almost identical to each other.

Next is their diet which is also quite similar. Both feed primarily on rodents, with a side of small amphibians and reptiles. Both the snakes occupy a wide range in North and Central America, slithering around in mixed forests, shrubby growths and outcrops. So how do you differentiate?

Corn Snake Vs Copperhead: 6 Strong Differences To Tell Them Apart!

Since both the snakes have profound similarities, especially in the way they look, which features do actually set them apart? Luckily, there are several characteristics that may help us in telling the difference between the two lest we happen to be in a situation where identification would be crucial. Let’s not waste a second more and take a deeper look at what sets them apart.

Family Of Corn Snake Vs Copperhead: The Mystery Behind Their Name

Corn snakes and copperheads belong to two very different families of snakes. Corn snakes belong to a large family of non-venomous snakes called Colubridae. The scientific name of these beautiful orange snakes is Pantherophis guttatus. There are currently only 3 known species– the common corn snake, Great Plains rat snake, and Slowinski’s corn snake.

Corn Snake

The scientific name of these snakes unlock great mysteries about their physical appearance. The word “Pantherophis” has a Greek origin that means “panther-like snake”. The word Guttatus has a Latin origin with the meaning “spotted or aqua-drop shaped”. Corn snakes do have panther-like patterns on their body, and some morphs have specks or dots all over them.

Copperheads, on the other hand, belong to a completely different family known by the name “Viperidae”. Sounds familiar? Yes, they are venomous pit vipers! Scientifically, they are known as Agkistrodon contortrix which is definitely a rogue name for this dangerous type of snake.


Currently, there are 6 species of these snakes, out of which the eastern copperheads resemble the common corn snakes very closely. The other species are cantils and cottonmouths.

Their scientific name has a very interesting meaning as well and remembering the meaning will help you in identifying these venomous snakes in the wilderness. The word “Agkistrodon” has derived from the Greek words “ankistron” and “odon” which literally mean “fishhook-like tooth” and refer to their venomous fangs.

The word “Contortrix” has a more obvious meaning, which is “twisted or complex” and points at the twisted copper-colored saddles on their body.

Head And Its Features

Copperheads are pit vipers, and like other vipers, they have a large triangular head that gets flatter and bigger when they feel threatened. Also look out for the infamous heat-sensing pits, one on each side of their snout, a little behind the nostrils, that look like large perforations.

They are called copperheads for a reason, because their heads are actually copper-colored! Also, when they hiss and bite, and make a loud gape, before running away take a last look at their gaping mouth. You will find two short fangs, pointed inwards, on their upper jaw.

Their eyes are another phenomenal feature of their face. From the top, the eyes look 90% closed. This is because the eye-lids cover most of their eyes leaving nothing but a thin, slit space for the pupil. They are mostly active at night and nocturnal snakes have slit pupils.

On the other hand, corn snakes have a much smaller head which is rounded, and not triangular. Also, they have no heat sensing pits near their nostrils. Their eyes are another feature that stand in stark contrast to those of copperheads. They are large and clear, with round pupils.

Body Coloration And Pattern

Body Coloration And Pattern

Common corn snakes are largely orange in appearance, with deep brown or reddish brown saddle-shaped crossbands all over their body. Their belly has characteristic checkerboard patterns of black and white crisscrosses. In short, corn snakes appear brighter and redder.

Slowinski’s corn snakes have a much darker coloration. The background is a light beige brown, while the square-shaped intermittent crossbands are maroonish-brown. This category of corn snakes also has a checkerboard pattern on their belly that resembles maize.

Pantherophis guttatus takes pride in nurturing over 40 different color and pattern morphs, and hybrids, in their family. There are albino and leucistic morphs as well which may not have an impressive lifespan but are quite popular as pets. Each morph of corn snakes looks prettier than the other and has beautiful names, like Creamsicle, Blizzard, Snow, Phantom, and Okeetee.

