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Corn Snake vs Copperhead: 5 Main Differences Explained

Written by Lex Basu
Updated: September 30, 2022
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Think You Know Snakes?

Key Points

  • Snakes may be of the same species, but they differ from each other in various ways.
  • Some snakes are venomous, some are not, some live in the ground and some in water.
  • 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 even kept as a pet by some 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 do not give warning before they bite and sometimes deliver dry bites just to ward off a potential assailant. Corn snakes, on the other hand, are so docile that even a wild one can often be 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 2 and 6 feet long, while a copperhead grows to about 2.5 to about 4.5 feet in length. The corn snake also weighs much more than the copperhead, even though the copperhead’s body is more robust. A corn snake can weigh 2 pounds while the copperhead male weighs 7 ounces and the female about 4 ounces.

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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. (Copperheads should also not be needlessly killed, by the way). On top, the snakes can have a brown or coppery body with brown or reddish-brown patches, though the patches on the copperhead are somewhat hourglass-shaped, and the patches on the corn snake tend to have black margins. Its ventral side resembles a black and white checkerboard.

Corn snakes are also much more variable in coloration than copperheads. The colors and patterns on a corn snake’s body depend on its age and where it lives. Since corn snakes are also bred for the pet trade, they come in many different colors, patterns, and compound morphs.

3. Venom

The ancestors of corn snakes were venomous, but the modern snake has lost its venom and now kills its prey by wrapping its coils around it and squeezing it to death. 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. They hatch while they are still inside of her and one to 21 but usually about 6 babies emerge. 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.

Summary

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

Corn SnakeCopperhead
Length24 to 72 inches30 to 53 inches
Weight32 ounces7 ounces for males, 4 ounces for females
Life Expectancy23 years15 to 29 years
VenomousNoYes
ReproductionOviparousViviparous

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Corn Snake vs Copperhead
Corn Snake vs Copperhead
A-Z-Animals.com
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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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