Reproduction, Diet, Mating, Shedding Skin & Life-cycle

The copperhead snake (Agkistrodon spp.) got its name because of the copper-like coloration on the dorsal side of its head. The copperhead snake is brown and has alternating cross bands that are light and brownish in different variations.

The size of an adult copperhead is 20 to 40 inches (51-102 cm). The copperhead snake belongs to the viper family.

The Copperheadsnake Fact Cartoon

Myths About the Copperhead Snake

There are some myths about copperhead snakes. One is that black snakes can interbreed with copperheads to make a venomous black snake—the black snake is probably a rat snake.

Another one is that it smells like cucumber—which is generally not true, as they only secrete an odor resembling cucumber when they feel threatened, such as when intruders pass by.

When Copperhead snakes feel threatened, they can secrete a musk that smells like cucumber

The funniest myth about the copperhead snake is that juvenile copperhead snakes are more venomous than adults. Also, copperhead snakes do not hunt in pairs as sometimes is told.

Diet

Both juvenile and adult copperheads feed on a diet of rodents, other reptiles, and amphibians. During their first years, invertebrates are eaten as a protein-rich supplement to the larger animals that may be to difficult to catch for the young snakes. As they grow older, a larger and larger proportion of their diet is rodents.

Copperhead Snake head

May 17, 2013, Folsom Louisiana. Katie almost ran over this copperhead sunning itself on the road. Several birds were surrounding it warning others of its presence.

Copperhead bite pictures submitted by Mark: Fang marks and swollen foot and from Allen: Thumb bite.

                                                             


Questions and answers

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Life-cycle of Copperhead Snakes

Copperhead snakes give live birth

Copperheads are viviparous, meaning that females give live birth rather than laying eggs. Three to ten snakes are born during late summer or early fall. Young snakes measure from 8-10 inches (20-26 cm).

The gestation period is approximately three months. However, sperm can be stored, and snakes are capable of mating in autumn and giving birth in early spring.

Range

The copperhead snake is found in these states: Alabama, Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and West Virginia.

Range of the copperhead snake found in: Alabama, Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and West Virginia

Overwintering

Copperhead snakes overwinter in dens, often together with snakes of other species.

Baby Copperhead snakes have a yellowish or greenish tail

Shedding Skin and Juvenile Appearance

Young copperheads have a yellowish or greenish tip on their tails, and they are grayer than adults.

The copperhead snake replaces its skin one to three times annually. Juvenile copperhead snakes shed their skin more often than adults because of their continuous expansion.

Also, the frequency by which copperhead snakes change skin largely depends on the number of infections or injuries they acquired during the season. This is a self-regulating feedback system—whenever serious infections occur, it replaces its skin.

Mating

Female copperhead snakes reach sexual maturity when they are approximately four years old; males reach maturity around the same age. However, the exact age at which sexual maturity is reached in males remains to be investigated in detail4.

When the snakes emerge from their dens in early winter, they begin to seek out females for mating. The mating season is from February to April, and the duration of the mating act is three to eight hours. The transfer of sperm occurs when the male penetrates the female cloacae with one of it sex organs. Females can store sperm for several months and only mate one male during a season.

Copperhead Venom

The venom from copperheads is cytotoxic, and it functions by destroying cell tissue.

Tactics Against Larger Animals

Copperheads are typical ambushers that, because of their camouflage, can approach prey without revealing their intentions. Young copperheads are even more advanced as they can utilize their uniquely colored invertebrate-looking tail that lures rodents and other animals to think it is an attractive snack.

Luring prey closer

Waiting for the Venom to Take Effect

Letting prey escape to begin with

When they hunt larger prey, they begin the hunt by injecting their venom into the body of the prey. As the venom is not sufficiently strong to kill most animals, they let it escape only to hunt it down shortly afterwards to swallow the now passive prey dead or alive.

News about copperhead snakes

Sep 13, 2012 American scientist have recently discovered that female copperheads are capable of giving birth to baby copperheads without being impregnated by males. The study proved that 2.5% to 5% of all copperheads were the result of so-called parthenogenesis. The finding was published in Biology Letters and the study was led by molecular ecologist Warren Booth from the Entomology Dept. at North Carolina State University (NCSU).

Comments from the FaceBook comment field

Please visit the section: experiences for more help and answers to various discussions from the FB comment field.

