The copperhead snake has an elongated body ending with a broad, triangular head. Across the body their keeled scales are colored light brown, tan or grey with darker bands in an hour glass shape running down the body. The head is colored a uniform brown.
Their coloration helps them to blend in with their environment helping with their ambush predator lifestyle.
A pair of pit organs can be seen in the midline between the eye and nostril. Their eye features a vertical pupil.
Females are typically larger than the males. The tail of a male is typically longer though. Adults measure between 60 and 90cm (2-3ft) long though individuals measuring up to 120cm (4ft) have been recorded. On average they weigh 100-340g (3.5-12oz).
They will strike at their food and then hold it in their mouth while the venom, which they inject using their fangs takes hold of the body.
Most of their food is captured using a sit and wait ambush method. Occasionally they hunt food and this can be found using heat-sensitive pits, vision and the chemoreceptor’s in their tongue.
Wild 18 years
Captive 25 years
— AD —
North America is the native home of the copperhead snake. Here they can be found throughout Mexico and the United States. In the United States they live in the east of the country ranging from New England in the North down to Florida and out west to Nebraska.
Due to their large range they can be found in many habitats. These include forests, floodplains and the edges of swamps.
They seek shelter under rotting wood and may also enter human made habitats such as construction sites and sawdust piles.
Mating takes place from April to May with a second breeding season occurring in some populations where they mate from August to October. Males search for females by detecting the pheromones which they emit in to the air. To detect these they use their tongue. The male has a larger tongue which may assist with this.
If two males meet they will engage in a fierce contest to win mating rights with nearby females. They will raise their bodies and intertwine these before attempting to push one another to the ground. The opponent who can keep their head highest for the longest is deemed the winner.
Females may also attempt to fight males prior to mating and will reject males which do not engage in this fight.
If mating occurs during the later breeding season the females will store the sperm and use this to fertilize their eggs in spring after they have hibernated in winter. As a result of this gestation can differ from three to nine months. While the eggs develop the female will sometimes not eat as the eggs take up so much space in the body.
Following a successful mating the eggs will develop inside the body. They will hatch before the female gives birth or soon after leaving the body.
Between two and fifteen young will be born with the amount depending on the size of the female.
Following the birth the young receive no care from their mother. At birth they have a yellow tail tip which resembles a worm and is used to attract their prey. This turns the same color as the rest of their body by three years old.
Young are born with fangs and venom which is working once they are born.
Sexual maturity is reached at four years old.
Copperhead snakes spend most of their time on the ground but will climb up to a few meters high in a tree.
They undertake a hibernation over winter but may emerge on warm days during this time to bask in the sun. Most hibernate alone but some will enter shared hibernacula with other copperhead snakes along with other species of snakes. After emerging they will bask close to their hibernacula and gradually become more active.
For most of the year they are active by day though they may be more active at dawn or dusk on days where it is warm.
Predators and Threats
Most of the snakes which are preyed upon are young individuals.
Across most of their range the population is considered stable though they are locally threatened in some areas.
Humans lead to declines in their population through habitat loss and degradation.
Research is ongoing as to whether the venom of the copperhead snake may be useful in pharmaceuticals.
They are responsible for the most snakebites in the US each year though most of these are not fatal. This is due to their large range the ability to live in built-up areas. Despite this treatment should always be sought for a snake bite.
There are five recognized subspecies of the copperhead snake.
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By H. Krisp – Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=14585073
Burnie, D., 2011. Animal. 3rd ed. London: DK
Hartsuff, A. 2015. “Agkistrodon contortrix” (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed October 13, 2020 at https://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Agkistrodon_contortrix/
Szalay, J., 2020. Copperhead Snakes: Facts, Bites & Babies. [online] livescience.com. Available at: <https://www.livescience.com/43641-copperhead-snake.html> [Accessed 14 October 2020].
Tn.gov. 2020. Copperhead | State Of Tennessee, Wildlife Resources Agency. [online] Available at: <https://www.tn.gov/twra/wildlife/reptiles/snakes/copperhead.html> [Accessed 14 October 2020].
Frost, D.R., Hammerson, G.A. & Santos-Barrera, G. 2007. Agkistrodon contortrix. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2007: e.T64297A12756101. https://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2007.RLTS.T64297A12756101.en. Downloaded on 13 October 2020.