Black Racer vs Copperhead: What’s the Difference?

Written by Brandi Allred
Updated: May 4, 2023
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Black racers and copperheads are common in parts of North America. But, just what are the key differences between a black racer vs copperhead? Only one of them is venomous, so it’s important to be able to tell one from the other. The two species share many characteristics, but there are plenty key differences between the two.

Here, we’ll learn more about the similarities and differences between a black racer vs copperhead. We’ll start by learning about the distinct appearances of each species, then move on to their preferred habitats. Then, we’ll discuss their unique behaviors, diets, and lifespans. 

Let’s take a closer look at the exact differences between black racers and copperheads.

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Comparing Black Racer vs Copperhead

Black racers are almost entirely black, while copperheads are tan, with darker brown hourglass markings.
Black RacerCopperhead
Size20-60 inches long; 1-2 pounds24-40 inches long; 0.5-0.75 pounds
AppearanceBlue-black body with white chin and throat
Large, red eyes with round pupils, no heat-sensing pits
Tan body with light brown, hourglass-shaped crossbody markings
Has elliptical pupils and heat-sensing pits on face
Location and HabitatEastern United States; close to urban areas, shrublands, and flatlandsEastern and central United States; variable habitats including mountainous zones, suburban areas, lowland hardwood forests, and wetland margins
BehaviorVibrates the tip of its tail like a rattlesnake to scare away predators; flees quickly from humansVenomous; only aggressive when threatened
Lifespan5-10 years15-29 years

Key Differences Between Black Racer vs Copperhead

Northern Copperhead (agkistrodon contortrix mokasen) on leaf litter - taken in New Jersey. Its ground color is pale brown to pinkish-brown, and it has darker, hour-glass shaped bands down its body.

Copperheads have broad heads with elliptical pupils.

© Kenny

Black racers are longer than copperheads, but copperheads are far heavier. In terms of coloring, copperheads have a unique tan color with brown hourglass markings, while black racers are almost solid black. Black racers are non-venomous, but copperheads are pit vipers and come equipped with potent venom.

Let’s learn more about the key differences between a black racer vs copperhead.

Black Racer vs Copperhead: Size and Weight

Southern black racer curled up

Black racers have slender, gray to black bodies that are longer than copperheads’.

©Psychotic Nature/

When it comes to size and weight, think of black racers as long and thin, and copperheads as short and fat. Black racers range from 20 to 60 inches long; they tend to be longer snakes, with graceful, light bodies. Copperheads, in contrast, top out at around 40 inches long, but what they lack in length, they make up for in weight.

When it comes to a black racer vs copperhead’s weight, black racers are slightly heavier than copperheads. They weigh in at 1-2 pounds, while copperheads weigh anywhere from 0.5 to 0.75 pounds.

Black Racer vs Copperhead: Location and Habitat

The body of the Copperhead ranges from 2 to usually less than 4 feet, but it is robust.

Copperheads and black racers can both be found in the eastern United States.


Both the black racer and the copperhead can be found in the eastern United States; the copperhead also lives in the central United States. Neither species can be found outside of North America.

Locally, when it comes to the black racer and copperhead, the two species have some overlap in where they like to live. They both frequent the edges of suburban areas, wetland margins, and forests. Black racers also live in shrublands and flatlands, and areas near sources of freshwater. Copperheads can be found in mountainous zones and lowland hardwood forests.

Black Racer vs Copperhead: Appearance

southern black racer slithering through brush

Black racers are non-venomous, while copperheads are highly venomous.

© Shots

When it comes to the black racer vs copperhead, appearance is key. Adult black racers are almost entirely black or bluish-black, with some white markings on their throats and chins. Copperheads look very different from black racers – they’re tan, with brown hourglass markings that run across their backs and down their bodies.

Where black racers have narrow heads and round pupils, copperheads have wide, leaf-shaped heads and elliptical pupils. Furthermore, juvenile black racers are actually light brown with dark brown patterning, while young copperheads look like miniature versions of the adults. Unfortunately, many copperheads, and snakes that look like copperheads, are killed every year by people who fear them, and mistakenly believe that copperheads are much more dangerous to people than they actually are.

Black Racer vs Copperhead: Behavior

Snakes in Mississippi - Southern Copperhead (Agkistrodon contortrix)

Black racers and copperheads are not aggressive.

©Jay Ondreicka/

Black racers and copperheads share one thing in common – they’re not aggressive. Both species only bite humans when threatened, or when humans attempt to handle them. However, the bite of a copperhead is much more serious than the bite of a black racer. Though they virtually never cause death, copperhead bites can cause painful swelling that lasts up to two weeks.

Black racers are non-venomous and rely on overpowering their prey when hunting. Copperheads are venomous members of the pit viper family and use their venom to kill prey before swallowing it whole.

Another difference between a black racer vs copperhead is their active times. Black racers only come out during the day, but copperheads come out at all hours. 

Black Racer vs Copperhead: Lifespan

close up of Southern black racer with tongue out

Black racers live around ten years, while copperheads can live up to 29 years.


Though captive snakes tend to live longer than their wild brethren, it’s safe to say that copperheads live longer than black racers. Considering the lifespan of a black racer and a copperhead, wild black racers live up to ten years, whereas copperheads may live up to 20 years.

The photo featured at the top of this post is © Breck P. Kent/

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About the Author

Brandi is a professional writer by day and a fiction writer by night. Her nonfiction work focuses on animals, nature, and conservation. She holds degrees in English and Anthropology, and spends her free time writing horror, scifi, and fantasy stories.

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