Copperhead

Agkistrodon contortrix

The Copperhead is Northern Virginia's only venomous snake, although the Timber Rattlesnake can be found nearby in the Blue Ridge Mountains, and the Cottonmouth lives south of Richmond, in the swamps.

The Copperhead can be identified by its triangular shaped head and vertical pupils (the black part of its eyeball goes up and down instead of left to right).

Copperheads can grow over four feet long. They have patterns of brown crossbands over a body which can be copper, orange, or pinkish-brown.

The top of the Copperhead's head is unmarked. It has a pit on each side of its face, which is used to help it detect bodyheat from prey.

Young Copperheads have a yellow-tipped tail. They use this as a lure to attract small animals, such as frogs.

Copperheads are usually found in wooded areas among rocks, or at the edges of streams or ponds. They are good swimmers. This snake can be seen during the day during Spring or Fall, but in Summer they are mostly nocturnal. Copperheads hibernate in the winter.

Copyright, John White, California Academy of Sciences

Copperheads are live-bearers, meaning their young are born alive. Their mothers do not care for them. Even young Copperheads have venom.

Copperheads can live up to about 18 years. The females grow larger than the males. Males will sometimes fight when they meet.

Copperheads are predators, eating mostly small mammals. Their diet also includes: frogs, toads, salamanders, beetles, cicadas, grasshoppers, caterpillars, other insects, small birds, lizards, smaller snakes, and sometimes larger mammals.

Adult Copperheads usually ambush their prey.

Copyright, Herpetology Collection, University of Michigan Museum of Zoology, Photographer: RWV

Copyright, Wolfgang Wuster

If the prey is small, the snake will swallow it fairly quickly. If the prey is large, the Copperhead will strike, injecting venom. It will then back off and wait. After a short time, the snake will track down its prey and eat it.

The Copperhead's predators include owls, hawks, opossums, and raccoons.

Copperheads den with other Copperheads in the winter, as well as with Black Rat Snakes. They usually return to the same den every year.

Copyright, Mike Pingleton

Copyright, John White, California Academy of Sciences

Relationships in Nature:

PREY
PREDATORS
SHELTER
OTHER

Meadow Vole

Great Horned Owl

Bracken Fern

Black Rat Snake

Eastern Gray Squirrel

Barred Owl

Poison Ivy

Muskrat SP

Least Shrew

Red-tailed Hawk

Virginia Creeper

Great Crested Flycatcher SP

Five-lined Skink

Virginia Opossum

Common Cattail

Woodchuck SP

Bullfrog

Red Fox

Yellow Pond Lily

Northern Water Snake

Spring Peeper

Common Snapping Turtle

Common Duckweed

Wood Frog

Northern Ringneck Snake

Common Elderberry

Patent-leather Beetle

Cinnamon Fern

Dogday Harvestfly

Red-backed Salamander

Eastern Cottontail

Red-winged Blackbird

American Toad

Field Cricket

American Robin

Muskrat

Northern Ringneck Snake

Painted Lady

American Goldfinch

Eastern Worm Snake

Relationship to Humans:

Copperheads are not aggressive snakes and would rather leave humans alone; however, if threatened they will bite. Copperhead venom is dangerous, but rarely causes death. Some symptoms of a Copperhead bite may include: pain, swelling, weakness, breathing difficulty, nausea, vomitting, fever, or unconsciousness. Most people who are bitten either stepped on a Copperhead that was well-camouflaged, or were messing with it.

Copperheads are very helpful to people as they control rodent populations.

SCIENTIFIC CLASSIFICATION

KINGDOM
Animal
PHYLUM
Chordate
CLASS
Reptile
ORDER
Squamata
FAMILY
Viperidae
GENUS
Agkistrodon
SPECIES
Agkistrodon contortrix

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