Copperhead

Agkistrodon contortrix

Last updated: March 7, 2023
Verified by: AZ Animals Staff
© iStock.com/Mark Kostich

Copperheads get their name, unsurprisingly, from their bronze-hued heads.

Copperhead Scientific Classification

Kingdom
Animalia
Phylum
Chordata
Class
Reptilia
Order
Squamata
Family
Viperidae
Genus
Agkistrodon
Scientific Name
Agkistrodon contortrix

Read our Complete Guide to Classification of Animals.

Copperhead Locations

Copperhead Locations

Copperhead Facts

Prey
Insects, lizards, mice, voles, shrews, snakes, small turtles, salamanders, frogs, small birds, baby squirrels, rabbits and opossums, chipmunks, bats, moles, carrion
Fun Fact
Copperheads get their name, unsurprisingly, from their bronze-hued heads.
Litter Size
One to 21
Diet
Carnivore
Common Name
Copperhead, rattlesnake pilot, thunder snake, moccasin, highland or dry-land moccasin

Copperhead Physical Characteristics

Color
  • Tan
  • Dark Brown
  • Pink
  • Light-Brown
Skin Type
Scales
Lifespan
Lifespan of 15 to 29 years

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View all of the Copperhead images!



©A-Z-Animals.com

Key Points

  • The copperhead is a pit viper in the Viperidae family.
  • They are native to the eastern half of North America, but their venom isn’t as dangerous as other pit vipers; it generally only affects the area immediately surrounding the bite.
  • When copperhead venom enters the bloodstream it immediately begins to damage the blood cells.

“The Copperhead is responsible for more snakebites than any other American snake.”

Agkistrodon contortrix is relatively mild-mannered, but it still bites more people than any other venomous snake in America. This snake is so well-camouflaged that it spotting it amid the leaf litter is no easy task. easy for a person in bare feet or flip-flops to step on it inadvertently. Who wouldn’t bite if they were stepped on? Read on for some facts about this beautiful reptile.

Five Amazing Copperhead Facts

Broad Band Copperhead Snake
Copperhead snakes have been known to give birth without the help of a male. This is called parthenogenesis.

©Dennis W Donohue/Shutterstock.com

Here are five amazing facts about Agkistrodon contortrix.

  • It has been known to give birth without the help of a male. This is called parthenogenesis.
  • Young A. contortrix wiggle the tips of their tails to attract prey such as frogs or lizards. The tail mimics a worm.
  • “Copperhead” was the name given to northern Democrats who were against the American Civil War.
  • They hibernate and have been seen hibernating in locations with other snakes such as rattlers and rat snakes.
  • Kingsnakes and opossums seem to be immune to the venom of the copperhead.

Different Types

  • Agkistrodon contortrix phaeogaster
  • Agkistrodon contortrix pictigaster
  • Broad-banded copperhead
  • Northern copperhead

Evolution and Origins

Even newly hatched copperheads are capable of injecting venom with fangs that are completely functional and just as lethal as the venom of an adult copperhead.

©outdoorsman/Shutterstock.com



The snakes of North America and Australia separately developed comparable body shapes that aided them in moving and capturing prey more effectively over millions of years on opposite sides of the world.

The majority of biologists often presume that an organism group’s convergence in body form indicates that they must be biologically similar. Yet, our research reveals that despite many snakes having striking morphological similarities, there is essentially little commonality in their diets.

With that said, over the course of millions of years, the copperhead snake has developed, adjusting to environmental changes and evolving its poisonous bite for both defense and hunting. Before making the nearly 30 million-year migration to North America, the snake’s ancestors probably originated in Asia.

Where To Find the Snake

Snakes That Look Like Copperheads-Corn Snake
A beautiful corn snake in the garden. The name corn snake may have originated from the markings on this snake’s belly, which resemble maize, or Indian corn. They are often mistaken for copperhead snakes.

©Enrique Ramos/Shutterstock.com

A. contortrix is native to the United States. It is found in southern Massachusetts, south to Georgia, west to Texas and northern Mexico, and as far north as Illinois and Ohio. Its wide geographic range means the snake to adapt to a variety of habitats such as open woods and edges of wetlands.

The copperhead also occurs in areas near rivers and rocky outcrops. Its innate adaptability allows it to live in neighborhoods and around homes, which causes unintended interactions.

