This pit viper is most easily
identified by its copper-colored head (hence the
name). Its body is reddish-brown in color, with
chestnut brown bands that constrict toward the
midline (looking somewhat like hourglasses).
Adults average 30 inches in
length. Juvenile copperheads are 7 to 10 inches
long at birth, grayer in color than adults, and
have sulfur yellow-tipped tails. Female
copperheads are longer than males, but males have
There are five recognized
subspecies, as outlined below:
The Northern Copperhead (A.c.
mokasen) has a pinkish to gray-brown body,
with dark chestnut bands. Its underside is dark.
The Southern Copperhead (A.c.
contortrix) is paler than the Northern. The
crossbands do not meet at the midline, and the
belly is light in color.
The Broad-banded Copperhead (A.c.
laticinctus) is relatively bright in color,
with a sharp contrast between the pattern and
ground color. The crossbands are very broad at
the midline and always meet. The belly is dark.
The Osage Copperhead (A.c.
phaeogaster) is similar to the Northern,
except that the crossbands are often edged in
The Trans-pecos Copperhead (A.c.
pictigaster) has a belly that is strongly
patterned, and a pale area at the base of each
Copperheads are found from the
Florida panhandle north to Massachusetts and west
to Nebraska. The Northern ranges from northern
Georgia and Alabama north to Massachusetts and
west to Illinois; the Southern, from the Florida
panhandle north to southern Delaware and west to
southeastern Missouri, southeastern Oklahoma and
eastern Texas; the Broad-banded from northern
Oklahoma to south-central Texas; the Osage from
eastern Missouri to eastern Kansas and south to
northeastern Oklahoma; and, the Trans-pecos in
Copperheads live in a wide
variety of habitats, but are most commonly found
in areas with plenty of vegetation and/or debris
in which to hide. They live in forests and forest
edges, mixed woodlands, swampy areas, and even
amongst rock outcroppings and on rocky ledges.
Copperheads usually breed from
February to May, but some also mate between
August and October. Females who breed in the
autumn can store sperm until after emerging from
their winter "hibernation." Males find
receptive females by flicking their tongues to
"taste" for female pheromones. After a
courtship they may take an hour or more, mating
commences. The mating itself may last up to 8½
hours, during which time the male produces a
pheromone that makes the female unattractive to
other males, thereby all but assuring that she
will not mate again until the next breeding
season. Females can give birth each year, but
will often go a few years without mating.
Up to 10 live young are born
after a gestation period of 3 to 9 months. The
mother does not provide any direct care for her
Copperheads become sexually
active at 4 years (both sexes), and have a life
span of about 18 years.
A very social snake,
copperheads are often found close together when
sunning, eating and drinking. They often
overwinter in a communal den, which may also
include other species of snakes. They tend to
return to the same den year after year.
Despite being a terrestrial
snake, a copperhead will climb into a low bush or
tree in search of prey. It also readily takes to
water and is a good swimmer.
Adult copperheads prey
primarily on mice and other rodents, but will
also go after small birds, lizards, small snakes,
amphibians, and insects (especially cicadas).
Young copperheads feed primarily on insects.
Copperheads are ambush
predators, and their coloration allows them to
easily blend into their surroundings. Juveniles
often use their yellowish tails to attract prey,
wiggling them so that they look like small worms.
With large prey, the copperhead
bites and then almost immediately releases the
prey. It then waits until the venom takes effect
before consuming it. Smaller prey is held until
The venom itself causes red
blood cells to break down, and the victim
ultimately dies from hemorrhaging. The venom of a
newborn copperhead is just as toxic as that of an
Danger to Humans
Although a copperhead bite can
be serious for a human, it is rarely fatal. In
fact, unless the victim shows extreme symptoms,
it is usually better to let the symptoms go away
by themselves rather than treat with antivenom,
since the antivenom frequently poses greater
risks than the venom. Like almost every other
snake, a copperhead will generally not strike at
a human unless touched or cornered. Most bites
occur because the individual didn't see the snake
until he/she either stepped on it or otherwise
genus & species Agkistrodon contortrix
Animal Diversity Web http://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Agkistrodon_contortrix/
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