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Home > Snakes > Corn Snake vs. Copperhead: Key Differences (With Pictures)

Corn Snake vs. Copperhead: Key Differences (With Pictures)

Corn Snake vs. Copperhead

Have you ever wondered what the difference is between a corn snake and a copperhead? After all, they look similar at first (and quick) glance, or maybe you’re trying to decide which one you want to keep as a pet.

One of these snakes is suitable for keeping as a pet and the other is not. Let’s discover the truth. But first, the basics of these two beautiful snakes.

Copperheads derive their names from their coppery-tan color and distinct triangular-shaped head, common to pit vipers. Corn snakes have vibrant colors ranging from orange, red, gray, and brown. The head of the corn snake is spear-shaped, smaller than the copperheads, and is slender throughout the body.

Corn snakes have tiny teeth, and they aren’t likely to bite. Copperheads are venomous and always ready to attack when they feel threatened, unlike corn snakes, which are easily intimidated and turn away. Some people confuse between the two species even though they can easily be differentiated with their physical features.


Visual Differences

Corn Snake vs Copperhead - Visual Differences
Image Credit: Left – SasinTipchai, Shutterstock | Right – Dylan Wallace, Shutterstock

At a Glance

Corn Snake
  • Average height (adult): 4-6 feet
  • Average weight (adult): 700-900 grams
  • Lifespan: 15-20 years
  • Other pet-friendly: Yes
  • Average height (adult): 2-3 feet
  • Average weight (adult): 100-340 grams
  • Lifespan: 18-25 years
  • Other pet-friendly: No

divider-snakeCorn Snake Overview

Personality/ Character

Corn snakes are an excellent choice for pet snakes as they are tame, easy to handle, and do not grow very big. Corn snakes will turn away when they feel endangered rather than attacking. They do not present any danger to people and help keep pests and other snakes away, especially when kept around the garden.

Corn snakes do not bite easily, even when they are startled or wounded. However, as hatchlings, they are more likely to bite, although their bite is not painful due to their tiny teeth. The snakes are easy to handle and take care of, even though they will always try to escape.

Corn snakes were used to staying in cornfields where they found their prey: rats. They got their name from this habit and have a grain pattern on their bodies resembling Indian corn. Corn snakes are often confused with the rat snakes due to their close connections and are sometimes known as red rat snakes.

Corn Snake (Anerythristic) isolated on black background
Image Credit: Chaiyanunn, Shutterstock


Corn snakes reproduce during low temperatures. In the wild, this can be during the winter. You can lower the temperatures and provide darkness in their cages when you want them to breed.

Temperatures and photoperiods trigger reproduction in corn snakes. Ensure that you raise your corn snakes as a male and female for breeding. Check for hemipenes and pop them, especially for the hatchlings.

Corn snakes lay large clutches of eggs in warm, moist places in the spring. They lay their eggs 30 to 45 days after mating. The clutch ranges between 10 and 30 eggs.


Warm or defrost appropriate sizes of mice to room temperature to feed your corn snake. Do not warm the mice using a microwave or prepare them around the kitchen area. Additionally, you should always attend to your corn snake when feeding them live rodents to avoid them being injured by the mice.

Have a consistent schedule for feeding your corn snake at least once or twice a week and the hatchlings once a week. Use a terrarium of suitable size and shape to house your corn snake so that it does not feel encaged and will also have space for exercising. Provide at least 8 to 12 hours of light in the terrarium daily and dim the lights at night.

Amelanistic Corn Snake
Image Credit: IrinaK, Shutterstock

Health & Care

The snake’s tank should always be kept clean and fresh substrates added. Always include hiding places in the habitat to make your corn snake feel secure. You can use a sizeable box, barks, or rocks to act as hiding places.

The eyes of your corn snake will turn to milky grey or blue when it prepares to shed its skin. The color of its body will not be shiny and will turn to a whitish shade. You are advised to avoid handling it during this time as it may become irritable.

A healthy corn snake has the following signs:

  • Lively and vigilant
  • Clear eyes except when shedding
  • Feeding habitually
  • Healthy skin
  • Not infested with mites and ticks
  • Frequently sheds its skin in a complete set

You will notice the following signs when your corn snake is unhealthy.

  • Irregular or unusual flaking
  • Vomiting
  • Sluggish or unenthusiastic feeding
  • Spots or bumps on the skin
  • Strenuous breathing
  • Trouble when shedding the skin
  • Strange feces
  • White, unpleasant matter in the mouth

You can always refer to a veterinarian if you notice any of these unusual signs. Your snake is susceptible to fungal and bacterial infections that should not be left untreated. Some diseases can make the snake lose its teeth, which makes it not feed properly.

Suitable for:

Corn snakes are suitable for any pet lover because of their behavior. Their docile and calm nature makes them a good choice for beginners. In addition to that, their diet makes them a perfect snake pet for anyone.

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Copperhead Overview

Personality/ Character

Copperhead snakes are challenging to handle as domesticated snakes. They are not easily tamed since they do not distinguish between friends and enemies. In addition, the copperhead snake cannot settle down effortlessly and vibrates its tail every time you go near it.