When it’s time to brumate (reptile version of hibernation) the snake finds a safe place where it can hide for a couple of months until the weather warms. A hollow log, rock crevice, and the crawlspace under a home also work well!

Scientific Name

Snakes That Look Like Copperheads
Snakes That Look Like Copperheads

©Joe McDonald/Shutterstock.com

Agkistrodon contortrix can be interpreted as a “fishhook-toothed snake with twisted bands down its back.” Agkistrodon comes from the Greek ankistro, which means “hooked” and odon, which means “tooth.” Contortrix comes from the Latin contortus, which can mean “twisted,” “complex” or “intricate” and refers to the beautiful hourglass patches on the snake’s back that help in its identification.

There are two species and four subspecies and according to the Integrated Taxonomic Information System. They are:

  • Broad-banded copperhead (Agkistrodon laticinctus) occurs north of San Antonio and into Kansas; its bands are wider across the back than other species.
  • Trans-Pecos copperhead (Agkistrodon laticinctus pictigaster) is found in western Texas and northern Mexico.
  • Southern copperhead (Agkistrodon contortrix contortrix) is found in eastern Texas and eastern Oklahoma and ranges north to Nebraska and east to Illinois, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, Connecticut, and Massachusetts.
  • Northern copperhead (Agkistrodon contortrix mokasen) is found in the southern states and as far north as Massachusetts. It’s also found in the Appalachian Mountains.
  • Osage copperhead (Agkistrodon contortrix phaeogaster), occurs in Missouri, Kansas, and Nebraska

The different copperheads are similar in looks and size but differ in location. Once you know what a copperhead looks like, it doesn’t matter which variety you see — you know it’s a copperhead.

The only southern state where copperheads are rare in Florida; there, you’ll only find a copperhead in the panhandle.

Population and Conservation Status 

A. contortrix is a common snake in its range, and its conservation status is least concern.

Appearance and Description 

Venomous Copperhead Snake ( Agkistrodon contortrix)

©Mark_Kostich/Shutterstock.com

The color patterns on this snake make identification easy. Its ground color is pale brown to pinkish-brown, and it has darker, hourglass-shaped bands down its body. Though other snakes have similar colors, no other snake has a series of hourglass-shaped bands.

Its head, whose color gives the snake its common name, is broad and wedge-shaped, and its neck is slender; this is not a large snake, but it is thick-bodied. Its body ranges from 2 to usually less than 4 feet. The belly is pale and maybe mottled with gray, black, or brown.

The reptile’s scales are keeled, and their eyes have vertical pupils that make them resemble cats’ eyes. The irises of the eyes can be rufous, tan, or orange. Young copperheads are grayer, but the tips of their tails are vivid yellow or greenish-yellow. This helps the little snake attract would-be prey who mistake its tail for a worm.

Pictures

The Copperhead’s scales are keeled, and their eyes have vertical pupils that make them resemble cat’s eyes.
The Copperhead’s scales are keeled, and their eyes have vertical pupils that make them resemble a cat’s eyes.

©Creeping Things/Shutterstock.com

The body of the Copperhead ranges from 2 to usually less than 4 feet, but it is robust.
The body of the Copperhead ranges from 2 to usually less than 4 feet, but it is robust.

©Wildvet/Shutterstock.com

Venom: How Dangerous Are They?

Close-up of venomous Copperhead Snake. Its head, whose color gives the snake its common name, is broad and wedge-shaped.
Close-up of venomous Copperhead Snake. Its head, whose color gives the snake its common name, is broad and wedge-shaped.

©iStock.com/Mark Kostich

Copperhead venom of both species is a hemotoxin, which means it destroys red blood cells. Yet copperheads are not the most dangerous of the pit vipers for at least two reasons. The first is they are not very aggressive, and the second reason is their venom is not very strong. Scientists believe it would take about 100 milligrams of venom to kill a person and few people have died after being bitten by A. contortrix.

A. contortrix is also known for delivering dry bites as a warning. These bites have little or no venom. If venom is injected, the symptoms are excruciating pain, terrible nausea, swelling of the area, and tingling. Muscle and bone can be destroyed if the snake bit the person on their hand or foot.

Behavior and Humans

Copperheads are generally not aggressive and can be described as shy.

