Most people and animals try to avoid rattlesnakes.
And a number of non-venomous snake species take advantage of that.
Not only are they snakes that look like rattlesnakes, but they take it one step further.
They even mimic certain rattlesnake behaviors.
Why? Because it convinces predators to leave them alone.
But it also has a negative side effect. Humans often kill them thinking they are rattlers.
What snakes are these exactly? Quite a few different species, actually. Let’s take a look.
Table of Contents
- 1 Snakes That Resemble Rattlesnakes
- 2 Snakes That Look Like Rattlesnakes: Final Thoughts
Snakes That Resemble Rattlesnakes
All of the following snake species resemble rattlesnakes in some way or another. As mentioned, many take advantage of their resemblance by also mimicking rattler behavior to fool predators into leaving them alone.
Venomous copperhead snakes are found in 28 states in the United States. The southern and eastern copperheads closely resemble and mimic rattlesnakes. Both copperheads and rattlesnakes are pit vipers.
The average copperhead weighs between 100 and 340 grams and measures around 2 to 3 feet in length. Like rattlesnakes, copperhead habitats include swamps, coastal plains, and wet woodlands.
Both rattlesnakes and copperheads have similar markings and coloring on their bodies. Copperheads even hibernate with rattlesnakes in the winter. In this regard, they are quite social.
When threatened, copperhead snakes even mimic the rattling sound rattlesnakes make by shaking their tails on the ground, even though copperheads do not have rattles of their own.
Eastern Hognose Snake
Eastern hognose snakes measure about 20 to 35 inches and weigh less than 1 pound. They are benign creatures that resemble timber rattlesnakes and dusky pygmy rattlesnakes. They have similar patterns and colorings as rattlesnakes and both species live in similar habitats.
While their resemblance to rattlesnakes helps them avoid predators, they are also persecuted and killed by humans because of it.
The main difference between hognose and rattlesnake species is that hognose snakes lack the rattles and facial pits that rattlesnakes have. Hognose snakes also puff their necks and raise their heads off the ground like cobras.
Cottonmouth snakes and rattlesnakes are both pit vipers and it can be quite hard to tell the difference between them.
The major difference between the two is that rattlers have diamond patterns on their backs and rattles on their tails, both of which cottonmouths lack
Cottonmouths are generally smaller than rattlers and grow up to 2 to 6 feet. They usually have black, brown, and olive coloring with triangular patterns, whereas rattlers are found in a variety of colors.
Another difference is that cottonmouths have spongy white mouths, which is where they get their names. Both snake species are found in similar habitats or environments. Both snakes have painful, venomous bites that can be fatal if left untreated.
Northern Water Snake
The Northern Water Snake closely resembles the Massasauga rattlesnake. Both species have similar coloring and patterns. As a result, they are often confused with one another.
But the Massasauga rattlesnake has a distinct rattle at the end of its tail. It also has blotches or patterns that resemble bow ties. The Massasauga rattler also has a distinct neck below a triangular head.
In the case of the northern water snake, there is no neck and the head transitions directly into the snake’s body. The northern water snake also has a banding pattern that reaches down its sides as well.
Black Rat Snake
The black rat snake behaves just like rattlesnakes when cornered or threatened. It will coil, hiss, strike repeatedly, and also shake its tail on the ground to sound exactly like the rattlesnake’s rattle.
Black rat snakes have a close relationship with rattlesnakes. They are called pilot snakes because they guide rattlesnakes to safe dens in the forest. They even hibernate with rattlesnakes in the winter.
The non-venomous rat snakes reach a length of 6 to 8 feet and have dark or black coloring. This can make them impossible to see against the dark forest floor.
There are many similarities between prairie kingsnakes and some rattlesnake species that often cause people to misidentify them. The Prairie kingsnake has similar brownish coloration and patterns to the rattlers.
Both species also have narrow heads and necks. The light-colored, unmarked bellies of prairie kingsnakes are very similar to those of timber rattlesnakes.
Prairie kingsnakes also coil up and assume a striking S-position when cornered. Like rattlers, they may thump or rattle their tails against dry leaves to scare away predators. Note that kingsnakes do not have tail rattles, which is a major difference between the two species.
Fox snakes are quite similar to copperheads and rattlesnakes. They are a type of northern rat snake that is nonvenomous.
Most fox snakes are golden, gray, or greenish-brown in color. They have yellow and black checkerboard patterns that are often mistaken for the rattlesnake’s patterns. The docile fox snakes also shake their tails in the leaves, to make a sound similar to the rattler’s tail.
Bull Snake (Gopher Snake)
Bull snakes are called gopher snakes in many parts of the western United States. They are actually a subspecies of gopher snake. They get their name from a loud hissing sound they make, which sounds like a bull’s snort.
Bull snakes are one of the largest snakes in the country. Most bull snakes measure between 4 and 8 feet (1.2 to 2.4 m) long and weigh around 12 pounds (or about 5 kg).
Bullsnakes mimic rattlesnakes as a protective adaptation. Both snake species have similar patterns on their bodies, with rings near the tail, large blotches on the back, and dots along their sides.
A threatened bullsnake might also elongate its head to make it appear triangular like that of the rattlesnake.
Bullsnakes also coil, hiss, strike, and make a rattling sound by shaking their tails against the vegetation. These are all behaviors seen in rattlers. This scares predators into running away for fear of a venom-filled bite.
Eastern Milk Snake
According to reports, the eastern milk snake is the species that gets most commonly mistaken for a rattlesnake in states like New Hampshire. The two snake varieties have similar bright patterns and behaviors.
The milk snake does not have a rattle but it still strikes and makes a rattling sound with its tail when it feels threatened. However, milksnakes are benign, nonvenomous snakes that, unfortunately, often get killed by humans who mistake them for rattlesnakes.
Diamondback Water Snake (Nerodia Rhombifer)
This is another innocent snake that is often killed because of its resemblance to the venomous cottonmouths and rattlesnakes.
Nerodia rhombifiers have bright, tan coloration and diamond patterns similar to rattlers. This snake also hisses, strikes, and bites if threatened, all behaviors seen in rattlesnakes. The nonvenomous Nerodia has a painful bite, though, so it is best to stay away from it, if you come across one.
The viper boa (Candoia aspera) has a similar build to a rattlesnake. It has a stocky body with a triangular head similar to rattlesnakes and other pit vipers.
Viper boas also have dark coloration with blotches similar to the rattlesnake’s patterns. Both species of snakes are quite aggressive. The main difference between the two species is that rattlesnakes have tail rattles and pit organs, which viper boas lack.
Snakes That Look Like Rattlesnakes: Final Thoughts
Evolution is amazing. So many harmless snake species evolved to resemble the dangerous rattlesnake, because it gives them an advantage. Of course, thanks to us humans, that advantage sometimes turns into a disadvantage.
And in many cases, it’s not just about looks. Many of the snakes that look like rattlesnakes have actually learned to act like rattlers to really make it convincing. And it works pretty well, too!