Milk Snake Vs. Copperhead Snake (10 Key Differences)

Milk snakes and copperheads might be difficult to distinguish at first look. Each has a reddish-brown base hue, but the copperhead has a considerably deeper copper tone.

Furthermore, both snakes have black stripes that go across the back and down the sides. Milk snakes are known to mimic dangerous copperhead snakes as a defensive strategy. 

Copperheads are venomous snakes that typically have stout bodies with a broadhead. On the other hand, milk snakes are non-venomous and are significantly thinner, and have a more streamlined body. The belly of a copperhead is unmarked and cream-colored. The white belly of a milk snake is marked with black squares that create a checkerboard pattern.

Milk snakes are more widespread than copperheads and may be found virtually anyplace east of the Rocky Mountains. Copperheads are sociable snakes that frequently assemble alongside one another while sunbathing, courting, mating, or denning.

Milk Snake Vs. Copperhead Snake

Milk snakes are solitary snakes that only congregate in groups during hibernation.

Disclaimer: This is information for entertainment and educational purposes only. Do not approach a wild animal and keep your distance. Only professionals should handle wild animals. Seek professional help immediately if you have been bitten or otherwise harmedConsult your local wildlife authority for the right advice for your situation and locality.

Milk Snake vs Copperhead

FeatureMilk SnakeCopperhead Snake
1. Scientific NameLampropeltis triangulumAgkistrodon contortrix
2. Size2-5 feet2-4 feet
3. VenomNot VenomousVenomous
4. ColorsBrightly colored bands that are usually yellow, orange, black and white.Yellow, white, black, brown, tan. Hourglass shaped pattern on body.
5. PatternsStripes running in rings up and down the body.Checkerboard and Hourglass Pattern
6. Egg LayingOviparous (Mother Lays Eggs.)Ovoviviparous. (Mother Carries the Eggs in her Body.)
7. RangeNorth America East of the RockiesEastern United States, South-Eastern Canada
8. HabitatGardens, Woodlands, TreesWoodland, Vines, Foliage, Trash
9. Lifespan10-22 years12-20 years
10. Pet BehaviorNon-Venomous and Good for Beginners.Can be Kept as Pet, but is Venomous

Milk Snake Overview

Milk snakes are new world snakes that are nonvenomous and may be found all across South and North America. They are kingsnake species that are colorful and have eye-catching patterns. Milk snakes are sometimes mistaken with venomous coral snakes or copperheads; nevertheless, they cause no threat to people. They are actually popular pets that can be commonly bred in captivity.

Milk snakes are nocturnal creatures frequently seen crossing country roads at night, only moving during the day to seek relief from the heat. They are typically found behind bush heaps or decaying logs. Milk snakes may live in various environments, including coniferous and deciduous woods, tropical hardwood forests, prairies, and agricultural areas.

Fun fact; milk snakes are named after a folktale about a snake slipping into a shed and taking milk from a breastfeeding cow.

Copperhead Overview

Copperhead snakes are among the most common snakes in North America. They derive their name from their copper-red heads. They are as well the most probably to bite. However, their venom is weak, and bites are hardly deadly to people.

Copperheads are water moccasins and pit vipers. They have high-temperature sensory pits between the eyes and nostrils on either side of the head, which can detect minute temperature changes, allowing the snakes to attack the source of heat, which is frequently prospective prey. The young ones are born with venom and fangs.

Copperhead vs Milk Snake Comparison

1. Appearance

Milk Snake Appearance

Milk snakes vary in form and coloring among the twenty-four subspecies, but all exhibit banded coloration. These bands’ hues can range from red to black to white, and alternating stripes of different colors are typical.

The lighter region between the different colored bands might be yellow, orange, or white. A black outline denotes the darker bands. Their saddles are black-bordered and the broadest across the back. Hatchlings have a bright coloring that fades slightly as they develop. The necks of most milk snakes have a light-colored V or Y form.

  • The eastern milk snake is thin and has reddish-brown blotchy stripes ringed in black. The belly is patterned in a black-on-white checkerboard pattern. They are frequently mistaken with copperheads, although their patches are not the same form.
  • Honduran milk snakes are brilliant reddish-orange having black stripes in the wild. A narrow band of white or yellow termed tri-color morph or a pale orange known as the tangerine morph runs between the black stripes. Tangerine variants have bands that run down the sides, whereas tri-colour morphs have stripes that reach the underside. 
  • The red bands on Pueblan milk snakes are almost twice as broad as the white and black bands. In captivity, other color variants can be produced. The red milk snakes have a brown, yellow, or white body along with reddish joined blotches ringed in black.