Comment from: Selena, California

My mother in law was bitten twice in the foot yesterday in Texas. Is it normal for the leg to turn black all the way to the knee? As we understand no anti venom was administered. Is this normal? I guess the snake was two feet long. I am assuming the snake is young. We are in California and feeling very helpless. Does anyone have any suggestions or advise?

Reply from: Dominic, Texas

It sounds more like your mother in law was hit by a Rattle snake. Copperhead venom is a hemotoxic, just like rattlesnake venom, but acts differently. Copperhead venom tends to induce coagulopathy, which does two things - It both thins the blood, causing uncontrolled bleeding, and clots the red blood cells in an effort to cause a thrombosis (a blood clot). All of this is designed to weaken and immobilize the prey. If there is a large muscle mass to absorb the venom, there usually is not much, if any, necrosis in a Copperhead bite. Rattlesnake venom on the other hand is highly necrotic (it is flesh eating). If your MIL's leg is turning black in that large an area, I would definitely suspect a rattler over a copperhead. Unfortunately for her, the black is akin to gangrene, and is a sign that the flesh is already dead. She may have severe withering and scarring, or need amputation if it's really entrenched. I hope she's got an experienced medical team working with her! Sorry for the bad news. Also, antivenin is usually not given in the case of a Copperhead bite, so maybe I'm wrong and she's just having a particularly bad reaction. Was she treated at a rural hospital, where they see this kind of thing fairly often, or at a metropolitan hospital that might not have as much experience? Did anyone kill and bring the snake to the ER for identification? At two feet, you'd also be looking at an adult copperhead, but a young rattlesnake.

Comment from: Jason, Texas

I live in magnolia, TX, and we have killed 5 in the last 3 days - 9 total in the last month. We have found them all either climbing on our pasture fence or under water troughs. Can someone please tell me what exactly "lime" is? We live on land and have farm animals and two very small children and have been shaken up by how many we have found. Kids aren't able to play outside and worried about if they will start coming in my house. I have read up on them to have more knowledge but still not sure what to do. Any advice would help!

Reply from: Schelle, Texas

Lime is what you dust chickens with to prevent mites rite? I believe lots of farm & ranch people use the product for many things. Moth balls too, do we have snake removal here? Because there might be a breeding place on your property.

Reply from: Susan, Texas

Lime is an absorption agent, it absorbs moisture that is what it is designed for but has many uses but it does not repel snakes it's a wise tell. It can irritate them a little but it usually won't stop them I have tested the theory.

Reply from: Valerie, Texas

CATS!!!! The only answer!!!!!

Comment from: Ruby, California

I tried to kill one tonight in the chicken coop with a flat shovel but I missed and it went through a hole under the foundation of the chicken shed. Now what? This is the second Copperhead I've seen in the same general area. I'd hate for me or even one of the children to get bitten. What about the wasp spray? Would that kill them from a distance? Of course, the chickens would have to be a good distance away I'm guessing?

Reply from: Dona

Leave them alone and they will leave you alone. They are more likely going for the rats and mice you have because of the chicken feed.

Comment by: Lyndsay

I was bitten on Friday evening by what the doctor assumes is a Copperhead. I did not see the snake because it was dark outside. I was bitten on the inside of my left heel. My heel was instantly swollen and red with two fang marks. I went to the hospital and after 5 hrs was given 4 vials of antivenin because my entire left leg became extremely painful all the way up to my stomach. I was then given an additional four vials of antivenin over the next 18 hrs and was put in the ICU. My left leg is still very painful and it's Sunday. When will I begin to feel better? I still am having a hard time walking and my entire leg throbs including the area where I was bitten.

Reply from: Copperhead snake Admin

Hi Lyndsay, Unfortunately, I have bad news. It is common that the pain after a Copperhead bite lasts for 8 days. Since it was necessary to give you antivenin, you can expect that your pain will not go away anytime soon. I'm very interested in knowing how it involves. Would it be possible for you to keep a "diary" about your bite until the pain goes away? Many readers in here would like to know how things turn out.

Reply from: Lyndsay

Also, thank you for the information you gave about when I might start to feel better. I was released from the hospital yesterday (a total of 2 nights there).

