Can You Spot This Camouflaged Copperhead Snake Hiding in Plain Sight?

Written by Gail Baker Nelson
Updated: April 5, 2023
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Key Points

  • Disruptive camouflage is a feature which enables prey animals to blend into their surroundings thanks to colors that would make them stand out anywhere else.
  • When bunched together, a herd of zebras seems to blend into each other making it almost impossible for a predator to be able to tell them apart.
  • Copperheads become virtually invisible when slithering among russet, orange, and brown fall leaves thanks to their own coppery coloring of different shades and patterns.

Animals use all sorts of camouflage techniques to hide in plain sight. The gaboon viper is an excellent example. Its vivid pattern helps break up its body shape in the dense leaf litter of its native habitat, making it nearly invisible until you step on one.

What is Disruptive Camouflage?

Disruptive camouflage is a common sight in nature if you can spot the animals that use it. Animals that use disruptive camouflage are made nearly invisible by patterns and colors that you might think should make them exactly the opposite.

A pattern that looks like fall leaves may look vivid when you hold it against a solid-colored background, yet place it up against those same leaves, and you’ll never see it. For example, you’ll find that zebras bunch together when a predator approaches. Their stripes make it impossible to tell their heads from their tails, and all the animals in the herd blur together. Other examples include zebras, giraffes, reticulated pythons, and copperhead snakes.

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About the Copperhead

Copperhead snakes use the same approach to camouflaging as a gaboon viper or a zebra

A Northern Copperhead (Agkistrodon contortrix mokasen) lying on leaf litter, taken in New Jersey.

©iStock.com/David Kenny

The copperhead snake is a venomous pitviper native to the southern United States. There are two accepted species, the eastern copperhead (Agkistrodon contortrix) and the broad-banded copperhead (Agkistrodon laticinctus). These snakes aren’t as dangerously venomous as their close cousin, the water moccasin (Agkistrodon piscivorus). However, their bite still requires medical attention.

Copperhead snakes use the same approach to camouflaging as a gaboon viper or a zebra. The copperhead’s alternating dark brown/burgundy pattern over a base of light brown serves as camouflage that closely matches the colors and patterns created by the dry leaves where it lives.

While they’re not typically aggressive, their habit of hiding in plain sight makes the copperhead a snake that you must look out for when you’re out in nature.

Can You Spot the Copperhead Snake?

Snakes are inherently difficult to spot in the wild because they can slither silently through tree branches, under the leaves, and even under the ground. Their stealthy nature and excellent camouflage make them easy to miss.

This photo, credited to Jerry Davis of Texas, exemplifies the copperhead’s camouflage. Finding this snake is like finding a needle in a haystack. Can you spot it in the below image?

The snake is almost dead-center in the photo. Do you see it? This particular copperhead species, Agkistrodon contortrix, has a pattern that looks like an hourglass when viewed from above. However, all you can see in the photo is the snake’s side, which shows the lower half of the hourglass. It looks like a curvy line of chocolate kisses with a light-colored center.

Revealing the Copperhead Snake in the Photo

It may take a few minutes to spot the snake in the leaves, which should tell you why experts say you should always hike with a stick. Using it to gently move the leaf litter around before you step helps prevent stepping on a spicy noodle like this copperhead.

Look at the marked-up image below if you haven’t found it yet. Once you see it, you can’t unsee it!

What Other Forms of Camouflage are there?

A harp seal cow and newborn pup, suckling, on ice.

The white coat of the seal pup makes it difficult for predators to be able to spot it on the ice

©Vladimir Melnik/Shutterstock.com

Concealing Coloration: In this case animals simply take on a color which blends into that of their surroundings. An example is the white fur of baby harp seals which not only keeps them warm while they develop blubber but also makes it difficult for predators to spot them.

Unlike coral snakes which have yellow bands against red, milk snakes’ black red bands are followed by black

©Nathan A Shepard/Shutterstock.com

Mimicry: This refers to the art of disguise in nature where a member of one species takes on the appearance of another so as to be able to better evade predators. Batesian mimicry is one such example and involves a species resembling one which is venomous or capable of inflicting harm. The resemblance of milk and kingsnakes to coral snakes can be seen as an example of Batesian mimicry.

What Other Reptiles Are Capable of Camouflage?

Wild Chameleon Reptile With Beautiful Colors

Chameleons are capable of changing their color thanks to the presence of crystals in their skin

©Graphics Illuminate/Shutterstock.com

Chameleons: Scientists have found that these tropical lizards are capable of swapping one color for another depending on their surroundings, do so by means of special crystals in their skin. These crystals reflect varying colors of light depending on their sizes. By compressing these cells or releasing them, the reptiles reflect different wavelengths of light changing their skin color as a result.

chuckwalla-lizard-lying-on-a-rock

By lying on rocks similar to their coloration, lizards can make it difficult for predators to spot them

©Mikhail Blajenov/Shutterstock.com

Aegean wall lizards: Few things are more delightful for these reptiles than lying on a warm rock and soaking in all that sunshine. Except that doing so comes with the risk of a ravenous, winged predator in search of a tasty morsel. These savvy reptiles have worked out how to get that sunshine by selecting rocks closer to their natural coloring. All the better to avoid becoming dinner for a hungry avian.

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The photo featured at the top of this post is © DnDavis/Shutterstock.com

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About the Author

Gail Baker Nelson is a writer at A-Z Animals where she focuses on reptiles and dogs. Gail has been writing for over a decade and uses her experience training her dogs and keeping toads, lizards, and snakes in her work. A resident of Texas, Gail loves working with her three dogs and caring for her cat, and pet ball python.

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