Copperhead Snake Appearance

The bodies of copperheads are distinctively patterned. Their rear pattern consists of a succession of dark, reddish-brown, or chestnut-brown crossbands fashioned in resemblance to an hourglass, Saddlebag, or dumbbell.

Copperhead saddles are narrowest at the back and widest at the sides. Crossbands usually have dull borders and pale lateral cores. However, some crossbands may have spaces, and there may be little black patches in the gaps between the crossbands. They are the only snakes that have hourglass-shaped patterns.

As opposed to its patterned body, the copperhead snake’s brownish head is devoid of such embellishments as small black dots generally found on the peak of the head.

The undersides of copperheads are light brownish, whitish or yellowish, mottled, or stippled, with blackish, grey, or brown, frequently big, paired dark patches or streaks along the belly’s sides.

Copperheads have muscular, robust bodies with upside-down scales. Their heads are arrow or triangular-shaped and split from the neck, with a prominent ridge dividing the top of the head from the side muzzle between the nose and the eye.

Their pupils are vertical, similar to cats’, and their irises are often tan, reddish-brown, or orange. Juveniles are greyer than adults and have brilliant greenish-yellow or yellowtail tips that fade after approximately a year.

2. Length and Size Differences

Milk snakes range in length from 35.5 to 175 cm. Central and South America have the longest snakes.

Milk snakes in Canada and the United States do not reach a length of more than 129 cm. They have smooth scales that are divided from 19 to 23 rows. Milk snakes are identical in both genders, which means that females and males grow to the same size. Hatchlings are 6 to 7 inches long. 

Copperheads are medium-sized snakes that range in length from 0.6 to 0.9 meters. Male copperheads are shorter than females, although males have larger tails proportionately. Copperheads are 20 to 25 cm long as newborns.

3. Habitat Differences

Milk snakes have the widest geographic distribution of any snake in North America, exceeding that of most other snakes. They may be found from Ontario and Quebec to Venezuela. They may be found all across Mexico and Central America. They may also be found virtually everywhere in the United States except on the West Coast.

Milk snakes are able to flourish in a variety of environments, given their wide range. Although they are equally contented in rocky outcroppings, barns, fields, and agricultural regions, they prefer forested places. They like to spend most of the day hiding behind rocks, boards, or in the dark corners of stables.

Copperheads are classified into five subspecies based on their geographic range: Northwestern, southwestern, northern, and, southern. Northern copperhead snake has the most extensive range, stretching from Alabama to Illinois and Massachusetts.

Copperheads thrive in various environments. However, they are especially fond of ecotones, which refer to places of transition in the middle of two biological groups. They prefer forested regions, thickets near streams, mountains, rocky areas, canyons, desert oases, and other natural settings. They like nearly any environment that provides both sunlight and shade.

Copperheads are quite resistant to habitat change. This implies they can thrive in suburban environments. Copperheads have been discovered in sawdust heaps, junkyards, old construction locations, abandoned agricultural buildings, and wood. They frequently seek refuge behind surface covers, for instance, sheet metal, logs, large flat rocks, or boards.

Both snakes can be found in North America, and in forested regions.

4. Behavior Differences

Milk snakes are mostly nocturnal and solitary, being most active at night and twilight. They prefer to be outside on humid, warm evenings. When it’s rainy or chilly outside, they’ll go out throughout the day. On hot days, milk snakes prefer to hide behind rocks, logs, or burrows. Milk snakes hibernate in communal dens during the winter.

Copperheads are gregarious snakes. They often hibernate in shared dens and frequently go back to the same den year after year. They frequently hibernate with rat snakes, timber rattlesnakes, and other species throughout the winter. They can also be spotted close to one another while sunbathing, drinking, eating, and courting.

Copperheads are generally active during the day in the fall and spring, but they become nocturnal in the summer. Copperheads prefer to remain on earth, they will occasionally climb into short shrubs or trees in pursuit of prey or to lounge in the sun. They also go swimming on their own at times. Copperheads move to their summer feeding grounds in the late spring and go back home in the early fall.

