Copperhead vs Chicken Snake: What are the differences?

Copperhead and hen snakes are two species of snakes you are probably familiar with. Although the “chicken snake” is not scientifically recognized by that name, the species was given the name due to its love of chickens as prey. Chicken snakes, also known as tiger rat snakes or caninana snakes, are found in the warmer parts of America, while copperheads are found in North America.

Like most snakes, these species have intriguing similarities and differences. If you’ve ever wondered about the major differences and similarities between Copperheads and Chicken Snakes, this article has everything you need to know. Let’s compare and contrast the Copperhead and the Chicken Snake.

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Comparison of the Copperhead and the Chicken Snake

Copperheads are venomous pit vipers while chicken snakes are constricting colubrids.

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copperhead chicken snake
Poisonous? Yes no
size 0.2 – 0.7 pounds
20-37 inches
8-10 pounds
48-96 inches
morphology Copper or orange-red triangular heads
Light brown to pinkish brown skin
Hourglass-shaped markings that are coppery to reddish brown in color
dorsal and ventral scales
Juveniles have brightly colored tail tips
Black with yellow spots that may form transverse bands
Yellow-tipped snout
habitats Deciduous forest, rocky outcrops, mixed forest and occasionally swampy regions Wooded areas and often found near bodies of water
Type of defense / attack Venomous bites
musk
constriction
diet Toads, small mammals, frogs, lizards, rats, small snakes and even other copperheads Chickens, small mammals, lizards, birds and other snakes
temperament They freeze when humans approach, and this causes humans to unknowingly step on or approach them and get bitten. Slightly aggressive

main differences between the Copperhead and the Chicken Snake

The main differences between copperheads and chicken snakes lie in their morphology, snake families, diet, habitats, and methods of attack and defense. One thing they have in common is that they are solitary except during the mating season. Let’s address their differences in detail.

Copperhead vs. Chicken Snake: Morphology

Broadband Copperhead Snake
Copperheads are shorter than Chicken Snakes.

Dennis W. Donohue/Shutterstock.com

Chicken snakes and copperheads do not look alike, with chicken snakes being much longer and heavier than copperheads. Copperheads measure 20 to 37 inches (1.7 to 3.1 ft) on average, while hen snakes measure 48 to 96 inches (4 to 8 ft), making hen snakes almost twice as long. In terms of weight, chicken snakes again take the lead, measuring 128 to 160 ounces compared to copperheads, which weigh 3.2 to 11.2 ounces.

Copperheads are easily identified by their copper colored heads on their tan to pinkish brown skin with copper to reddish brown hourglass shaped markings. Chicken snakes are black with yellow spots that can form cruciate bands. They also have yellow-tipped snouts.

Copperhead vs. Chicken Snake: Snake Family and Diet

chicken snake
Chicken snakes are constrictors known for their love of chickens.

eans/Shutterstock.com

Copperheads and Chicken Snakes come from two different families of snakes. Copperheads are pit vipers and use their pit organs to sense and recognize prey through their body heat, making them formidable hunters. Once they get close enough, they ambush their prey by digging into their skin with their long solenoglyph fangs, which inject venom into their prey.

As the venom spreads and weakens their prey, Copperheads may or may not hold onto them until they are weak enough to be consumed. They feed on toads, small mammals, frogs, lizards, rats, small snakes, and even other copperheads, making them cannibals.

On the other hand, chicken snakes are colubrids and constrictors. They wrap their long bodies around their prey and suffocate them to death. When their prey exhales, constrictors squeeze harder, soon killing them. Chicken snakes are known for their love of chickens for meals, but they will also eat other small mammals, lizards, birds, and other snakes. However, they do not eat other chicken snakes.

Copperhead vs. Chicken Snake: Habitats

Copperheads and Chicken Snakes are found in different habitats. Copperheads inhabit a variety of habitats and can be found in forests where most trees lose their leaves in the fall. They can also be found in ledges, mixed forests, swampy regions, and even abandoned buildings. So be sure to keep an eye out for them in your old shed if they are found in your state.

However, chicken snakes can be found in wooded areas and are often found near water. They are really good tree climbers and are often found in trees. It’s also important to note that chicken snakes are endemic to the Americas, while copperheads are only endemic to the North American continent.

Copperhead vs. Chicken Snake: Attack and Defense Modes

Copperheads are venomous snakes while Chicken Snakes are constrictors. Copperheads have hemotoxic venom but are not considered extremely venomous. That’s not to say their bites aren’t capable of killing a human—they are. However, they have a relatively low venom yield, especially when compared to their lethal venom dose.

These pit vipers have a maximum venom yield of 80 to 100 mg and require about 85 to 100 mg to kill a human. On average, they only emit 26 mg of venom, which is why only about 0.01% of their bites are fatal. Copperheads also have the ability to emit foul-smelling musk, which most often occurs when picked up or touched.

Chicken snakes are constrictors. Their long, thick bodies give them enough strength to kill their prey by suffocation. They are also called tiger rat snakes because they glide smoothly and quickly through trees. This speed and agility helps them in attack and defense.

Copperhead vs. Chicken Snake: Temperament

chicken snake
Chicken snakes are more aggressive than Copperheads.

gabriel_viniciuss/shutterstock.com

Copperheads and chicken snakes have two distinct human calls. Although copperheads are not known to be aggressive, they bite more humans than any other snake in the US. How does this happen? Copperheads freeze in place to camouflage themselves when they sense humans. This often backfires as people fail to spot them and continue to walk on or near them. This causes Copperheads to bite. However, these pit vipers are not known to attack unless provoked.

The same isn’t true of chicken snakes, which seem to have mixed impressions on humans. Many people claim that these snakes are aggressive and are known to hunt and bite with little provocation, unlike most snakes, which only attack as a last resort. However, other reports dispute this, claiming that they are only aggressive when directly provoked. Anyway, chicken snakes are definitely more aggressive than copperheads.

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