There is an astounding variety of snakes that you can encounter in the wild, and they all come with different appearances, behaviors, and overall characteristics.
Learning the differences between the various snakes in your area is a matter of life and death, as we are about to see today.
Because today we will discuss 2 of the most common species that you’re likely to encounter in the US. Depending on which one you’re coming across, the outcome may differ wildly.
So, let’s discuss it!
What is a Corn Snake?
Corn snakes are very colorful reptiles that reside primarily in the Eastern US in regions like Florida, Kentucky, and Louisiana. However, you can encounter the snake in a variety of other regions, depending on food availability.
This gorgeous species can inhabit areas like woodlots, wooded groves, rocky hillsides, grasslands, and any other ecosystem with vegetation and plenty of hiding spots.
This is an agile constrictor that relies on its size and body strength to subdue the prey. Corn snakes are typically solitary and docile animals, so it’s no wonder that they are so popular as pets in the US and beyond.
What is a Copperhead?
The situation is entirely different when discussing copperheads. Copperheads are vastly more widespread than corn snakes, as you can also encounter them in southern New England, among other regions.
In the US, they are more widespread throughout Kansas, Nebraska, and all over Texas, especially in the east and the south.
Unlike corn snakes, copperheads tend to avoid open areas and stick to forested regions with vegetation-rich ecosystems.
This is ideal because it makes it less likely that you will encounter a copperhead in the wild. We’ll discuss why shortly.
Comparison: Copperhead vs Corn Snakes
Now let’s find out what are the main differences and similarities between copperhead snakes and coral snakes. Here is a quick comparison table, but if you want to find out more details, continue reading:
|Trait||Corn Snake||Copperhead Snake|
|Appearance||Orange primary color, can grow up to 7 feet, small head with round pupils||Orange, brown, light rust, and black, can grow up to 3.5 feet, short, stocky body with triangle-shaped head and elliptical pupils|
|Size and Growth||Can grow up to 7 feet, usually 4-5 feet, vibrant coloration with each shed||Can grow up to 3.5 feet, usually 2.5 feet, slower growth rate|
|Requirements||Temperature 75-80 °F with basking spot up to 95 °F, humidity 40-60%, plain enclosure with hiding area||Temperature 70-85 °F with basking area up to 95 °F, humidity 30-50%, plain enclosure|
|Behavior||Docile, won’t attack unless cornered, harmless bites||Not aggressive but less likely to run, will curl up in a ball when confronted, venomous with hemotoxic bite|
|Handling||Can be handled occasionally but prefers to be left alone, unlikely to bond with the owner||Does not appreciate handling or petting, unlikely to bond with owner, venomous with potential to bite|
|Biting||Harmless bites with no fangs or significant damage||Venomous bites with potential to cause harm, especially to vulnerable populations|
|Lifespan||Can live up to 20+ years in captivity||Can live up to 15-20 years in captivity|
|Care Level||Easy to care for and manage, beginner-friendly||Difficult to keep and requires stable parameters, not recommended for beginners|
|Health Problems||Susceptible to respiratory infections, parasites, nutritional deficiencies, malnutrition, mouth rot, dystocia, and skin problems||Susceptible to the same health problems as corn snakes, but also has a venomous bite|
|Habitat||Native to southeastern United States, found in fields, forests, and farmland, and known to hide in rock crevices, hollow logs, and under debris||Native to southeastern United States, found in a variety of habitats including forests, rocky outcrops, and wetlands|
Corn snakes carry orange as their primary color, so they should be easy to detect in the wild. It’s during autumn that you may have difficulties spotting them due to their excellent camouflaging abilities when lurking in the dead foliage.
Corn snakes can grow to impressive sizes, between 2 and 7 feet, with some getting even larger than that. This is fitting for a born constrictor that uses its body length and power to subdue the prey. Corn snakes also have relatively small heads with large eyes, carrying round pupils to inform you of their non-venomous nature.
Unfortunately, copperheads look fairly similar to corn snakes, which can lead to a multitude of unfortunate interactions.
Many copperheads also come with a lot of orange, but they can also exhibit brown, light rust, and even a taint of black, especially among younger specimens.
But there are notable characteristics that allow the copperhead to diverge from its similarity to a corn snake. One of them is the body shape and size. Copperheads can only reach half the size of the corn snake, capping at 3.5 feet.
The body is short, stocky, and very thick, usually with a thinner neck. The head is triangle-shaped with powerful jaws and an oversized mouth. The eyes are also smaller, with elliptical pupils.
All of these features suggest the snake’s venomous nature, so you better get acquainted with them fast. Especially because them being present in nearly all venomous snakes.
Size and Growth
Corn snakes can reach 7 feet as adults, but that’s rather unlikely. Most specimens will remain around 4-5 feet due to the difficulty of finding food, territorial fights with other snakes, human encounters, accidents, disease, and much more.
The species has more than a decent growth rate, allowing the snake to reach its maximum size within the first 2 years of its life. The snake’s colors tend to become more vibrant with each shed.
