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Corn Snake vs Copperhead: 5 Main Differences Explained

Written by Lex Basu
Updated: April 17, 2023
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Key Points

  • Copperheads and corn snakes may look similar, but they are different species.
  • Copperheads and cornsnakes are excellent climbers.
  • Corn snakes are non-venomous and wrap themselves around their prey, where Copperhead are venomous and lie in wait for their prey.

Though it’s true that the corn snake and the copperhead do look somewhat alike at a distance, there are important differences between the two snakes. For one, the copperhead is venomous, and though its venom isn’t as potent as some other vipers, a bite still requires medical attention. The corn snake is harmless and nonvenomous and is kept as a pet by many people. Here are some other fascinating differences between these two beautiful snakes. Let’s compare the Corn Snake vs Copperhead!

The Five Key Differences Between Corn Snake vs. Copperhead

The most important difference between corn snakes and copperheads is that copperheads are venomous and corn snakes are not. Though copperheads are not aggressive snakes and their venom is relatively weak, a bite can cause terrible pain and should be treated by a doctor. Copperheads are not aggressive and only bite as a last resort – usually after being stepped on or deliberately harassed . Even so, estimates indicate that as many as 25% of all copperhead bites are dry – without venom. Corn snakes, on the other hand, are so docile that even a wild one can often be gently handled. Other differences are size and weight, coloration, range, and reproduction.

1. Size and Weight

There’s a wider range in the size of a corn snake as opposed to a copperhead. A corn snake can grow to between two and six feet long, while (depending on which copperhead species) a copperhead generally grows to about two and a half to about four and a half feet in length. Most copperheads never exceed four feet long. Due to the robust body a copperhead sports, it can weigh more than a corn snake of the same length. However, because the corn snake gets longer over its lifetime it winds up weighing a bit more. A corn snake can weigh 2 pounds while the copperhead ranges between one-half and three-quarters of a pound.

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2. Coloration

Corn snakes and copperheads can resemble each other so much in coloration that corn snakes are sometimes mistaken for copperheads and needlessly killed by people afraid of copperheads. Copperheads should also not be needlessly killed, by the way.

Copperheads: On their dorsal (top) side copperheads have a light brown to gray body with an often copper-colored head. Their markings are brown or reddish-brown with lighter centers that darken toward the edges which either form hourglass shapes or crossbands. Sometimes their pattern looks like chocolate kisses from the side.

Corn snakes: These snakes tend to have a strong orange-red hue throughout their base colors and markings. Its dorsal markings darker than the base and usually oval or squarish with dark borders. Corn snakes generally have a dark line across the top of its snout that connects the eyes, and their bellies often have checkerboard markings. This snake has a much wider pattern and color variation than copperheads, and because they’re bred as pets, you’ll find many different morphs.

Aberrant patterns/colors: All snakes have the potential to occasionally have offspring with non-typical patterns and colors, so color and pattern should never be the sole identifying trait.

3. Venom

The ancient ancestors of corn snakes were venomous, but the modern snake has no venom and kills its prey by wrapping its coils around it and squeezing it until the heart stops. This is called constriction. A copperhead lies in wait for prey such as a mouse to wander by, strikes out, bites it, and waits for it to be overcome by the venom before eating it. Both snakes swallow their prey whole since they can’t chew and can unhinge their jaws to do so. Sometimes an overeager corn snake will swallow prey while it’s still alive.

The venom of a copperhead is mild compared to other pit vipers such as certain rattlesnakes. The venom is a hemotoxin that attacks the blood, but it is rarely fatal to humans.

4. Range

The copperhead has a greater natural range than the corn snake. It is found from Massachusetts down to Mexico and in Midwestern states such as Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, and Kansas.

The corn snake’s range is from New Jersey to southernmost Florida. It is very much a snake of the southern United States and is not naturally found west of the Mississippi River.

5. Reproduction

Another big difference between corn snakes and copperheads is that corn snakes lay eggs and copperheads are viviparous. This means that the female gestates the eggs for between 83 and 150 days, and gives birth to anywhere between one and 21 fully functional baby copperheads. Their size depends on the size of their mother, but they’re about 8 inches long. Copperhead babies are fully independent from birth and are ready to breed when they’re about three and a half years old.

Copperheads sometimes practice facultative parthenogenesis. This means that they can reproduce without fertilization as well as sexually. Copperheads are one of the few vertebrate species that can do this, and it sometimes happens with a female snake who’s been kept away from males for a time.

Corn snakes lay 10 to 30 eggs in places where the heat and humidity are at just the right levels to incubate them properly. Adult snakes do not care for the eggs. At the right temperature, the eggs hatch after about two months. The baby snakes lack the bright colors of their parents and are about 5 inches long. They are ready to breed when they’re between a year and a half and three years old.

Copperheads also have an elaborate courtship ritual that involves males defeating rival males then engaging in combat with the available female. Biologists don’t know how the more secretive corn snakes court.


Here’s a table that shows some differences between a Corn Snake and a copperhead.

Corn SnakeCopperhead
Length24 to 72 inches24 to 53 inches
Weight32 ounces8 to 12 ounces
Life Expectancy23 years15 to 29 years

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About the Author

Lex is a green-living, tree-hugging, animal-lover, who at one time was the mother to twenty one felines and one doggo. Now she helps pet owners around the globe be the best caretakers for their most trusting companions by sharing her experience and spreading love.

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

What is the difference between a Corn Snake vs Copperhead?

Though they can have similar coloration, the corn snake is a long and slender snake while the copperhead is heavy-bodied. Copperheads are venomous, though their venom is weak, and corn snakes are not only nonvenomous but make such good pets that they’ve been bred in many types of colors and patterns. Corn snakes lay eggs while copperheads give birth to live young, sometimes without the participation of a male.

Though corn snakes most often find prey through their sense of smell, they lack the heat-sensing pits of the copperhead, which is a type of pit viper. Corn snakes frequently climb up trees or the sides of houses to look for prey. Copperheads can also climb trees but are not as eager to do so. They’re also found in more places than corn snakes.

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