Comment by: Ron

Does anyone know the record size for a copperhead in Illinois? I think I got the big one. Yes, the venom is deadly on a 6 pound Chihuahua (dog). Seriously, I could be holding the record? I cannot find any info for IL. I did find the endangered-protected list and copperheads are NOT on list I downloaded. Correction: Chihuahua (Pumpkin- Female Dog) was 4.2 lbs and was dead within 14 hours of being bitten on her hip.

Reply from: Copperhead snake Admin

Hi, is there any chance you have a photo of that snake?

Reply from: Michael

Careful Ron - he could be with the FBI

Comment by: Rich

Spotted and photographed my first copperhead this past Sunday (9/11/11). Blue hills reservation. Quincy Ma.

Reply from: Dawn

size 7 boots please : )

Comment by: Charlene, Oklahoma

I am starting to get concerned as I have killed seven copperhead snakes in the last approx., eight weeks I found them in my in ground pool skimmer, how I got them out was with a very long pair of channel lock pliers about 15 inches long the first four I shot with a shotgun I found the tails but could not find the heads, which worried me as my dogs could have found them and am afraid one of my dogs in particular would eat it, so the last three I found all of them at the same time in the skimmer I got hold of them one at a time with the channel lock pliers held them on an unused garden table in my yard and cut their heads off with a long carving knife there was two about 20-24 inches long and a baby about 5-6 inches long, I am wondering if this might mean I have a den or nest or whatever it is of copperhead snakes in my back yard near the pool as there are some large trees about ten feet from the pool and they are surrounded by leaves I would burn the leaves with my long propane torch that fits to a gas bottle but due to the burn ban in Oklahoma am not able to do so. I understand these snakes hide during the day in trash piles, leaf piles and stacked wood piles all of which I have in my yard it is 11/2 acres in a rural area. I am getting really scared to even let my dogs in the yard or even going out there myself I don't own cowboy or any other kind of leather boot to protect my feet. Anyone have any suggestions we don't have animal control where I live so I cannot call them for help.

Reply from: Copperhead snake Admin

Charlene, Thx. for posting. Copperhead's a rather social animal, and they are often many of them together near their dens or as in your case, a water source. The fact you only found one baby copperhead make me think they are there because of the water. A good idea is to remove things that make the snake come back. Apart from the water, you could try to remove leaves and debris on the ground. Do you have cats? Cats can keep rodents, frogs and other prey away from your ground. Maybe it could help, but I'm not sure of course. Let's see if someone else here would like to give suggestions.

Reply from: Dona

Oh and to the folks who posted they have snaked under their houses... how about putting mice and rat traps out? No mice or roof rats mean no snakes ... no food for them.

Reply from: Copperhead snake Admin

Thanks for the tip Dona. They even reduce the number of non venomous snakes beneath their homes too.

Comment by: Patricia, Kentucky

I had a young copperhead and found her dead...what happened? No wounds found, she was in a protected locked aquarium?

Reply from: Copperhead snake Admin

I'm sorry about that. I think stress, dehydration, and problems with shedding skin. It could have been one of those three causes. It will be difficult to find out I guess.

Reply from: Patricia

the copperhead is t he most mistaken snake due to its color people automatically want to kill any brown snake thinking it's a copperhead because it resembles a garden snake. Leave them alone and they will leave u alone!

Comment from: Paolo, North Carolina

I've seen numerous Copperheads in a park, that I frequent with... they're usually still, & not aggressive, but w/ their desert camouflage, really hard to see sometimes...I wish they would stay in the woods, instead of coming on to the paved path around the park, cause I've nearly stepped on them quite a few of them # creepy

Comment from: Joel, Pennsylvania

I've been told the moth balls (snake away) doesn't work on moccasin type snakes which is the family copperheads are from.

Reply from: Copperhead snake Admin, NC

Hi Joel, Thx. for posting. I definitely can understand why you dislike Copperheads after the experience you have been through. I myself do not believe much in moth balls either. Other here does though.

Comment from: Gail, Maryland

My husband was bitten this past week. We are still trying to find the sucker but have not been successful. Does anyone know of any plant this is a deterrent to snakes? Going to rip up all my plants around the fish pond and replace them. I hear we need to get rid of the ornamental grasses and such. We are spreading snake away and moth ball flakes around the pond area. But will definitely stock up on wasp spray!

Reply from: Cindy, Maryland

We are having problems with copperheads also. When you say use lime, what is that and how do you use it?