Copperhead snakes have painful bites, but they are not usually lethal to adult humans as their venom is not produced in large quantities. The indent on its head allows it to detect its warm-blooded target. If you are looking to keep it as a pet, you must be experienced with handling snakes.

Copperheads in the wild enjoy basking during the day and hiding at night and can also be found swimming and hunting. However, the snakes are more active at night, and they usually attack their prey by camouflaging to blend with their environment.

Copperhead snakes can flourish in a diverse range of habitats. They require only one meal every 2 weeks, and you can keep the snake in moderately low-temperature habitats.

copperhead snake in the forest
Image Credit: Matthew L Niemiller, Shutterstock


The copperhead snake is predatory and feeds on lizards, mice, birds, and frogs. You can feed it with thawed mice while under human care. However, it would be best to use long forceps to introduce the mice to the snake’s habitat to avoid getting bitten.


Copperheads are ovoviviparous, and they give birth to live hatchlings. The eggs incubate inside the female’s body when they mate in the spring. They are born in late summer or the fall and can range from 2 to 18 hatchlings.

Copperhead snakes breed in the spring. The males go out searching for the females and are aggressive with each other during this time. They hibernate in the winter and are friendly to other species like rattlesnakes and rat snakes.

The female copperhead gives birth to many offspring through a thin membrane from which they break free after a short while. The hatchlings are born with fangs and venom that enable them to feed before hibernating for winter.

eastern copperhead snake close-up showing three areas of scale rot
Image Credit: Jeff W. Jarrett, Shutterstock

Health & Care

Copperheads are also sociable species that can be found in clusters in the wild. Therefore, you can also keep several in the same enclosure. Cleaning the enclosure correctly and routinely will keep your snake healthy.

Provide a large water dish in the snake’s habitat for drinking and soaking. Ensure that you change this dish daily and clean it thoroughly on a weekly basis to prevent bacteria from growing in it. Remove the mice from the enclosure if the snake fails to feed on them.

Your copperhead snake is susceptible to several health issues that occur when hygiene is not maintained correctly. Mouth rot is a common infection resulting from improper diet, mouth injury, or an unclean environment. Bloody gum is the result of this illness.

Organisms such as ticks, worms, lice, coccidian, and protozoa can cause parasitic infections to your copperhead snake. You can use dewormers to treat your snake for these infections. An unhealthy copperhead snake will have weight loss issues, you will find it stargazing, it will have problems when shedding skin, and it will breathe with its mouth.

Improper shedding of the skin is another sign of infection. This can be corrected by ensuring that the enclosure is dry. Provide numerous hiding places for your copperhead and designate a basking spot when setting up the cage.

Your copperhead will exhibit the following signs when it is healthy:

  • Healthy appetite
  • Lively and attentive eyes
  • Soft and natural breathing
  • Smooth and glittery scales

Suitable for:

Because of their aggressive behavior, copperheads are not the best option for beginners. They require a lot of monitoring; therefore, the best people to own them are experienced snake owners. However, if a beginner has a suitable enclosure and knows how to feed them while observing their behavior, they can keep it.

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How to Differentiate the Copperhead from the Corn Snake

Many people mistake the two reptiles. However, one can differentiate them through their physical and behavioral characteristics. For example, the head of the copperhead is always bigger and thicker than that of the corn snake.

A corn snake will remain slender throughout its body, while the copperhead will be thicker in the middle of their bodies. The copperhead is shorter in length compared to the corn snake. Young copperheads have a yellow tail that they use to lure their prey.

The patterns on the bodies of the snakes may look similar, but you can differentiate them. The outline of the copperhead’s extends way down to the side of their body On the other hand, the patterns on the corn snake do not reach further down to their sides.

How Dangerous Are Copperheads and Corn Snakes?

Copperheads are venomous. They attack easily when they feel threatened. Although their venom is usually not fatal to humans, it’s a painful and irritating bite and does require immediate medical attention.

Corn snakes are easily intimidated and are likely to get away when they feel threatened. However, a corn snake is easy to handle, even for beginners. They do not even bite their prey, rather they constrict it until it is dead.

Strive not to harm a snake, especially if it’s not attacking you. Most likely, it will not make the first move unless it feels threatened. However, seek medical attention in case you get bitten by the copperhead.


Which Snake Is Right for You?

A corn snake is easier to tame compared to a copperhead snake. The former does not attack quickly, and it is docile. It’s also a very colorful snake that you can handle easily without fear. On the other hand, copperhead snakes are always ready to attack since they cannot differentiate between a friend and a foe.

You can choose to keep a copperhead snake if you are experienced in handling snakes. However, you can never be too careful with the copperhead since it can attack you anytime.

Only handle the copperhead when it is necessary. Since many precautions are given to handling copperheads, corn snakes are the best option for keeping as a pet snake. You can never fully guarantee your safety with the copperhead.

Provide a natural environment as much as you can for your snakes. Even when feeding them, provide the rodents at room temperature to think they are catching their food. You can even dangle it so that they grab and catch it.

Always consider the environment in which you will keep your snake. Make sure that people around you do not fear snakes. Small children are likely to open the lids of snake terrariums if they are not old enough to understand the rules.

Featured Image Credit: Top – zoosnow, Pixabay | Bottom – James Arup, Shutterstock

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