Copperhead vs Banded Water Snake: What are the Differences?

Written by Emmanuel Kingsley
Updated: September 27, 2023
© Creeping Things/
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You’re probably familiar with copperheads and how they envenom their prey through their bites to subdue them before eating them. You’re also probably familiar with constrictors such as the bullsnake, who wrap their thick, long bodies around their prey and literally squeeze the life out of them. But where does the banded water snake fall in?

Unlike other snakes, they do not have fangs but have teeth and aren’t known to use them often. These snakes are neither venomous nor constrictors, so how do they kill their prey? And how do these snakes fare when compared to the venomous copperhead? This article has all you need to know about the copperhead vs the banded water snake. Let’s get right in.

Comparing the Copperhead and the Banded Water Snake

Copperhead snake vs. Banded water snake
What makes these two snakes different?
CopperheadBanded Water Snake
Size0.2 – 0.7 pounds
20-37 inches, may obtain 39 inches
1 pound
24 – 48 inches, may obtain 62.5 inches
DescriptionCopper or orange-red triangular heads

Pale brown to pinkish-brown base color

Hourglass-shaped markings that are colored copper to reddish-brown
Flat heads with a dark stripe from the eye to the jaw

Brown, gray, or greenish-gray, base color

Dark crossbands which may not be visible in darker colored specimens 
Hunting styleHeat-sensing/ infrared pits that help them detect the movement and presence of prey

Stalk and ambush hunters

They subdue with venom before swallowing their prey whole

Diurnal in the spring and fall
Nocturnal during the summer
They flush out hiding prey and swallow them whole without subduing them

Diurnal in the spring and fall, nocturnal during the summer
DietToads, small mammals, frogs, lizards, rats, small snakes, and even other copperheadsFish, frogs, tadpoles, and other aquatic animals
Venom compositionPrimarily hemotoxic

Symptoms: Extreme pain, severe nausea, and swelling

Maximum venom yield: 85mg

Average venom yield: 26mg

Lethal venom yield: 85-100mg
Defense MechanismsVenom
Non-venomous bite

The Key Differences Between a Copperhead and Banded Water Snake

The major differences between copperheads vs water snakes of the banded variety lie in their looks and how they attack prey and intruders. Banded water snakes are longer, thicker, and darker than copperheads. They have flat heads that take the color of the rest of their bodies, while copperheads have triangular and copper-colored ones.

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Copperheads, on the other hand, are more lightly colored and are venomous. This means that a bite from a copperhead is more life-threatening than one from a banded water snake. Furthermore, copperheads and banded snakes have really different diets.

Let’s check out 5 of the major differences between copperheads and banded water snakes in detail below.

Copperhead vs. Banded Water Snake: Snake Family

banded water snake slithering in straw
The crossbands of this snake are larger in the middle of the back and more narrow on the sides.


Copperheads are pit vipers, while banded water snakes are colubrids. This means that copperheads have pit organs that give them infrared vision, while banded water snakes have no fangs or hind legs and have smaller left lungs than snakes in other families.

Copperhead vs. Banded Water Snake: Size

(Image Caption: Copperheads are short and thick snakes, but banded water snakes are much thicker and longer.)

Copperheads are short and thick snakes, but banded water snakes are much thicker and longer. Copperheads weigh an average of 3.2 – 11.2 ounces and measure 20-37 inches, while banded water snakes weigh an average of 16.38 ounces. Banded water snakes measure 24.0 – 42.1 inches but have been recorded to attain 62.5 inches, while copperheads never exceed 39 inches.

Another major distinction between these snakes is their colorings, with copperheads having a brown base color with copper to reddish-brown hourglass-shaped markings. Banded water snakes have darker looks. They are colored dark brown, gray, or greenish-gray with dark crossbands, which may not even be visible in darker-colored specimens. Their coloring, weight, and length are reasons they are often mistaken for cottonmouths, which are more venomous. Hence, they are wrongfully killed.

Copperhead vs. Banded Water Snake: Diet

Broad Band Copperhead Snake
Copperheads are cannibals that capture prey through ambush hunting.

©Dennis W Donohue/

Another major distinction lies in their diet. Copperheads are actual cannibals and eat other snakes, including smaller copperheads. They also eat rats, rodents, and other small mammals in or near their habitats. Banded water snakes, however, are carnivorous and aren’t known to eat any other species of snake. Mostly, they feed on water creatures such as fishes, frogs, and tadpoles. Like copperheads, they also eat small mammals, but they hunt differently from them.

Copperheads stalk their prey without being seen, and when they least expect, they ambush them. They clamp their long solenoglyphous fangs on the unlucky creature and inject their venom into them. If the animal is large, they may let it go after envenomation, but they usually hold on to prey until they stop struggling due to the venom. Finally, they swallow.

Banded water snakes take a different approach to this. They go after prey in their hidden habitats. Next, they flush them out and begin to pursue them before finally swooping down and gobbling them in their mouths. That’s it! They don’t bite or strangulate; they simply swallow and let their stomach acids do the work.

 Copperhead vs. Banded Water Snake: Defense Mechanisms

Snakes in Mississippi - Southern Copperhead (Agkistrodon contortrix)
While copperheads spray musk and can inject venom into their bites, banded water snakes mostly depend on their musk and rarely bite.

©Jay Ondreicka/

Copperheads vs water snakes: which are venomous and which aren’t? Both types of reptiles have different defense mechanisms. Copperheads spray musk and can inject venom into their bites. The latter substance disintegrates blood cells and can be harmful to individuals with a weak immune system. It is worth noting that copperheads are capable of defending themselves with their venomous fangs as soon as they are born.

Banded water snakes mostly depend on their musk since they don’t have any venom. This isn’t to say that they will not bite a human if provoked, even though they are more likely to spray attackers with offensive musk.

Are Florida-Banded Water Snakes Aggressive?

Banded water snakes are non-venomous, yet they can display aggressiveness. When cornered, they have been observed striking, resulting in a painful bite. Moreover, if agitated, these snakes emit a bad-smelling musk as a deterrent against potential predators.

Further, Southern Watersnakes pose no threat to humans or pets, but they will bite if they feel the need to defend themselves. These snakes are not inherently aggressive and typically avoid direct contact with people and pets.

Nearly all bites occur when the snakes are deliberately provoked or disturbed.

What To Do If You Get a Copperhead Bite versus a Banded Water Snake

If a snake has bitten you, irrespective of its species, contact your local poison control center. Resist the temptation to write off a bite by a nonvenomous snake as non-life-threatening. For one, unless you’re an expert with many years of experience under your belt, there is the possibility of misidentifying a snake. Banded water snakes, for example, look very much like cottonmouths. It’s much safer to be checked out, just to be certain. Except you’re trained, you might not be able to tell from the bite.

Remember that irrespective of the species, a bite from any snake will hurt a lot. Also, remember that banded water snakes’ teeth could contain bacteria that could be transmitted to your bite, or worse still, their teeth could puncture an artery or vein. With all these probabilities, getting checked out by an expert is the best option. Here are some helpful tips to keep in mind:

  • Try to move as little as possible
  • Do not attempt any first aid of ANY SORT
  • Call your local poison control center
  • Keep the bitten area below your chest area if you can
  • Do not attempt any home treatments (such as cutting the bitten area or sucking out the blood) as many of them worsen the situation

Finally, remember that snakes are just as wary of you, as you are of them. Most snake bites occur due to provocation.

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