- Scientific Name
- Agkistrodon contortrix
- All Across Virginia
- Mice, Birds, and Insects
- Copper Color with Dark Hourglass Bands
- Litter Size
- 2 to 12 per Birth
- Life Span
- 13-18 Years
- 2-3 feet
The Copperhead Snakes that Virginia has as its name suggests has a copper-like or gray color with distinctive dark brown hourglass markings. Which gets narrower near the spine with brown dots in-between. This color helps camouflage the copperhead with the fallen leaves, which is another way you can distinguish the copperhead. This snake has a rather thick and heavy body, with a triangular head.
Juvenile copperhead snakes can easily be identified by being grayer, and the tip of their tail is a bright yellow. Which are normally lost around the age of 3 years old.
Copperheads are pit vipers which means they have a heat sensory organ between the eyes and nostrils. They also have a triangular head rather than a rounded head.
The normal length for copperheads is between 24 and 36 inches long. With females generally being larger than the males, however, males tend to have a larger tail. Juvenile copperheads are usually 7-10 inches long.
Myth: Copperhead Musk Smell Like Cucumbers
Copperheads release a defensive musk that does smell like cucumbers to some people. However, many of our snake technicians here never smelt the cucumber smell when handling copperheads. The odor could be mixed with other smells such as leaves, or feces, and is generally described as bad smelling. The smell is heavily subjective, and as such detecting copperheads by smell is a bad way to detect them.
These snakes are nocturnal during the summer due to the heat but are active during the day in the spring and fall.
It is important to note that Copperheads will “freeze” when encountering danger. This means that if you are near, it will be harder to find them as their camouflage is effective when standing still. This is why copperhead bites are the most frequent of the venomous snakes here, as you are more likely to step on them, and finding them is difficult. These snakes generally only bite if touched, so if you are near one, stay away.
These snakes also exhibit tail vibrations like rattlesnakes when threatened. These tail vibrations are the fastest of any non-rattler species in the world.
It is against the law in Virginia to keep any wild snake as a pet.
Copperhead Snake Range and Habitat
Copperheads can be found all throughout Virginia. Copperhead Snakes as a whole can be found across the Southern United States going as far north as Massachusetts and extending down to central Texas. This is due to the forested areas, and the deciduous trees that lose their leaves in the fall, which is their source of camouflage from other predators and prey
Virginia is one of the best places to be for a copperhead. The weather is not too hot, while the winter is just warm enough for perfect hibernation conditions. Copperheads can be in mountainous, forested, and swampy terrains, of which Virginia has loads of. Anywhere where they can hide in, such as bushes, debris, logs, and even construction sites, you can find copperheads present. So even if you live in the suburbs, copperheads can find a home in woodpiles, and shrubs. Copperheads love to bask in the sun, and they love to be in the water, which is why sometimes you can find them in pools.
Copperheads are carnivores. They mostly eat mice, but also small birds, amphibians, other snakes, and insects. Copperheads are essential in keeping Virginia’s rodent population down to manageable levels.
Copperheads attack their prey by ambush. They lie and wait until prey gets near and they strike with their venom. After which they swallow their prey whole
Myth: Releasing Ratsnakes, Racers, or Kingsnakes Keeps Copperhead Snakes Away
Sort of True:
Releasing wild animals to new habitats is illegal in Virginia without a permit. While it is true that other snakes prey on copperheads, their diet does not solely consist of other snakes. Their prey can be rodents and insects as well, and if there is a choice, they would prefer to eat other animals rather than an animal that can fight back.
The ecosystem has a delicate balance, and the introduction of species to combat another has always failed and brought horrible consequences historically. Each species has a place in the ecosystem. The removal of copperheads could see an increase in the rodent population, or instead of having one or two Copperheads you know have a dozen other snakes
Copperhead Snakes Reproduction and Young
Copperhead Snakes mate from February – May and August – October. The male copperheads engage in a mating ritual where they will fight other males in the presence of the female they are wooing. When the male wins sometimes the female joins in the fight. Any male that backs off will be rejected by the female. If mated in the fall, the female can wait and give birth in the spring after hibernation.
Eggs and Young
Copperheads give birth in the late summer or in the fall usually from 2 to 18 babies. They do not lay eggs, so if you find any eggs on your property be at ease that they are not Copperheads. This is because they are ovoviviparous which means that the eggs are hatched in the body of the mother. Young Copperhead Snakes have yellow tips on their tails. These are used to mimic caterpillars to attract lizards and other smaller prey, until they get large enough to hunt larger prey.
Myth: Baby Copperheads Release All Venom in One Bite
Young Copperheads do not release all their venom, and as such are not more dangerous than an adult copperhead. However, they have the same amount of venom as an adult per bite, which means a bit from a juvenile copperhead requires the same amount of attention as an adult bite.
Copperhead Venom and Danger
Copperhead venom rarely leads to death however you must go to the hospital immediately if bit. A Copperhead bite can lead to an allergic reaction and infection, which will lead to death.
Copperhead venom will lead to these symptoms:
- Redness/Swelling around the bite
- Extreme Debilitating Pain
- Nausea and Vomiting
- Getting hard to breathe
- Disturbed Vision
- Increase of Salivation and Perspiration
- Numbness of limbs and face
Pets Bit By Copperhead Snake
A pet bit by a copperhead must be taken to the vet immediately. Like humans, a copperhead bite is rarely fatal to a pet, however there is the risk of infection and allergic reaction, also your pet will be in extreme pain for a while if it goes untreated. Also, do not attempt any first aid, such as tourniquets, ice, or trying to suck out the venom.
If You Have Been Bitten by a Copperhead Snake
- Stay Calm an increased heart-rate will pump your blood faster which will make the venom spread throughout the body faster.
- Take a Photo or Video of the Snake this will lead dispatch to know what snake has bit you which will help get the right antivenin to you. If you can’t write down or make a note of the size, color, and patterns of the snake
- Dial 911. Do Not Drive Yourself to the Hospital Dizziness and passing out is a very common symptom from snake bites.
- Lay or Sit down. Be Comfortable
- Keep Bite Below Heart This will make the venom fight gravity to reach your heart.
- Remove Rings and Watches The swelling from the bite can cause swelling, which can lead to circulatory issues from watches and rings
Myth: Cutting and Sucking Out the Venom Helps Snake Bites
Sucking the venom out of a bite is a futile effort, as by the time that you get to it a lot of the venom would be already spread out. Plus cutting and sucking will lead to an infection, which will make it more likely for the bite to be fatal.
Identifying a Copperhead
With so many Copperheads here in Virginia, people will call any snake with a distinct pattern a Copperhead. Are you unsure if what you have is a Copperhead?
Follow this handy guide, so you won’t get confused!
Good rule of thumb is that copperheads have an hourglass pattern to them. This means that the patterns get wider the closer to the sides and narrower near the spine as shown in this image. Note that not all copperheads will have dots on their back, and that both sides do not always connect.
The coloration of these bands is important to note, as they get noticeably darker on the edges of the bands. This is to help them mimic fallen leaves, which is a good way to recognize them
Copperheads get their name from their color, which is a copper rusty color. They tend to get confused with Water Moccasins another venomous snake here in Virginia. However, Water Moccasins tend to be a very dark brown to mimic wet fallen leaves. Copperheads are always this copper color except the juveniles who tend to be a light gray with sulfur colored tips on their tails.