Cottonmouth vs Copperhead: What’s the Difference?

Written by August Croft
Updated: January 12, 2024
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Key Points

  • Cottonmouths are generally wider and longer in size than copperheads and are also more venomous.
  • Cottonmouth snakes, also known as water moccasins, prefer wet environments like swamps, marshes, rivers, and lakes. Copperheads thrive in dry environments like rocky areas, mountains, and woods.
  • Copperheads maintain their intricate patterns and reddish or copper skin tones throughout their adult life. Cottonmouths, in comparison, become darker and more plain-looking as they age.
  • Cottonmouths are more venomous than copperheads, and both typically get aggressive only if they are defending their territory or feel threatened.

It is important that you know the differences between a cottonmouth vs copperhead snake, given their inherent dangers and characteristics. While both of these snakes are members of the same genus, they are different species. However, this does not make them easy to identify or tell apart- that’s why we’re here to help.

In this article, we will address all of the key differences between cottonmouths and copperheads, including their preferred habitats and how they appear. This may help you better identify them should you happen to stumble upon one in the wild. Let’s get started and learn how to tell these two snakes apart!

While both of these snakes are venomous, cottonmouths are more venomous than copperheads.

Comparing Cottonmouth vs Copperhead

CottonmouthCopperhead
GenusAgkistrodonAgkistrodon
LocationSoutheastern United States, from Florida to TexasSouthern US and Southern New England; Mexico
HabitatWet regions, such as swamps, marshes, rivers, and lakesRocky areas, mountains, woods, suburban wood piles and construction zones
AppearanceBanded or solid; often brown, black, or tan in color with a stripe across the eye. Adults are less colored than babies, and their mouths are white.Banded; copper, tan, red, or pink in color. Very intricately patterned and designed from birth til adulthood. Mouth is pink in color, though they rarely show it.
Size5-50 inches in length, depending on age20-35 inches in length, depending on age
LifespanLess than 10 years18 years
BehaviorSolitary and nocturnalSocial and nocturnal

The Main Differences Between Cottonmouth vs Copperhead

cottonmouth vs copperhead

For the most part, adult cottonmouths are bigger than copperheads.

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There are many key differences between a cottonmouth vs copperhead. While both of these snakes are considered venomous, cottonmouths are widely considered to be more venomous than copperheads. The snakes also prefer different habitats, and their coloring and appearances differ from one another as well. However, it can be hard to tell the difference between these two snakes if you have an untrained eye. 

Let’s discuss the differences between these two snakes now.

Cottonmouth vs Copperhead: Size and Species

While cottonmouths and copperheads belong to the same genus and family of snakes, there are some key differences in their overall size. For the most part, cottonmouths are largely considered to be bigger than copperheads. These snakes are both wider and longer than copperheads are, sometimes to an extreme degree.

For example, the average cottonmouth grows anywhere from five to 50 inches in length, while the average copperhead tends to stop growing anywhere from 20 to 35 inches in length. Cottonmouths also have a much wider body than copperheads do. 

cottonmouth vs copperhead

While copperheads tend to prefer environments that are warm and dry, cottonmouths are usually found near bodies of water.

©Jeff W. Jarrett/Shutterstock.com

Cottonmouth vs Copperhead: Location Found

Another difference between cottonmouths and copperheads is where they are typically found. These snakes are located throughout the majority of the United States, and sometimes these snakes can be found in the same geographical area. However, there are some key locations where they are likely to be found.

Cottonmouth snakes are often discovered in the southeastern United States, particularly throughout Florida and Texas. This is different from copperheads when you consider that copperheads stretch as far as Southern New England and into northern Mexico. However, copperheads are also found throughout the Southern United States, just like cottonmouths. 

Cottonmouth vs Copperhead: Habitat

Northern cottonmouth (Agkistrodon piscivorus) is one of the world's few semiaquatic vipers and is native to the southeastern United States. Individuals may bite when feeling threatened.

Cottonmouths are less intricately patterned and colored when compared to copperheads, though it can be extremely difficult to tell these two snakes apart when they are young.

©Danny Ye/Shutterstock.com

The preferred habitats of cottonmouths differ from copperheads. While copperheads tend to prefer environments that are warm and dry, cottonmouths are usually found near bodies of water.

Cottonmouths are also known as water moccasins. The nickname “water moccasin” came from its dark tan, brown, or black skin that has a pattern of dark brown or black crossbands that resemble the leather stitches of moccasin shoes. Also, cottonmouths are the only venomous water snakes in North America.

Both cottonmouths and copperheads are versatile in their environmental adaptations, but cottonmouths are often known for their aquatic behavior. They tend to spend their time in marshy environments and wetlands, while copperheads prefer mountainous or wooden areas. Copperheads can also be found in suburban areas, but often in locations that offer them protection, such as wood piles or construction sites. 

However, as previously mentioned, cottonmouths and copperheads can be found in the same locations, including their preferred habitat. Cottonmouths will retreat to dryer land and protection should their wetlands or marshlands dry up during the warmer months of the year. 

Cottonmouth vs Copperhead: Appearance

cottonmouth vs copperhead

Most cottonmouths have a distinct band or stripe across their eyes, while copperheads do not.

©Jeff W. Jarrett/Shutterstock.com

Another key difference between a cottonmouth vs copperhead lies in their overall appearance. Cottonmouths are less intricately patterned and colored when compared to copperheads, though it can be extremely difficult to tell these two snakes apart when they are young. Copperheads tend to maintain the same coloring and patterns as they age, while cottonmouths become plainer as they age. 

