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Copperhead

Agkistrodon contortrix

Copperhead snakes are reddish-tan and brown colored with a distinctively broad copper-colored head. (outdoorsman/ShutterStock)
Copperhead snakes are reddish-tan and brown colored with a distinctively broad copper-colored head. (outdoorsman/ShutterStock)

The copperhead snake is one of only a few venomous snakes found in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, although it is rarely lethal to humans.

Appearance:

The copperhead has a broad, unmarked, copper-colored head and a reddish-tan colored body with hourglass-shaped darker marks on its back. Its underside is a pinkish color. Its pupils are elliptical. Adult copperheads can reach about three feet in length. The copperhead is a “pit-viper,” which refers to the heat-sensing pit located on its head between its eye and nostrils.

Habitat:

Lives in a variety of habitats, including woodlands, along streams and creeks, on rocky hills and in fields. Hibernates during the winter in dens with other snakes, some of different species.

Range:

Found across the Chesapeake watershed, excluding New York and the northernmost parts of Pennsylvania. Range extends through the eastern and southern United States.

Feeding:

Copperheads are carnivorous, eating mainly mice but also feeding on birds, snakes, amphibians and insects. Known as ambush predators, they will hide and wait in one spot for suitable prey to approach before attacking. The heat-sensing pit on their face helps in finding prey. Copperheads will inject venom to subdue their prey, making it easier to swallow whole.

Predators:

Owls and hawks are the copperhead’s main predators, but opossums, raccoons and other snakes may also prey on copperheads.

Reproduction and Life Cycle:

Mating occurs in late spring to early summer, and can also occur in the fall. Copperheads are ovoviviparous, making fertilized eggs develop inside the female, nourished by a yolk, and young are born alive. Gestation lasts between three and nine months, depending on whether the snake undergoes hibernation before giving birth. Between two and ten young are in a single brood, depending on the female’s size. Young reach sexual maturity after four years. Copperheads live up to 18 years, on average.

Other Facts:

  • Young copperheads have yellow-tipped tails, which they use to attract small prey.
  • Copperheads bite more people each year than any other snake species in the United States. But although copperheads are venomous, they are typically calm snakes that only bite if stepped on or otherwise threatened. If you see a copperhead, leave it alone! Allow it to continue on its way, undisturbed.
  • Unlike many other viper species, copperheads do not try to make a quick getaway when they sense danger—instead, they freeze in their tracks and wait for the danger to pass. But their brown, tan and rust coloring can make these motionless copperheads difficult to spot when lying on leaves or soil. Always look before you step when hiking in areas where copperheads are common.
  • Like many snakes, copperheads are diurnal in the spring and fall, but become nocturnal during the summer.

Sources and Additional Information:


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