Copperheads in Missouri: Where They Live and How Often They Bite

Written by Emmanuel Kingsley
Published: May 5, 2022
Image Credit Jeff W. Jarrett/Shutterstock.com
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Missouri is home to more than 49 species and subspecies of snakes. It’s safe to say that Missourians are quite used to having snakes as neighbors. One of the most frequently seen species in Missouri is the copperhead. Copperheads are venomous pit vipers as well as the most populous venomous snake in the state. This article takes a look at copperheads in Missouri, where they live, and how often they bite.

Eastern Copperhead

The Copperhead’s scales are keeled, and their eyes have vertical pupils that make them resemble cat’s eyes.
According to the Missouri Department of Conservation the eastern copperhead is the state’s only copperhead species.

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According to the Missouri Department of Conservation, the state of Missouri has only one copperhead species native to it; the eastern copperhead. Copperheads are venomous pit vipers known to bite more people in the USA than any other snake. These pit vipers learn to lure and hunt pretty early in their lives. As young snakes, eastern copperheads have yellow-tipped tails which research suggests they use to lure their prey. Even baby copperheads are dangerous.

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Female copperheads sometimes battle potential mates. They are known to reject mates that lose. Copperheads, like most snakes, hardly compete again after losing once. If the male copperhead successfully mates, he may produce pheromones that make his female mate unattractive to other males. If a female copperhead mates in the fall, she will store the sperm in her body till after hibernation.

Copperheads prefer to avoid humans- although this doesn’t stop them from biting if they feel the need to. However, they are not aggressive snakes. When spotted, copperheads remain entirely still to avoid being seen. They often attempt to escape before biting.

Eastern Copperhead’s Venom

Snakes in Mississippi - Southern Copperhead (Agkistrodon contortrix)
Copperheads have hemolytic venom.

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Copperheads have venom which is hemolytic and works to break down blood cells. Luckily, their bites are hardly ever fatal to humans because they have an estimated lethal dose of around 85- 100 mg but yield 26 mg of venom on average- with a maximum of 85 mg.

These animals are not aggressive, and most of their bites have low venom yield to serve as a warning if they are threatened, frightened, or stepped on. Also, quite a number of their bites are dry bites, meaning they inject absolutely no venom.

Copperheads are generally known to be one of the least-venomous pit vipers. However, their bites are notoriously painful. It is common to experience intense pain, tingling sensations, swelling, throbbing, nausea, and dizziness. In some cases, copperhead bites damage the muscle and bone tissue of their victim.

Where are Eastern Copperheads Found in Missouri?

Eastern Copperhead
Eastern copperheads are found all over the state of Missouri. They are the state’s most commonly seen venomous snake species.

Jeff W. Jarrett/Shutterstock.com

Eastern copperheads are found all over the state of Missouri. It is common to spot them in rocky and wooded hillsides and brushy areas located near creeks. Copperheads are also commonly found near swamps. If you’re going for a walk, avoid checking beneath rocks, rock ledges, and brush piles or you could spot a copperhead.

What Months Are Copperheads Most Active?

Copperheads are most active during early spring and late fall. They hibernate during the winter.

What Are The 6 Venomous Snakes Found in Missouri?

According to the Missouri Department of Conservation, the 6 venomous snakes found in Missouri are timber rattlesnakes, eastern copperheads, northern cottonmouths, eastern massasaugas, western pygmy rattlesnakes, and prairie massasaugas.

  • Northern Cottonmouth: Northern cottonmouth are venomous semi-aquatic snakes.
  • Eastern Massasauga: The eastern massasauga is considered threatened by the US federal government. It is a venomous rattlesnake found in the northern half of the state.
  • Prairie Massasauga: Prairie massasaugas are short and thick rattlesnakes found in north-central and northwestern Missouri.
  • Western Pygmy Rattlesnake: Western pygmy rattlesnakes are small and colorful rattlesnakes that live in counties bordering Arkansas as well as the eastern Missouri Ozarks.
  • Timber rattlesnakes: Timber rattlesnakes are Missouri’s largest and most venomous species found throughout the state.

What Snakes in Missouri Look Like Copperheads?

Since snakes share many features, misidentifications often occur. Sometimes, nonvenomous snakes are mistaken for venomous ones and killed. Here are some snakes in Missouri that look like copperheads and are often mistaken for them.

  • Prairie Kingsnakes: When young or newly hatched, prairie kingsnakes look like and are often mistaken for copperheads. One way to tell them apart is to look for the round or rectangular markings on their backs. Copperheads have hourglass-shaped markings and not round or rectangular ones.
  • Western Fox snake: Western fox snakes are nonvenomous and colubrid snakes. Some specimens of fox snakes have orange heads that may cause them to be misidentified as copperheads. One way to differentiate them is to look out for their bellies which are usually colored yellow and have dark checkered patterns.
  • Northern Cottonmouth: Cottonmouths have superficial patterns that are similar to copperheads’. However, they are more venomous and have yellowish-green tails.

What is the Most Venomous Snake in Missouri?

The timber rattlesnake is the most venomous snake in Missouri. They grow up to 5 feet in length and have toxic venom that is strong enough to kill a person.

Snake Bite Statistics in Missouri

The Missouri Department of Conservation states that approximately 7,000 to 8,000 people are bitten by venomous snakes each year in the United States. In Missouri specifically, venomous snakes — primarily copperheads — bite an average of 100 people annually.  Less than 5 people die each year from snake bites in the United States.

How To Avoid Copperheads in Missouri

The best ways to avoid copperheads in Missouri are staying off bushy paths, avoiding staying out late, and planting snake repelling plants. If you’re taking a walk in Missouri, avoid turning logs of wood and large rocks over.

What To Do If You See a Copperhead in Missouri

Copperheads will usually freeze when spotted in hopes of camouflaging and not being seen. They are not aggressive and will usually escape without biting if they can. If you spot a copperhead in your home, contact pest control services.

What To Do If You Get Bitten by a Copperhead in Missouri

Treat every snakebite as an emergency. If you are bitten by a copperhead in Missouri, get as far away from the snake as calmly as possible and contact emergency services. Remember not to move around too much or run as that can aid the circulation of the snake’s venom.

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