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Copperhead Info

By Christina Obrecht, January 24, 2008 1:05 PM PST


“Agkistrodon contortrix”



It is unlawful to hunt, take, catch or kill timber rattlesnakes or northern copperheads without obtaining the required annual permit.  This permit authorizes posession of the timber rattlesnake and northern copperhead but does not authorize the posession of the eastern massasauga rattlesnake ( state endangered species).

The copperhead is a venomous pit viper with a broad triangular head, vertically elliptical pupils and a heat sensitive pit between each eye and nostril. The body is pinkish to grayish brown with brown or reddish-brown cross bands that are narrow on the back and widest on the sides. When young, a copperhead has a yellow-tipped tail.


Copperheads are also known as chunk head, death adder, and highland moccasins. Most just refer to them as killers. But if you do not bother them, they will not harm you. Yes, these are found in North America. There are five species that are currently recognized from this family; Northern copperhead, Southern copperhead, Broad-banded copperhead, Osage copperhead, and Trans-pecos copperhead. Copperheads are moderately sized snakes, with adults reaching 2-4 feet, with thick, heavy bodies. The body is more slender, however, compared to most pit vipers. All sub-species have distinctive light and dark brown or greenish banding. As mentioned before, they are found in North America. Where exactly, you might question? Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, Virginia, West Virginia, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Maryland, New Jersey, Delaware, Iowa, New York, Connecticut, and Massachusetts. If you are traveling down pass the southern border, watch out, you may see them in Mexico around Chihuahua, and Coahuila. Pretty wide-spread aren’t they.

Within its range, it occupies a variety of different habitats. In most of North America it favors deciduous forest and mixed woodlands. They are often associated with rock outcroppings and ledges, but are also found in low-lying swampy regions. In the states of the Gulf of Mexico, however, it is also found in coniferous forests. In the Chihuahuan Desert of west Texas and northern Mexico, it occurs in riparian habitats, usually near permanent or semiperminent water and sometimes dry arroyos.

*So what is their behavior like?*

Like all pit vipers, it is an ambush predator: it takes up a promising position and waits for suitable prey to arrive. In the southern United States, they are nocturnal during the hot summer months, but are commonly active during the day during spring and fall. Like most North American viperids, these snakes prefer to avoid humans and, given the opportunity, will leave the area without biting. So if you see one up close, yes it may be in strike mode if you continue to want to get closer, but just walk away. They don’t want to be bothered with us, just like most of us do not want to be bothered by them. Just do not antagonize them, that puts yourself into a bad scenario with the snake, and likewise for the snake. However, unlike other viperids they will often freeze instead of slithering away, and as a result many bites occur from people unknowingly stepping on or near them. This tendency to freeze, likely evolved because of the extreme effectiveness of their camouflage. When lying on dead leaves or red clay, they can be almost impossible to notice. They will frequently stay still even when approached closely, and will generally strike only if physical contact is made. I hope that relieved you a little bit. They mean no harm. Its all started by not being able to “see” them.


Roughly 90% of its diet consists of small rodents, such as mice and voles. Who knows, you might be glad to have one around for pest control.


Although venomous, these

Snakes are generally non-aggressive and bites are almost never fatal. Bite symptoms include: intense pain, tingling, throbbing, swelling, and severe nausia. Damage can occur to mucsle and bone tissue, especially when the bite occurs in the outer extremeties such as the hands and feet, areas in which there is not a large mucsle mass to absorb the venom. Gee in other words, its best to be bit in the butt. A bite from any venomous snake, should be taken very seriously and immediate medical attention sought!! The copperhead’s initial threat display is to strike. It lashes out at an enemy as a warning. If the enemy is close enough, the fangs may penetrate the skin. However, because this is a threat display, not an attempt to kill, the snake injects little venom. A copperhead has no intention of wasting valuable venom if it can scare away the menace with a minor bite. The copperhead’s venom is significantly less potent than that of rattlesnakes or cottonmouths, but also because they seldom inject much venom.


Subspecies: Authority: Common name: Geographic range:

A. c. contortrix

(Linnaeus, 1776)

Southern Copperhead

The United States, in the lower Mississippi Valley and the states bordering the Gulf of Mexico, from eastern Texas and southeastern Oklahoma to southern Illinois. On the South Atlantic Coastal Plain from the Florida panhandle to South Carolina.

A. c. laticinctus

Gloyd & Conant, 1934

Broad-banded copperhead

The United States, from south-central Texas, north through central Oklahoma to the extreme south of Cowley County, Kansas.

A. c. mokasen

Palisot de Beauvois, 1799

Northern copperhead

The United States, in southern Illinois, extreme northeastern Mississippi, northern Alabama, northern Georgia northeast to Massachusetts, the Appalachian Mountain region and associates plateaus.

A. c. phaeogaster

Gloyd, 1969

Osage copperhead

The United States, in eastern Kansas, extreme southeastern Nebraska and a large part of Missouri.

A. c. pictigaster

Gloyd & Conant, 1943

Trans-pecos copperhead

The United States, in western Texas from the vicinity f the Pecos and Devils rivers to the countries of Jeff Davis and Presidio. Mexico, in northern Chihuahua and Coahuila.



The Southern copperhead breeds in late summer, but not every year: sometimes a female will produce young for several years running, then not breed at all for a time. They give birth to live young about 20 cm long: a typical litter is 4-7, but it can be as few as one or as many as 20. Their size apart, the young are similar to the adults, but lighter in color, and with a yellow-marked tip to the tail, which is used to lure lizards and frogs.

So if you ever come across a copperhead, just walk away. Do not get close to it. You can see it from a relatively good distance if you just want to observe it before walking away. They are fascinating snakes, and do not mean to harm us, but like every living thing on this Earth, we all have defensive devices or threats, to try to defend ourselves. Each individual has their own way of displaying defensiveness. Do not kill them; if it is an accident, that is forgivable. But keep in mind, it is illegal to kill them.