Copperhead Snakes

All you every wanted ( and some things you did not) to know about them

Agkistrodon contortrix

 

 

Copperhead snakes are pit vipers or crotalids (family Crotalidae); poisonous snakes that are named for the two heat sensing pits used to locate prey that are positioned between the eyes and the nostrils.

The genus Agkistrodon includes 10 species. Copperheads are one of the 4 species native to North America. Another native North American species is the Cottonmouth or "Water Moccasin". Remaining Agkistrodon subspecies are found in Asia and the Asian islands and include the Himalayan Viper, Okinawan Habu and Siberian Moccasin. The three known Australian Copperhead subspecies, although similarly named, are members of the Elapidae family of snakes and not related.

Their venom is hemolytic; it destroys the red corpuscles of the blood and releases the hemoglobin into the surrounding fluid. The resultant hemorrhaging destroys the snake's normal prey, mostly small mammals

Common names

Copperhead Snake, Chunk Head, Death Adder, Highland Moccasin, Dry-land Moccasin, Narrow-Banded Copperhead, Northern Copperhead, Pilot Snake, Poplar Leaf, Red Oak, Texas Copperhead, Carolina Snake, Red Snake, Southeastern Copperhead, White Oak Snake, American Copperhead, Southern Copperhead, Cantil Cobrizo

Range

Found in the states of Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, Virginia, Illionois, Indiana, Ohio, Iowa, Pennsylvania, Maryland, New Jersey, Delaware, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts.

Also found in Mexico - in Chihuahua and Coahuulia.

 

Habitat

Within its range it occupies a variety of different habitats. In most of its range favoring decidious forest and mixed woodlands. They are often associated with rock outcroppings and ledges, but are also found in low-lying swampy regions. In the southern parts it can also be found in pine forests in. In the dry areas of West Texas and Mexico it is often found around watercourses.

It prefers to live in wooded areas, among rocks, or near streams or ponds because prey are more plentiful in such locations. Favorite hiding places include stone walls, sawdust, garden mulch or compost piles, and and under decaying stumps, in wood piles, under abandoned building debris, and under large flat stones. This snake will be seen basking during the day when weather is cool but not cold. During the heat of summer, it will stay hidden during the day and become active at night.

In October the Copperhead retreats to its underground den to hibernate until late February or early March. Dens are most often in rocky hillsides with southern or eastern exposure to the sun. These "snake dens" will be returned to year after year and may contain a large number of snakes. In late summer through mid-October, between 1 and 14 young are born alive rather than hatched from eggs.

This common snake accounts for the largest number of snake bites in the US every year, thousands of documented cases of people injured every year, and many more pets that are bitten often many of these going unreported.

Copperheads are very common in many districts, Throughout the South Eastern states in particular, North Carolina holds the dubious title of the state with the most snake bite cases each year.

With such high numbers of Copperhead snakes in the places we live in, being the main reason for the great number of injuries.

Small copperhead snakes are notorious for getting "Everywhere" in the garden, in flower beds, in cars, coming up around porches and decks, many being so small they are an invitation to small children and pets to investigate.

Even the smallest baby copperhead is capable of inflicting a painful and dangerous bite

Baby copperhead showing its distinctive yellow tail

The Copperhead comes in several color variations, depending on the location, from bright copper and light through to very dark brown shades.

Copperheads are usually colorful and strikingly patterned snakes. The background color of the back and sides is tan to pinkish. There are darker, chestnut colored bands across the back and sides. Each hour-glass shaped band is of varing width.

Newborn Copperheads are colored and patterned like adults, excepting the last inch of so of the tail which will be a bright, sulfur yellow color.

Virtually all adult still retain the copper color head which gives it its name.

When Adult They are moderately sized snakes, normally reaching 2–4 feet, with thick, heavy bodies.

The coperhead bite is not usually fatal in adults, but very painful and often lasting discomfort is the result.

Parents who have seen their children go through the pain and sufferingt a copperhead bite can cause; it is something nobody would wish to experience again.