Copperheads are smaller, only capable of growing up to 3.5 feet and displaying an average size of 2.5 feet. The snake displays a slower growth pattern and may only achieve its full-size several years down the line.
As with the corn snake, the copperhead’s coloring and pattern get more visible over time.
If you plan on keeping corns snakes in captivity, which is fairly easy to achieve, given the animal’s adaptability and easygoing demeanor, you need to consider the following tips:
- Keep a temperature gradient between 75 and 80 F with a basking spot of up to 95, occupying approximately 25% of the enclosure’s total surface
- The ideal humidity range sits between 40 and 60%, depending on the specimen and its comfort level
- The habitat layout should be clean and plain with a necessary hiding area where the snake can retreat for resting, digesting, and cooling off
- No other decorations are necessary, including climbing elements, because corn snakes are ground-dwellers
When it comes to the copperhead, the situation is a tad different:
- The overall enclosure temperature sits between 70 and 85 F, with a basking area reaching values of 90-95 F
- Humidity should remain between 30 and 50%, but this can also vary among different specimens
- The overall enclosure layout should also be clean without any climbing decorations because copperheads are also ground-dwelling snakes
Both species require adequate UVB and UVB lights to provide them with adequate nutritional intake and a natural circadian rhythm. Disclaimer here: copperheads are exceedingly more difficult to manage than corn snakes.
These snakes are especially sensitive to their environmental conditions, so they’re not recommended for beginners.
It’s also worth noting that copperheads are venomous, so you might want to check what the law says before attempting to get one.
Not all states allow the petting of venomous snakes, which is something to keep in mind beforehand.
Corn snakes are some of the most docile snakes you can get as pets. They are friendly, mind their own business, and won’t attack humans unless cornered and feel like they have no way out.
Even then, corn snakes are unlikely to cause any damage because they don’t have fangs, and their bite force isn’t a danger to humans.
The situation is a hair different in the case of copperheads, to put it lightly. Copperheads aren’t necessarily extra aggressive either, but they’re less likely to run when confronted, especially if the danger source is too close for comfort.
In that scenario, the copperhead will curl up in a ball, placing its head in the middle of its body ring for extra protection. This position achieves 2 things: it protects the snake’s vitals and allows for optimal mechanical support should the snake decide to strike.
The copperhead will fixate on the intruder, tense its body, and release the trademark hiss, meant to inform the potential attacker of what it’s dealing with.
If that fails and the snake has no other option left, it will strike.
Corn snakes are fairly docile and friendly and won’t mind the occasional handling. But try to keep these interactions to a minimum. These are snakes, after all, which means you should expect any reciprocation of feelings.
Snakes prefer to be left alone, and while they may accept some occasional petting, doing it too frequently can stress them out.
Again, the situation differs drastically when it comes to copperheads. These snakes are nowhere near as friendly as corn snakes and you’re unlikely that you’ll be able to socialize with them anytime soon.
Copperheads don’t appreciate handling or petting, and they’re not the ones to bond with their owners to any significant degree. They will begin to recognize you and will express some excitement when it’s mealtime, but don’t look for anything other than that.
Important note, copperheads are venomous and are not afraid to bite when stressed, scared, or provoked. So, try not to do any of those things and keep physical contact to a minimum.
The 2 species vary wildly in terms of biting. Not in the sense of a power differential, but one of the outcomes. Corn snakes deliver harmless bites, as these snakes use their jaws to immobilize their prey, with the body squeeze doing the killing.
So, they don’t need excessive jaw strength to subdue their victims. They also possess no fangs or teeth (well, technically, they do possess teeth, but these are small and unlikely to cause any significant damage.)
This being said, corn snakes can bite in certain cases, and large and strong adults can inflict some skin damage if they’re really mad. But that’s about it.
Copperheads are nowhere near the same ballpark. They’re not even in the same sport. These born killers possess venomous fangs that deliver a hemotoxic cocktail designed to produce hemorrhage, tissue damage, inflammation, and even organ failure, depending on the prey’s size.
The snake is also quite likely to bite when stressed or mishandled in captivity.
Fortunately, the venom is rather mild, and it is unlikely to kill a healthy adult. Children, older adults, and people with immuno-compromised systems form the most vulnerable category.
Not to mention, you may experience anaphylactic shock if you’re allergic to snake venom without knowing it. So, always seek immediate medical attention if bitten.
Corn snakes can reach 10-20 years in captivity or even more. Copperheads fit the same profile, with an average lifespan of 15-20 years in captivity.
These species tend to live shorter lives in the wild due to food scarcity, environmental parameters, hunting, natural predation, human-related habitat fragmentation, destruction, etc.
The reptiles’ lifespans and life quality in the wild depend on numerous factors such as diet, genetic makeup, stress level, housing conditions, and overall medical assistance and care.
Corn snakes are the easiest to please of the 2. These snakes don’t ask for much to reach their full potential, so long as you ensure a stable feeding routine, a proper nutritional strategy, and ideal living conditions.
