Spring season in Florida comes with a lot of excitement; everyone wants to go outside to enjoy the warm weather. But so do snakes. There are 45 native snake species seen in Florida. Of these, only six are venomous. The venomous species include eastern diamondback rattlesnake, timber rattlesnake, pygmy rattlesnake, copperhead, cottonmouth, and the coral snake. Of all the venomous species, copperheads and timber rattlesnakes have the most limited range in Florida. The other four venomous species are found throughout the state.
Copperheads have been associated with the highest number of snake bites in the United States. In this article, you’ll find out everything you need to know about this dangerous species including where they live and how often they bite.
Copperheads in Florida
The average size of an adult copperhead is 22-36 inches (56-91 cm) in total length, with males being larger than females. Copperheads have a broad, sharp-looking head tinged with a few copper to tan color markings. The body of the copperhead has a light tan, brown, or reddish-brown coloration with darker brown and tan blotches that are thin at the top, giving a triangular shape. Their color pattern blends perfectly amongst leafy litter and debris, serving as camouflage. Newborn copperheads look similar to adults, except their tail tip is bright sulfur yellow.
How Common are Copperheads in Florida?
While copperheads aren’t necessarily found everywhere in Florida, they occur only in the Panhandle of Florida, primarily along the Apalachicola River and its tributaries. There are verified records of copperheads from the herpetology collection at the Florida Museum from Escambia, Calhoun, Gadsden, Gulf, Liberty, Jackson, Santa Rosa, Leon, and Okaloosa counties. The copperhead’s range may extend to nearby areas, but there are no confirmed records from other Florida counties.
The copperhead snake is a pit viper species that only occupies a small part of the northern panhandle of Florida, where its range expands vastly through the eastern United States. Compared to the six venomous snakes found in Florida, the copperhead and canebrake rattlesnake are less widespread.
Where Do Copperhead Snakes Live in Florida?
The copperhead’s preferred habitats in Florida are mostly low-lying wet areas around streams, swamps, damp ravines, and river bottoms. This species is usually found in upland pine and hardwood forests with abundant leaf litter. They often use large logs and piles of debris and rocks as shelters. Occasionally, you can find copperheads in suburban neighborhoods where development encroaches into favorable habitats.
How Often Do Copperheads Bite?
Copperheads are a dangerous species known to be responsible for more snake bites than any other snake in the US, though of all six venomous species in Florida, the copperhead’s venom is the least toxic. Although copperhead snake bites are extremely painful, they are usually not life-threatening for a healthy adult or medium-sized to large pets. The danger increases for children, older people, someone in poor health, and small pets.
As with a venomous snake, a bite from a copperhead should be considered a medical emergency. Victims should seek immediate medical attention from a physician or a hospital experienced in treating snake bites. Contrary to what you may think, copperheads are not aggressive and like to be left alone, avoiding direct contact with people. Most copperhead bites occur when the snakes are intentionally molested or accidentally stepped on.
When are Copperheads Most Active in Florida?
Copperheads are most active from April to October in Florida. As temperature rises during these months, there’s a spike in the number of reported snake bites in the state.
The breeding season for copperheads occurs in the spring, from February to early May, shortly after they leave their winter dens. Copperheads sometimes nest with other snake species during brumation (hibernation). They are nocturnal during the summer heat and actively prefer to hunt for prey during the cooler evening. Cicadas are a favorite snack for copperheads, especially when they wake from their winter sleep to hunt for prey. The rise of cicadas during spring might cause people in Florida to encounter copperheads more often than they would expect –because these cicada lovers are hungry and ready to feast.
Copperhead Defensive Behavior
Copperhead snakes rely heavily on excellent camouflage and nocturnal habits to avoid detection. They are always well camouflaged for defense and almost impossible to see among leaf litter and debris. When frightened, these snakes exhibit defensive behavior. They like to remain motionless and expand their ribs, so their bodies appear flattened against the ground. If further provoked, copperheads may release foul-smelling musk from glands within the base of their tail and quickly vibrate their tail tip to produce a buzzing sound. Though the buzzing sound is similar to rattlesnakes’, they should not be mistaken for rattlesnakes. For copperheads, striking is only done as a last resort to defend themselves.
How Do You Keep Copperhead Snakes Away?
Even though it’s tempting to attempt to kill any snake your way, doing that is most likely not the best option. Most snakes only pass through and do not set out to hurt anybody if they are not disturbed. Attempting to kill or pick up a snake is how most snake bites and attacks happen.
The most effective way to keep snakes out of your house or neighborhood is to make the area uninhabitable for them. You can keep your lawn mowed as short as possible, trimming all tree branches, hedges, and bushes and removing any low-hanging growth. It would help if you kept your eyes and ears open for cicada season in Florida because that is the best time for copperheads to come out to snack.
Cottonmouth vs. Copperhead
Cottonmouths are often mistaken for copperheads due to their similar physical appearances. Juvenile cottonmouths, especially, have similar colors and patterns to copperheads. To distinguish these two snake species, look for the dark crossbands on their bodies. The dark crossbands on the body of copperheads have no dark spots or at most only one, whereas juvenile cottonmouths have numerous dark spots and speckles. Adult Florida cottonmouths are usually uniformly dark with barely noticeable patterns. Also, In copperheads, note the lack of a dark facial band masking the eye like in the cottonmouth.
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