10 Mind Blowing Copperhead Snake Facts: They’re All True!

Written by Kristen Holder
Published: March 18, 2022
© Breck P. Kent/Shutterstock.com
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Copperhead snakes are venomous carnivores that can grow up to 4 feet long. They’re copper in color, which is where they got their name. They can be found in the southern and eastern United States.

These snakes belong to a group of snakes called pit vipers which means they also have the triangular head associated with that type of snake. They have narrow cat-eye pupils which are also indicative of venomous snakes.

Pit vipers are the most evolved kind of snake, which means they’re the newest to have developed on the planet. Copperhead snakes primarily live in woodlands and forests.

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What are some mind-blowing facts about copperhead snakes? Keep reading to find out!

1. Copperhead Snake Venom May Cure Cancer

In experiments on mice, it was shown that some properties of copperhead snake venom helped to shrink a cancerous tumor associated with ovarian cancer in humans. Another trial found that it may help shrink the size of metastatic breast cancer tumors in mice.

This is promising for the development of better tools to help cure cancer.

2. Copperhead Snakes: The Most Venomous Bites In The USA

Close-up of venomous Copperhead Snake. Its head, whose color gives the snake its common name, is broad and wedge-shaped.
Copperhead snakes often bite, though it is hardly fatal.

©iStock.com/Mark Kostich

These copperhead snakes are responsible for most of the venomous snake bites in the United States. If provoked, they are aggressive, but they don’t look for a fight. However, they won’t hesitate to defend themselves.

Around 3,000 people are bitten by copperhead snakes in a year, though it is hardly fatal. There is an antivenom available, but symptoms resolve without it and it’s not recommended that the antivenom be used except in extreme circumstances. However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t some significant localized symptoms.

3. Eastern Equine Encephalitis And Copperhead Snakes

It’s believed that the eastern equine encephalitis virus might hide out in copperhead snakes over the winter outside of its main radius in Florida. This virus mainly transmits through mosquitos, killing 30% of the people it infects. However, it only infects ten Americans per year.

Mosquitos don’t bite snakes like they do people; they bite through the snake’s eye. Mosquitos can also bite people on their eyeballs, so it’s no surprise they also torment snakes in this way.

The virus takes about 4-10 days to cause symptoms, including a high fever and encephalitis or meningitis. If the patient is part of the unlucky one-third that succumb to their illness, death usually occurs 2 to 10 days after symptoms start, though some die of long-term complications a few years later.

4. Antivenom For Copperhead Snake Bites Can Be Deadly

Antivenom for pit vipers can be deadly. However, it’s useful in recovering the functionality of an injured extremity. Allergic reactions are one of the issues with the antivenom that leads to serious situations.

5. Female Copperhead Snakes: No Male Needed For Reproduction

The Copperhead’s scales are keeled, and their eyes have vertical pupils that make them resemble cat’s eyes.
Female copperheads can reproduce asexually in a process called parthenogenesis.

©Creeping Things/Shutterstock.com

In a process called parthenogenesis, female copperheads can give birth without mating. This usually happens when a female hasn’t encountered a male in a while. The babies generally don’t make it to their birth in quantities produced during sexual reproduction.

Parthenogenesis happens mostly in captivity, though a few studies show it infrequently occurs in the wild.

6. Copperhead Snake Females Have Eggs Hatch Inside Them

Copperhead snakes are viviparous, meaning their eggs hatch inside their body after a gestation period. This gestation period is slightly longer than the average snake’s gestation period. The babies are born alive and completely independent.

7. Opossums And Kingsnakes Are Immune To Copperhead Venom

Opossums will take on copperhead snakes for a meal, and that’s because they’re immune to their venom. Something blocks the snake venom molecules from being able to communicate with their bodies, so they survive even if they’re struck.

Kingsnakes make other snakes a part of their diet about 30% of the time, and copperheads are on the menu. They have enzymes in their body that break venom down.

8. Hibernation: Copperheads Snuggle Up With Other Snakes

Snakes in Mississippi - Southern Copperhead (Agkistrodon contortrix)
Copperhead snakes sometimes hibernate with other kinds of snakes.

©Jay Ondreicka/Shutterstock.com

Sometimes, copperheads are found hibernating in the same burrows or hideouts as rattlesnakes and rat snakes. It’s common for most snake species to hibernate with other kinds of snakes. Staying warm is the focus, not eating each other.

Some copperhead variants don’t hibernate and become nocturnal during the hottest part of the summer.

9. Cicadas Signal Copperheads

The arrival of cicadas at common feeding grounds for copperheads signals the arrival of the copperhead to feed. They’re even seen feeding in groups during this time which is unusual because they’re usually alone unless it’s mating season.

So, the chances of a copperhead being around is higher if there are cicadas. Perhaps this is because the appearance of cicadas corresponds well with the mating season of most overlapping copperhead types.

10. A Copperhead’s Musk Smells Like Cucumbers

When a copperhead is threatened, it emits a musk that smells vaguely like cucumbers, though it’s mixed with feces as well, so the smells are not identical. Some say it smells more like melons.

When snakes emit a musk, it comes out of their cloaca, their waste hole used for feces, urine, reproduction, and musk. This makes it not uncommon for defecation to join the party.

Just because you’re able to smell a snake that’s released some musk doesn’t mean the snake will be able to reach you for an attack. That’s why it’s used as a warning signal.

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What Does a Copperhead Snake Look Like
Trans-Pecos Copperhead, Agkistrodon laticinctus pictigaster, lying on gravel.
© Breck P. Kent/Shutterstock.com

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About the Author

I'm a fact-driven creative with a love of history and an eye for detail. I graduated from the University of California, Riverside in 2009 with a BA in Art History after a STEM-focused high school career. Telling a complex story with real information in a manner that's easy to digest is my talent. When I'm not writing for A-Z Animals, I'm doting on my 3 cats while I watch documentaries and listen to music in Romance languages.

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