©outdoorsman/Shutterstock.com

These snakes are not aggressive and can be described as shy. During the spring and fall, they are active in the daytime, but when the weather gets hot they become nocturnal. If there are warm days in the winter, they might leave their hibernacula to bask in the sun. They can do this on the ground or on a fallen long but have been known to climb as high as 16 feet into a tree to catch the warmth of the sun.

Copperheads freeze in place when they sense would-be predators approaching. Their incredible camouflage makes them nearly impossible to see. They’ll also vibrate their tail if the predator is getting too close. Some believe that noise is meant to resemble the rattling of a rattlesnake, but many snakes exhibit the same behavior — even snakes in Africa that will never see a rattlesnake.

These snakes usually lie in wait for prey to come within striking distance. They bite and envenomate their prey quickly. If it’s small, they’ll simply hold it in their mouth, but if it’s large, they’ll bite and release it, then follow it until it’s subdued.

The breeding seasons for A. contortrix are February to May and then from August to October. Males look for mates by using their forked tongues to pick up the molecules of pheromones. Their tongues are longer than those of females and can be an aid in the identification of the sexes.

Males sometimes fight over females. After he’s conquered his rival he has to court the female, who may not even be interested, and try to fight him herself. If she is interested, she’ll raise her tail. Females can mate with many males, and babies in one litter can have different fathers. The female may not become gravid right away but can store sperm until after hibernation. The older and larger in size she is, the larger her babies and litter.

Depending on a variety of genetic and environmental factors, this includes, species and the presence of natural predators, snake litter sizes can range from 1 to 150.

A. contortrix females breed every one to three years and can have as many as 21 babies at a time, though the average is about six. Gestation is 83 to 150 days. These snakes do not make nests. Indeed, the only snake in the world that makes a proper nest is the king cobra. Instead of a nest, the copperhead gives birth in a location called a parturition site or a rookery.

After the mother snake gives birth, the babies stay with her for a few days and then go off on their own. They are ready to breed themselves when they’re about 3.5 years old. Copperheads have a long lifespan and can live as long as 29 years.

Though it’s true that a copperhead is responsible for most snakebites in America, their bites are rarely fatal and are often dry. The snake is also helpful because it has vermin as part of its diet.

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About the Author

My name is Rebecca and I've been a Professional Freelancer for almost a decade. I write SEO content and graphic design. When I'm not working, I'm obsessing over cats and pet rats.

Copperhead FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

Are copperheads venomous?

They are venomous.

How do copperheads hunt?

As pit vipers and predators, they use heat-seeking pits to track their prey. They also pick up chemicals from their prey with their forked tongues. Usually, adults sit and wait for prey to come close, then strike, kill and swallow them.

Are copperheads aggressive?

These reptiles are not at all aggressive. They seem to bite only when they’re stepped on by accident or harassed.

Where do copperheads live?

They live in lower New England to Georgia and the Florida panhandle. They’re also found in Texas, north into Nebraska and Kansas, and northeast into Illinois. The Trans-Pecos copperhead is also found in northern Mexico.

What do copperheads eat?

A. contortrix is an opportunistic feeder and has a diet of any type of animal it can tackle. These include insects and non-insect invertebrates, birds, and small mammals. it will even eat carrion.

Where do copperheads live?

They live in a variety of habitats that include woods, areas near rivers, wetlands, and even human habitations.

What do you do if you get bit by a copperhead?

You need to seek medical attention immediately if you’ve been bitten by one of these pit vipers.

Are copperheads born live or hatched?

These snakes give live birth.

Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.

Sources
  1. Snakes For Pets, Available here: https://www.snakesforpets.com/how-far-away-can-a-snake-strike/
  2. Wikipedia, Available here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eastern_copperhead
  3. ITIS, Available here: https://www.itis.gov/servlet/SingleRpt/SingleRpt?search_topic=TSN&search_value=174296#null
  4. National Geographic, Available here: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/reptiles/facts/copperhead-snakes
  5. IUCN Red List, Available here: https://www.iucnredlist.org/search?query=Agkistrodon%20contortrix&searchType=species
  6. Live Science, Available here: https://www.livescience.com/43641-copperhead-snake.html
  7. Smithsonian's National Zoo & Conservation Biology Institute, Available here: https://nationalzoo.si.edu/animals/northern-copperhead
  8. Medium, Available here: https://medium.com/natural-world/snake-nests-e74db9aac8d8

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