On the contrary, copperhead snakes are copper and gray overall, and appear less brighter than corn snakes. However, the crossbands on a copperhead’s body are more distinctive or neat to look at. They may either be rounded or hourglass shaped, usually lighter in the middle and darken as one moves toward the edges. They also appear rougher to look at and to touch.

Let’s look at the two species of copperheads closely to understand the difference. Eastern copperheads (A. contortrix) have a light tan to pinkish-tan coloration on the dorsal segments, while the hourglass blotches appear maroonish. Broad-banded copperheads (A. laticinctus) appear largely golden-brown, with deep-brown rounded crossbands all over their body.

Copperheads may look brighter or duller depending on their locality. For example, the eastern copperheads appear lighter brown in Missouri, and purplish brown in Maryland. Also, if they are molting they will appear duller. After they have shed their molt, they will look brighter.

Body Size And Weight

Though not venomous or intimidating, corn snakes have an advantage over copperheads. They are much longer than copperheads, at least by a foot, if not more. They grow anywhere between 3 and 4 feet, and appear quite slender. Corn snakes weigh around 1 to 3 lbs.

In comparison, copperheads look flatter, larger and shorter. They grow up to 3 feet maximum. The eastern copperheads could grow a few inches longer than 3 feet, however, the board-banded ones may appear even shorter. Also copperheads are incredibly light. Males weigh 197 gm, while females weigh nearabout 119 gm, which is less than a pound!

Hunting And Defense Tactics

Hunting And Defense Tactics

Corn snakes are unsuspecting and harmless and rarely ever attack or bite. To locate their prey, they use their tongue and a chemoreceptor organ that is located deep inside their mouth, close to the nasal cavity. They pick up chemicals on the tongue and brush it against the roof of their mouth to detect the source of the smell. As soon as the prey is close, it jumps and grabs it.

They do not have any what-sensing pit but they can detect low vibrations, of an animal’s movement for instance, generating from the ground. They do not have fangs or venom, and subdue their prey using the method of constriction. They use their small, pointed aglyphous teeth to grab onto the prey while making constricting coils around it to suffocate it to fatality.

Another interesting defense technique that corn snakes use is to mimic ferocious, venomous snakes. When they feel threatened or uncomfortable, they beat their tail-end against dry leaves to make a sound like the rattlesnakes. They also flatten their heads to copy the copperheads.

On the other hand, copperheads, which are venomous snakes, have a lot of advantage over corn snakes. They have two sharp but short fangs on each corner of the upper jaw that are connected with venom glands. Venom of copperheads are neurotoxins that paralyze or stun the prey so that they can be easily attacked. After some time, the lungs and arteries also collapse.

What do copperheads eat? Adult copperhead snakes go for swamp rabbits, rats, mice, birds, and other snakes. Hatchlings or young adults settle for lizards, baby turtles, frogs, toads, insects, butterflies, cicadas, and even baby cottontails. With the help of the two heat-sensing pits near their nostrils, they locate their prey and attack suddenly.

Cottonheads are stealth or ambush attackers. They lay motionless under leaf litter for hours waiting for suitable prey. They are semi-aquatic and partly terrestrial as such they can hunt and survive in dry as well as water-covered areas. During the cooler seasons, they are mostly diurnal, camouflaging in leaf litter whenever necessary. In the hotter months, they mostly come out at night to forage and explore, thus protecting themselves from scorching heat.


The final and one of the most important differences between the two snakes is the way they bring their progeny to Earth! Corn snakes are oviparous meaning that they lay eggs. They produce about 10 to 30 eggs at a time and are very particular about levels of heat and humidity. They incubate the eggs for a couple of months. The babies are each about 5 inches long.

On the contrary, copperheads do not lay eggs. They are viviparous where the eggs develop inside the mother’s reproductive system and stay there, as long as the external conditions are not perfect for the babies to thrive in. They stay protected inside the mother snake’s body.

When the conditions are right, the babies are given birth to. They simply slide out of the mother’s cloacal opening and are ready to fight life’s battles. Copperheads give birth to anywhere between 2 and 20 babies at a time and each baby snake is about 8 inches long.