Bite symptoms include intense pain, tingling, throbbing, swelling, and severe nausea. Damage can occur to muscle and bone tissue, especially when the bite occurs in the outer extremities such as the hands and feet, areas in which there is not a large muscle mass to absorb the venom.

Injury from a Copperhead bite on a finger.

About 5,000 to 8,000 snakebites are reported in the United States annually out of an estimated 55,000 that occur with a large proportion of these attributed to Copperhead snakes.

As Copperheads coloration and patterning is very effective for camouflage in dead leaves on the forest floor. Copperhead snakes rely upon camouflage and cover for safety. When danger is perceived, Copperheads will usually freeze in place and remain motionless for the threat to pass. This strategy works well in their natural habitat. Unless a person steps on them, grasps them, or otherwise comes very close to them, However, then bite will be readily used as a last defence. An agitated Copperhead will vibrate its tail rapidly. The abundance of Copperheads and their occurrences near human habitations is the reason bites from Copperheads are at the top of venomous snake bite statistics in the eastern US.

 

 

Copperhead snakes can mate in both fall and spring. They are capable of breeding every year, and give birth to live young from late summer to early fall . As few as 3 or as many as 18 young are produced, but the typical litter size is 10-12 young. The young are 8 to 10 inches long at birth and receive no parental care. Up to 60 percent of the females in a population may carry young in a year. Generally, females begin breeding at 3 years old. Several female Copperheads may gather in specific areas prior to giving birth.

Copperhead snakes are gregarious, overwintering in dens with rattlesnakes and black rat snakes.  They sometimes produce a cucumber smell when they are touched or disturbed.

The young are often confused with the much more aggresive and potentially deadly Cottonmouth ( Water Moccasin). The size and coloration being very similar, certainly it is better to err on the side of safety, if you are not absolutelt certain.

To lesen the risk of injury from these snakes, have a clean up around the yard, remove any trash and replace any vegative garden mulch with a gravel mulch which will stop the snakes hiding in it. Be very careful when lifting any old logs or other trash that no snakes are lurking beneath them, A good pair of thick gloves, boots and thick jeans are a good precaution also.

There are many snake repellents on the market , most being a mix of sulpher and other unpleasant chemicals which are supposed to work on the snakes jacobsons organ by which it tastes the air around itself, so you apply large quantities around the yard; when it gets a whiff of these repellents; they are supposed to leave. Unfortunately with copperheads or any other snakes they do not appear to work very well if at all.

There is another snake repellent out there that works on a pulse sent through the ground Snakes actually sense the vibration right throughout their bodies (-not through their heads,) via their spine, this is termed somatic hearing, where the vibration is picked up and transfered along the spinal cords to the ear bone. The snakes percieve a danger zone and leave, it does seem to work very well at clearing out infestations of snakes (any) from their dens and at keeping away virtually all snakes from the areas it covers.

This device does appear to work very well with Copperheads you can find more information about it at stop-snakes.com

 

The Copperhead feeds on cicadas, caterpillars, mice, birds, frogs and lizards.

Small prey animals are injected with venom through the snakes hollow fangs, to immobilse it then the prey is swallowed whole , the toxins in the venom start to break down the tissue of the prey from the inside; the snakes stomach posseses very powerful enzymes that quickly start to break down the tissue of the prey from the outside when it is swalled allowing for a quick and complete digestion.

It is a myth to assume that a snake with a lump in it will not attack or will not eat again for some time, they have been caught many times with several prey animals in varying states of digestion through their system. If you have you have small birds, finches or the like, in an avairy you do not want an adult Copperhead in there with them you could loose many of them in one visit.

What to do if Snake bitten.

Immobilize the bitten area and keep it lower than the heart. Get medical help. . Do not attempt to drive yourself. Most of all try and stay calm to keep from pumping the poison around your system. The main thing is to get to a hospital.

If you suspect that your pet has been bitten by a Copperhead snake, keep the animal calm - carry to the car if possible, and dive to the veterinarian's.

Do not apply ice or try to suck the posion out. Wrap a bandage firmly around the affected limb often more than one bite occurs.

 

 

Copperhead Snakes a beautiful but dangerous creature, be aware they are there where we live.

Do not try to kill them as this how most people get bitten.