Copperhead Snake Bite: How Deadly Are They?

copperhead vs rattlesnake
© Scott Delony/

Written by Colby Maxwell

Updated: September 28, 2023

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Copperheads are some of the most common snakes across the eastern United States. These venomous snakes are quite beautiful but can also pack quite the punch if you happen to get bit.

There are two copperhead species (more on this below), with the northern copperhead being the most widespread. If you live from Nebraska to the eastern coast, you have likely encountered one of these snakes before!

Today, we are going to explore copperhead snake bites and learn just how deadly they are. By the end, you should know a bit more about the venom of these snakes, plus have some guidance on what to do if you should encounter them.

Let’s get started!

How Dangerous are Copperhead Snake Bites?

Coppherhead Snake Bite: How Deadly Are They?

Copperhead bites are rarely fatal and can be treated with modern antivenom.

©Scott Delony/

Copperheads are some of the more common venomous snakes that can be found in the US. With their venomous nature and wide range, bites are bound to happen. If you get bit, however, just how dangerous are they?

Copperhead Venom

Snakes in Mississippi - Southern Copperhead (Agkistrodon contortrix)

Copperhead venom is hemotoxic and damages the tissue around the injection site.

©Jay Ondreicka/

The venom of a copperhead is known as “hemotoxic”. Hemotoxic venom is characterized by tissue damage, swelling, necrosis, and damage to the circulatory system. While this may seem terrifying, it is all relatively localized.

Although it may be painful, copperhead bites are only mildly dangerous to most people. The venom of a copperhead is actually less dangerous than most pit vipers, and of the 2,920 people bitten annually by copperheads, just .01% result in fatalities. For reference, the eastern diamondback rattlesnake injects up to 1,000 mg per bite and has a 20-40% mortality rate left untreated.

Aggression and defensiveness

While most humans consider all snakes to be “out to get them”, this is actually far from the truth. Most snakes want to avoid humans, especially the copperhead. In fact, most copperheads will give a warning bite to an encroaching human. These warning bites don’t inject venom and are known as a “dry bite,” requiring no antivenom administration.

With the reluctance that copperheads have to bite, the likelihood of receiving a dry bite if they do strike, and the relatively low toxicity of their venom, these snakes are among the least dangerous venomous snakes in the US.

What Do You Do if Bitten by a Copperhead?

Coppherhead Snake Bite: How Deadly Are They?

Copperhead bites are often dry, but emergency services should always be contacted in case of a reaction.

© Kostich

If you happen to see a copperhead, your best option is to leave it alone. They usually try to remain unseen and don’t want interactions with a big, scary human. Still, accidents happen, and most human bites occur when the human doesn’t see the snake and is moving or reaching into the snake’s space.

If you are bitten by a copperhead, the first thing you should do is seek medical attention. Although it is possible that the bite was dry, it is still wise to seek help in the case that a reaction develops. If the wound doesn’t swell or hurt any more than a standard puncture wound, it’s likely that it was dry.

In rare cases, some people may be allergic to copperhead venom. Similar to a bee allergy, these reactions can be fatal, and fast treatment is essential.

After emergency services are called, follow these steps:

  1. note the time of the bite
  2. remove watches and rings (in case of swelling)
  3. wash the area with soap and water
  4. keep the wound lower than the heart
  5. don’t try to “suck out the venom” and don’t apply a tourniquet

In most cases, people bitten by a copperhead are back to normal within 2-4 weeks.

What is the Most Venomous Snake?

The inland or western taipan (Oxyuranus microlepidotus) holds the title of the world’s most venomous snake. This snake, indigenous to Australia, possesses the most lethal venom.

Additionally, the venom of the inland taipan stands as the most potent venom among all land snakes worldwide. To illustrate, it is approximately 50 times more toxic than the venom produced by the Indian cobra.

Furthermore, saw-scaled vipers, in terms of global statistics, may be responsible for the highest number of snakebite-related fatalities. The Indian saw-scaled viper is particularly hazardous due to its diminutive size, envenomating over 75% of its bite victims, and displaying a notably high level of aggression.

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About the Author

Colby is a writer at A-Z Animals primarily covering outdoors, unique animal stories, and science news. Colby has been writing about science news and animals for five years and holds a bachelor's degree from SEU. A resident of NYC, you can find him camping, exploring, and telling everyone about what birds he saw at his local birdfeeder.

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