5. Hunting and Diet Differences

Milk snakes are extremely effective constrictors. They squeeze their victim so tightly that its heart stops due to a lack of blood supply. They consume a broad range of prey species, including birds and mammals. Mice, voles, rats, and other rodents are prevalent in agricultural regions, and lizards, snakes, birds, and snake eggs are common prey. They will even devour their lookalikes, the deadly coral snakes. Juveniles generally consume invertebrates before moving on to birds and mammals.

Fun fact: Milk snakes, contrary to popular belief, do not visit barns to “milk” the cows; rather, they seek the rodents that live there.

Copperheads are ambush predators that move from one location to another. Although they occasionally hunt, they usually obtain their food through a sit-and-wait ambush, using their heat-sensing pits to detect prey.

Copperhead snakes bite and then release their victims while attacking big animals. They let the venom do its thing before tracking down the prey after it has died. Tiny prey is held in the snakes’ jaws until the victim dies. They ingest the food with their flexible movable jaws. Adult copperheads may only have ten to twelve meals each year, depending on the size of their meals.

Young copperheads’ hunting habits may differ from those of grown-ups. They stay motionless, flicking the ends of their golden tails. Their tail mimics a tiny caterpillar and other bugs, which may entice a frog or lizard to approach within striking distance. They mostly consume insects, particularly caterpillars.

They both consume their prey whole.

Go Deeper: What do Copperhead Snakes Eat?

6. Breeding And Lifespan Differences

Milk snakes mate between March and May, depending on the subspecies. They reproduce after they awaken from brumation; however, they may copulate while still in their winter lair. When the female begins to ovulate outdoors, she leaves a scent trail behind her. The males go after her tail. Milk snakes can copulate for hours at a stretch to keep extra males from mating with an ovulating female.

The milk snake is oviparous, which means that the mother lays eggs. About 30 days after copulation, she will lay between two and seventeen eggs. Milk snakes frequently lay eggs in decaying logs, beneath boulders, or in the dirt. A warm, humid environment is required for optimal incubation, which might take 1 or 2 months. There is no more parental participation once the eggs are deposited. 

Milk snakes attain complete maturity between the ages of 3 and 4 years. Their wild lifetime is unknown, although they have survived in captivity for as long as 22 years.

Copperhead breeding time lasts from late August to October and from February to May. When two or more males encounter a receptive female’s presence, they may engage in a ritual fight. Losing snakes are hardly challenged again. A female will always dismiss males who walk away from a battle with her.

Copperheads are ovoviviparous, which means that the eggs hatch inside the mother’s body. Babies are born fully formed. Females will give birth to two to 18 live offspring in late summer or fall after mating in the spring.

After copulating in the fall, the females will reserve sperms and postpone conception for months until they have completed their hibernation. Infants have fangs and venom that is as powerful as that of an adult.

The copperhead has a life expectancy of around 18 years, but they can live for up to 25 years in captivity.

7. Which One is a Better Pet?

Despite the Copperhead snake having a venomous bite, this snake makes a great pet for people with prior expertise and is very straightforward to care for in captivity. They are not a good choice for first-time snake owners as they are venomous.

They have relatively low-temperature requirements, no special humidity requirements, thrives in a range of environments, and only requires a meal every two weeks.

Milk snakes are a popular pet snake choice for a good reason. They satisfy all of the requirements for an excellent pet snake. They are tiny enough to fit in a standard-sized cage yet large enough to satisfy most snake keepers.

Most milk snake subspecies thrive in captivity and will regularly consume frozen or thawed rodents. They also have wonderful temperaments and may grow fairly tame with frequent handling. But there’s another reason milk snakes are so popular as pet snakes. They are stunning snakes that come in a range of colors depending on the subspecies.

More Snake Comparisons:


Copperhead snakes are typically pale-tan to pinkish-tan in color, with a darker center, while milk snakes have a much brighter pinkish-red coloration. The milk snake’s saddles are black-bordered and broadest across the back. However, copperhead saddles are narrower in the back, with wider sides, and are shaped like an hourglass. The scales of milk snakes are glossier and smoother than those of copperheads.

Milk snakes are nocturnal creatures frequently seen crossing country roads at night, only migrating during the day to seek relief from the heat. Copperheads have been spotted in ponds, rivers, and low-hanging tree branches. During the mating season, copperhead males are violent and can be observed battling each other to the ground. Male milk snakes follow the scent trail of a female.

Copperheads are mostly found in the United States south and southwest, although they are also known to live in the Midwest and along the Atlantic coast. Milk snakes are more widespread than copperheads and may be found virtually anyplace east of the Rocky Mountains.

Skip to content