Monitoring the snake to gauge its overall health and state of mind is ideal over the years. These are more than manageable requirements, which is why corn snakes qualify as beginner-friendly.
Copperheads are entirely different from this perspective. It’s not that they need impossible-to-achieve captive conditions, but they’re more likely to stress out and become sick if their parameters aren’t stable.
They also need a personalized diet with adequate supplementation to reduce the risk of calcium deficiency. Copperheads are difficult to keep, so I wouldn’t recommend them to complete beginners.
Neither corn snakes nor copperheads showcase any specific health problems. These species are generally healthy and resilient, but snakes are famous for their increased sensitivity to their environmental conditions and dietary changes.
The following are some of the top health issues that your snakes are likely to encounter at some point in their lives:
- Respiratory infections – These are generally linked to 3 potential causes: inadequate temperature, inadequate humidity, and inadequate husbandry. Respiratory conditions are usually the result of a low immune system, paired with bacteria, fungi, and other germs associated with poor terrarium hygiene. These health problems can get deadly if not detected in time and treated properly.
- Parasites – Snakes can deal with a multitude of parasites, both internal and external. External parasites can cause infections, skin damage, anemia, and general stress, while internal parasites lead to nutrient vomiting, diarrhea, and, subsequently, severe dehydration.
- Nutritional deficiencies – These can have several triggers, such as improper diets, the lack of nutrient supplementation, the lack of UVB lighting, and genetic predispositions. The most threatening nutritional deficiency is that of calcium, which is known to be linked to Metabolic Bone Disease. This is a deadly condition with no reliable treatment in its advanced stages.
- Malnutrition – This one is fairly obvious. If your snake is underfed, it will become malnourished, which can spell its doom fast. Fortunately, snakes are resilient creatures with slow metabolisms, so they can withstand long periods of fasting, depending on the species. Both corn snakes and copperheads can go up to 2-3 months without eating anything. After that point, they begin to experience health problems and nutritional deficiencies.
- Mouth rot – This condition is also called stomatitis, and it is a bacterial infection that targets the snake’s mouth. One of the most common triggers is poor tank hygiene and lack of long-term enclosure maintenance.
- Dystocia – Dystocia explains the snake female’s inability to lay the eggs. This may be due to the eggs being too large, cloaca infections, calcium deficiency, or other health issues that may require your vet’s assistance.
- Skin problems – These issues are some of the most frequent, aside from respiratory infections. Snakes can experience a variety of skin problems, including injuries, mites, fungal infections, and issues relating to improper shedding. Dysecdysis refers to abnormal shedding due to stress, too high or too low temperature, improper humidity, nutritional deficiencies, and even inadequate layout, causing the snake to injure itself on various rugged surfaces. Dysecdysis is potentially deadly as it can lead to local infections and even necrosis and blood poisoning if the skin gets stuck.
It’s important to note that while there are many factors that can affect your snake’s health, stress is almost always a common denominator.
Stress can affect reptiles more severely than it can other animals, as it impacts their immune system. This leaves the animals more vulnerable to infections and various diseases.
It’s also important to note that constant monitoring is the key to preventing and treating many of these problems in time. Also, get your vet involved because some of these health conditions are very difficult to diagnose without a professional’s insight.
They come with a variety of similar symptoms, and some are even asymptomatic until they reach more advanced stages.
Regular vet check-ups are necessary for proper prevention.
Price & Cost
Corn snakes are valued at around $30-$100 per specimen. Copperheads are slightly more expensive, capping at $75-$300 per specimen.
It’s important to note that the price range can vary significantly towards one extreme or the other, depending on numerous factors.
These include the snake’s age, size, morph, color pattern, your geographical location, local price ranges, the seller, etc. The list can go on.
If you have decided to invest in either snake, consider the following tips:
- Always buy your snake from a reputed breeder who can guarantee the animal’s good health, age, and genetic prowess
- Always see your snake in person before purchasing it to verify its general condition
- Try to leave standard snake shops as a last resort in case you can’t purchase the snake from a qualified breeder
- Always ask for additional info on the snake’s diet, meal plan, requirements, genetic background, behavior, and anything else that might interest you
Finally, always consider the long-term costs as well, not just the acquisition price. The general estimative maintenance costs each month for corn snakes sit at $50-$100, depending on the case. Copperheads meet the same quota.
These costs include food, general maintenance, food supplementation necessary, electricity expenses, and vet bills in case of need, among other things.
So, the final cost can vary from one case to the other.
Copperhead or Corn Snake – Which is Better for You?
You can approach this question from 2 different perspectives. One perspective is where you are already experienced in growing snakes and reptiles in general.
In this case, you have the freedom to choose whichever species is closer to your heart. Not literally, but you understand the point.
However, if you lack the experience necessary to handle more pretentious species (cough – copperheads – cough), I recommend sticking to the corn snake.
While corn snakes and copperheads can be seen as similar in many ways, they are ultimately drastically different. They have different behaviors, needs, and physiologies and are essentially different animals.
So, treat them accordingly and adapt to each species’ specifics. Both in the wild and in captivity.