Males are capable of breeding when they are 2 years old, females when they are 3 years old. Mating season resumes and continues between February and May, right after the winter brumation. Baby copperheads have yellowish tail-tips that get duller as they mature.

Taking Care Of Copperhead And Corn Snake At Home

Corn snakes are extremely docile little wriggling critters that many people like to keep as pets. A 10 gallon tank for hatchlings would be perfect, whereas a 30-40 gallon tank would be great for an adult. A basking area within 28 to 30°C, and a cool zone of 20-24°C would be great. Humidity level should be maintained between 40-50%. They could be fed frozen thawed mice.

As for copperheads, they are not suitable for first-time snake-keepers. They must only be handled by expert snake handlers since they are venomous. However, if you are still interested and are sure you will be able to handle one, you can take a look here. They are usually okay with a 29-32°C basking zone, and 24 to 27°C cool zone. They can’t tolerate excessive humidity.


Being able to tell the difference between copperheads and corn snakes is a great advantage. In this way we can save them from getting attacked unnecessarily, and also protect ourselves.

Q: What is the main difference between corn snake and copperhead?

Ans: Corn snakes have an orange head, whereas copperheads have copper-colored heads. Also, take a look at their eyes, and watch out for slit-pupils. Copperheads have a characteristic pit-viper’s triangular head, whereas corn heads are rounded. Also, if they open their mouth and hiss at you, you should thank them since it would be a total giveaway of their identification.

Q: Is the distribution range of corn snake and copperhead different?

Ans: Copperheads have a greater range. They can be found almost everywhere starting from Massachusetts to Mexico, in short, all throughout the Central and Eastern United States. These snakes can also be spotted slithering around in Chihuahua Desert and Appalachian mountains.

Corn snakes have a narrower distribution. They can be found mostly in New Jersey, all the way to Florida, especially in and around the south-eastern parts of the United States.

Q: Are the habitats of corn snakes and copperheads similar?

Ans: Copperheads can thrive in both dry and moist habitats. They like wooded lowlands, and also river beds, swamps and marshes. They like to stay hidden under leaf litter or heaps of broken branches. On the contrary, corn snakes like drier places more and are more used to living in open areas like forest edges, clearings and open fields.

Q: Is there any other venomous snake that looks like corn snakes?

Ans: Yes, the venomous rattlesnakes! The western dusky rattlesnake, the western diamondback rattlesnake, and the Mexican west coast rattlesnake resemble the orange and brown coloration of corn snakes. The mildly venomous coral snakes also look like them due to their red rings.

Q: What to do if a copperhead snake bites me?

Ans: Copperhead bites are quite painful since they include fangs and venom. Symptoms of envenomation include swelling, weakness, difficulty in breathing, fever and vomiting. However, the venom is not strong enough to cause human fatality. The wound must be cleaned and the affected person must be taken to the hospital immediately.

Q: What to do if a corn snake bites me?

Ans: Corn snake bites are neither painful nor dangerous. All it may cause is a minor scratch, bruising or a little bleeding, for which a first aid kit is enough. However, for any reason if the affected area pains and pus runs out, you should visit the doctor lest there is an infection.


Corn snake vs copperhead is a really tricky comparison. They both look quite similar, the reason why it becomes next to impossible to tell them apart. However, copperheads are venomous pit vipers and must be taken very seriously. When they open their mouths, they expose their fangs.

On the other hand, corn snakes are little darlings compared to copperheads. They do not have fangs or venom, and rarely hiss or bite. One of the best ways to differentiate between them is to look at their eyes and the shape of their snout. Nevertheless, they are both fantastic creatures.

Hello snake lovers! I’m David Mifsud and Snake Insider is my latest project with a vision of spreading reptile awareness to every single netizen. I’ll be introducing some of the most unexplored territories in the world of snakes to broaden the horizon of knowledge for the readers. My personal motto is to get as close to the snakes in nature without disrupting the balance and gather information as well as habitation patterns. It can be later on utilized in order to build a safe and healthy environment for every species of snakes. So stick around with us and I’m sure we won’t disappoint you!

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