Reply from: Copperhead snake Admin, NC

Cindy, thx. for posting. Lime is the name for a number of lime fruits. Some people here are saying that using lime keep snakes away. That may not be true, as most experts say lime have no effect. The same with moth balls. I hope I don't offend anyone saying that lime is likely not to work. Instead, I would consider getting a cat, or several. They will keep small rodents away from you house. When there is less food for the Copperheads, they will gradually decline in numbers too.

Comment from: Ann, North Carolina

Treatment of snake bites is confusing to me. My 41 year old daughter was bitten Wed. night be a small copperhead (we think) on her right instep. Her foot and leg quickly swelled up through her thigh. She was given two vials of antivenom and is having to keep her leg elevated. Today I heard of another adult bitten who received anti-inflammatory, antibiotic and steroid meds and was released after two hours. What gives here?

Reply from: Robin, North Carolina

The antibiotic is probably for cellulites and also the steroids. If the antivenom works and no cell damage were noted there would be no need for antibiotics. Maybe your daughters was caught early enough that they felt the antibiotics would not be necessary.

Comment from: Joel

Hello: I was bitten in 2006; the ER Dr. told me they don't like to give the anti venom (too many bad long term effects on your liver and kidneys). They kept me overnight and took blood about every 1/2 hr. They are checking the coagulation rate if I am not mistaken, as fast as your blood can clot it can thin out. I had cancer surgery the end of May and was back in the hosp. 30 June with blood clots in my lungs, they are having quite a bit of trouble getting my blood to therapeutic levels w/Coumadin. So, I have to give myself injections twice a day. I have been wondering if the copperhead bite is having an effect on that. Does anyone out there know ?

Reply from: Copperhead snake Admin

In general doctors are reluctant to use antivenom as it can damage people’s kidneys.

From: Ron

I got bit on the foot by one last night. Went to the doctor and I was prescribed prednisone a steroid, cepholexon an antibiotic, and hydrocodone a pain killer. Lots of pain in foot, and the swelling continues.

Comment from: Dessa, Texas

I was once bitten twice on the ankle, on the same day. Very, very painful. If you are having problems with snakes, and you come across one, grab wasp spray. Why? It sprays up to 20 feet or so and it will kill the snake. This way you are at a distance and will not come in harm’s way. The snake needs to come in direct contact with the spray. I haven't personally tried this, however it has been stated on some talk shows that this works. They also said that it works great for intruders in your home and to keep by your bed. I do keep wasp spray on hand because I am allergic and being struck twice by a Copperhead I am not taking any chance of being bit again. Also, moth balls may help and you can buy a product at Wal-Mart or Home Depot called Snake Away. When I was bitten we put out the things I just discussed and then closed off all spaces under the house. In your case I would try everything so that you and your family are safe. Trust me it is a terrible thing to go through when you get bit... I was really sick and it is extremely painful.

Reply from: Norma, Oklahoma

We have them under our house in Ok! We have shot 4 so far as they come out at night to eat frogs, etc. Are you sure wasp spray will kill them? I wonder about repelling them if we sprayed under the house? The Ok `Snake Man` said cats would eat the food source & that would help keep them away, guess we`re feeding our cats too much cat food! We had them once before (10 killed) when we had no cats. But now 4 years later with cats, they are back. Also heard a dead snake left lying around would repel them. Any ideas? I have grandchildren. (My next house will NOT have a crawl space under it.)

Reply from: Dessa, Texas

I did some research, Norma, and yes the spray will work according to the articles I just read. It will also blind animals and people if sprayed into the eyes. They have to have an antidote to break down the wasp spray, so next snake you see try it and I would just start spraying it under there but keep it away from your kittens.

Reply from: Robert, Tennessee

Norma Rea Put moth balls under your house. Copperheads hate the smell of camphor because it inhibits their sense of smell.

The big Copperhead Snake Facts Cartoon

References

1. Moski, H. A Large Litter of Copperheads (Agkistrodon contortrix mokeson) Copeia, Vol. 1954(1) pp. 67
2. Missouri Copperheads
3. Ernst, C. & R. Barbour. Snakes of North America (1989)
4. Lavones E.J. et al. Initial Experience With Crotalidae Polyvalent Immune Fab Antivenom in the Treatment of Copperhead Snakebite Toxicology 44(2) pp. 200-206 (2004)

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