Just as their namesake implies, copperheads are often found in copper and reddish coloring, particularly their triangle heads. Cottonmouths may also be found in a tan color with dark banding, but they tend to become darker in color as they age. However, cottonmouths may be identified as copperheads by looking closely at their heads.

Most cottonmouths have a distinct band or stripe across their eyes, while copperheads do not. Another difference between these two snakes, should you get close enough, is that cottonmouths have white mouths while copperheads have pink mouths. However, we do not recommend getting that close to either of these snakes! 

Cottonmouth vs Copperhead: Venom Strength

cottonmouth vs copperhead

Cottonmouths have white mouths while copperheads have pink mouths.

©KF2017/Shutterstock.com

A final difference between cottonmouths and copperheads lies in the strength of their venom. Copperheads are largely considered to be less venomous than cottonmouths, and some studies show that you may not need antivenom if you are bitten by a copperhead. However, you should always be cautious when dealing with any sort of snake, as any snake bite will be painful, whether or not it is venomous.

Both the cottonmouth and copperhead have reputations for being aggressive snakes, but neither will typically seek out to bite humans or pets. Rather, they will both defend their ground if they feel they’re in danger. As with most wildlife, give copperheads and cottonmouths their space, and they will typically leave you alone as well.

Cottonmouth vs Copperhead: Lifespan and Behaviour

Western Cottonmouth

Cottonmouths are solitary nocturnal creatures.

©Psychotic Nature/Shutterstock.com

Copperheads have longer lifespans of up to 30 years, while cottonmouths live up to 20. However, in the wild, that’s likely much less.

Cottonmouths are solitary by nature and nocturnal, preferring to hunt at night. Although copperheads are also nocturnal during the warm summer months, they are more social and share basking and brumation locations. They even share hibernation quarters with snakes of other species such as black rat snakes and timber rattlesnakes.

Summary of Cottomouth vs. Copperhead

Here are some key take-away facts about cottonmouths and copperheads:

TraitCottonmouthCopperhead
LocationSoutheast US from Florida to TexasSouthern US, Southern New England, Mexico
HabitatRivers, Lakes, Swamps, MarshesMountains, woods, rocky areas, construction sites
AppearanceBanded or solid; brown, black, or tan; stripe across eye; becomes more plain looking with ageBanded; copper, tan, red, or pink; maintains intricate design through adulthood
Size5-50 inches in length, depending on age20-35 inches in length, depending on age
LifespanUp to 20Up to 30
BehaviorSolitary and nocturnalSocial and nocturnal

How Do You Keep Snakes Away?

Barred grass snake (Natrix helvetica) basking in the sun full profile

Snakes are attracted to overgrown areas and woodpiles where they can hide.

©Stephan Morris/Shutterstock.com

While snakes in the wild serve a valuable purpose by keeping down rodent populations, some people are just unable to see the good in these slithering serpents. You especially would not want one slipping into your home unannounced! So what are some ways to keep snakes outside where they belong, and preferably, out of your yard as well?

Below are 10 simple steps you can take to help keep the snake population down in and around your home:

  1. Sealing Up Cracks–You’ll need to search the perimeter of your home for access points, warm or damp crawl spaces, or holes in your home’s foundation or near ground level. Storm drains are also attractive to snakes. Sealing these entry points appropriately is a start to keeping snakes out.
  2. Removing Potential Food Sources–You may not have realized that bird feeders are potential problems, as they not only attract birds but also rodents and insects, both of which attract snakes. Outdoor pet food can have the same effect. If possible, feed your pets indoors and keep any outdoor seed or other foods in sealed containers.
  3. Removing Standing Water–Standing water can attract frogs, lizards, small mammals, and snakes. Try to reduce standing water as much as possible, even if it means watering your lawn less.
  4. Trapping the Snake–If there are just a few pesky snakes troubling you, you can purchase professionally-made snake traps at your local hardware store and try to snag them. Rather than killing them, consider transporting the snakes about 6 miles away and freeing them in the wild.
  5. Building Strong Fences–There are special types of fences that can keep snakes out, usually made of vinyl or tight wire mesh. Consulting your local hardware store for advice can help with this strategy.
  6. Employing Proper Landscaping and Maintenance–Snakes are drawn to areas of overgrown vegetation, loose debris, wood piles, or other areas where they can hide. Keeping your yard maintained regularly can help cut down on places for snakes to hang out.
  7. Bringing in Domesticated Fowl–This may be an extreme solution, but domestic fowl like chickens are capable of managing snake populations, especially roosters, who protect hens and chicks from danger.
  8. Luring Birds of Prey–Growing tall trees with strong branches can be a way to attract birds of prey like owls, who like to prey on snakes. Another idea would be to build a nesting box to make them feel at home.
  9. Calling Wildlife Control–When all else fails, there’s always the option of calling a professional to come remove an unwanted snake from your property. Exterminators are also valuable, as they can help rid your house of rodents, which attract snakes.
  10. Removing Debris and Keeping Woodpiles Off the Ground–This one is similar to #6, but focuses on woodpiles, which should not be left sitting on the ground if you want to keep snakes away. Elevating them will help deter snakes, as well as remove empty containers and piles of debris where snakes may gather.

The photo featured at the top of this post is ©

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About the Author

August Croft is a writer at A-Z Animals where their primary focus is on astrology, symbolism, and gardening. August has been writing a variety of content for over 4 years and holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree in Theater from Southern Oregon University, which they earned in 2014. They are currently working toward a professional certification in astrology and chart reading. A resident of Oregon, August enjoys playwriting, craft beer, and cooking seasonal recipes for their friends and high school sweetheart.

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