The copperhead snake (Agkistrodon contortrix) has beautiful coloring and patterns, but that shouldn’t be your first clue about what to expect from this dangerous snake. Copperheads are actually quite shy and non-confrontational, so most of the time you won’t even know it’s there.
But if you stumble across one unexpectedly, here’s what you need to know about its behavior, habitat, diet, and more to keep yourself safe in the woods or in your own backyard.
What is a copperhead snake?
Copperheads are named for their head markings that look like a copper penny and are one of four venomous snake species found in North America. These snakes typically range from two to three feet long and have a dark coloration with brown or greenish-tan bands that may be difficult to see when coiled up.
They feed on small mammals, lizards, birds, frogs, and other snakes. Copperheads don’t chase after prey but instead wait near trails they’ve scented until an animal passes by and then ambushes it. They live in wooded areas or grassy plains.
The females give birth to between five and 40 young in late summer or early fall. Most often, humans come into contact with these serpents while walking through tall grasses or underbrush where they might be hiding.
While bites are rare, if you encounter a copperhead, stay calm and slowly move away without provoking it—the chances of survival increase if you can get far enough away so that you aren’t bitten at all.
Copperheads are mainly found in wooded areas, but they can also be found in grasslands and plains. However, copperheads usually only move into open areas when traveling or looking for a new home. On average, copperheads live near river valleys and rocky hillsides with plenty of vegetation.
Some copperheads choose to make their homes in trees instead of on the ground, while others live inside rotting logs and stumps. When it comes time to hibernate, most copperheads find homes inside abandoned mammal burrows. If a suitable burrow isn’t available, many snakes prefer to seek out crevices in rocks as a place for slumber.
Although copperheads have been known to travel over one mile during migration periods, they typically stay within a five-mile radius of where they were born. This behavior is due to their tendency to remain close to food sources throughout their lives.
Most copperheads will never leave behind familiar surroundings unless absolutely necessary; once a habitat has been established, these creatures will continue living there until death.
Poisonous, but not aggressive
Copperheads are considered one of North America’s most dangerous snakes, but it is a reputation that only applies when you engage with them. They are not interested in attacking humans. What sets copperheads apart from other venomous snakes is their tendency to curl up into a ball and remain completely still if a human gets too close.
This behavior may have evolved as an anti-predator adaptation that gives it an edge over other snakes by making it difficult for would-be predators to tell they are there and giving them more time to escape if the danger does present itself.
The best way to avoid being bitten by any snake is simply giving them space and making noise when entering any area that could harbor these creatures. It’s also important to remember that while bites from nonvenomous snakes can be painful, they are rarely fatal.
Copperheads vs. Cottonmouths
Though copperheads and cottonmouths may look similar, you can easily distinguish between them by looking at their heads. A cottonmouth’s head will have a white mouth, while a copperhead’s mouth is also copper-colored and wide.
Both are dangerous snakes that should be left alone. But if you’re trying to identify one from the other, look at its head! If it has a red or copper-colored mouth, it’s probably a copperhead. If it has a white or off-white mouth with small black spots inside of it, then it’s most likely a cottonmouth.
How dangerous are they?
The copperhead is not aggressive but will defend itself if threatened. The bite of a copperhead is rarely fatal. However, you should seek medical attention right away after a bite because it can cause serious health problems if left untreated.
Antivenin is needed if a person has been bitten by a copperhead that lives in North America or Northern Mexico (all pit vipers native to these areas). Pit vipers are venomous snakes with two heat-sensing pits between their eyes and nostrils.
These snakes include rattlesnakes, cottonmouths, copperheads, and water moccasins. Other types of venomous snakes do not have these pits.
The best way to avoid being bitten by a snake is to leave them alone! Snakes want nothing more than to be left alone so that they can go about their business of eating rodents and other small animals without having to worry about humans disturbing them.
Are there anti-venom treatments?
Copperheads, like all pit vipers, are venomous. There is an anti-venom available for copperheads, but only when a person has been bitten by one of these snakes and goes on to develop severe symptoms. It’s important to note that there have not been many documented cases of fatal bites from copperheads.
Most snake bites do not result in envenomation (i.e., they don’t inject any poison). Most of these cases occur when someone is handling or trying to catch a snake.
If you get bit, seek medical attention immediately! If you’re bitten by a non-venomous snake (like a garter snake), no treatment will be necessary.
How To Identify A Copperhead Snake?
Copperheads are pit vipers with a very distinctive pattern of yellow, hourglass-shaped crossbands. These bands can be found on either side of a dark center line that runs down their backs. In addition, these snakes have a clearly defined ridge between each band, which is also found on either side of their bodies.
When an adult snake becomes agitated or disturbed in any way, they tend to coil up and display a white underside as well as two rows of cream-colored blotches running down its bellies that look almost like eyelashes.
It’s important to note that copperheads will never have a solid black coloration; even when they’re newborns, it’s easy to tell them apart from other species by simply looking at their patterns.
As juveniles, copperheads will usually grow to around 18 inches long before reaching adulthood; however, some specimens may reach over 3 feet in length!
Should you be worried if you see one?
Copperheads are native snakes of North America. The scientific name of copperheads is Agkistrodon contortrix and they are found throughout the eastern US. They are one of three venomous snakes in North America and they can be identified by the hourglass markings on top of their heads and also have a copper-red coloring.
Copperheads get their name from their propensity to reside in rocky outcroppings where they camouflage themselves. If you live in an area that has copperheads, it’s important to know how to identify them and what to do if you encounter one. Here’s everything you need to know about these venomous creatures.
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