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

Written by Emmanuel Kingsley
Published: May 24, 2022
Image Credit Creeping Things/Shutterstock.com
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Pennsylvania is home to 18 nonvenomous and 3 venomous snake species, totaling 21. One of the state’s most widespread and venomous snakes is the copperhead. Copperheads are solitary animals and stay that way except when they mate. This article takes a look at venomous copperheads in Pennsylvania: where they live and how often they bite.

What Copperheads Are Found In Pennsylvania?

Eastern Copperhead
Pennsylvania is home to only one species of copperhead snake; the eastern copperhead.

Jeff W. Jarrett/Shutterstock.com

There are five known species of copperheads living in North America. Pennsylvania is home to only one species of copperhead snake; the eastern copperhead. Eastern copperheads are commonly found across Northern America.

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Eastern Copperheads

The Copperhead’s scales are keeled, and their eyes have vertical pupils that make them resemble cat’s eyes.
The Copperhead’s scales are keeled, and their eyes have vertical pupils that make them resemble cat’s eyes.

Creeping Things/Shutterstock.com

Eastern copperheads aren’t long snakes. Like all pit vipers, they have heat-sensing pits that help them hunt their prey by detecting infrared waves. The species is known to have thick bodies and ridged or keeled scales

As babies, these snakes exhibit impressive hunting skills. Research suggests that they make use of their brightly-colored tails to hunt. They use their tails to lure or attract unsuspecting amphibians.

Reproduction

Male and female copperheads do not stick to a single partner. Male copperheads seek out the females and are sometimes battled first to prove themselves. Winners are allowed to go on with the mating process. Since snakes hardly recompete after being defeated once, male copperheads rarely compete again if they lose to the females.

If male copperheads are successful, they might produce and coat females with pheromones to make them unattractive to other male copperheads. If female copperheads mate in the fall, they will store their sperm in their bodies until after hibernation.

Feeding

Eastern copperhead hunt using their heat-sensing pits, which have a membrane that can detect or spot infrared radiation in living bodies. This helps them detect the movement and presence of their prey. Eastern copperheads feed on a wide range of animals including small snakes, small birds, insects, lizards, and mice.

How to Identify Copperheads in Pennsylvania

Copperheads are thick pit vipers that measure from 20 to 37 inches and weigh anywhere from 0.3 – 0.8 pounds.

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Copperheads are large snakes that measure from 20 to 37 inches on average and anywhere from 0.3 – 0.8 pounds in weight. They also have thick bodies and ridged or keeled scales. 

One way to distinguish these species from others is by their crossbands which run along their sides. Usually, they are colored deep brown to pinkish-tan.

Where Are Copperheads Found In Pennsylvania?

Eastern copperheads are pretty widespread in the state of Pennsylvania. They are found in every part of the state except the northern third.

What Time Of Year Are Copperheads Most Active in Pennsylvania?

Pennsylvania’s eastern copperheads are most active during warmer weather. They are active during spring and hibernate during winter. Daily, they are more active in the late afternoons and evenings.

How to Get Rid of Copperheads In Your Yard In Pennsylvania

Since copperheads are so widely spread in the state of Pennsylvania, running into them now and then is common. Here are some helpful tips to keep copperheads away from your yard:

  • Plant snake-repelling plants around your home. 
  • Ensure that the vegetation around your home isn’t overgrown. Snakes like to hide in grassy places.
  • Ensure that your surroundings are not littered with piles of rock, debris, or wood. Snakes often hide beneath large rocks and wood.

What To Do If You See A Copperhead in Pennsylvania?

If you spot a copperhead in Pennsylvania, remember to stay calm. Copperheads often freeze at first when they spot humans. Most snakes slither away to avoid being stepped on but copperheads do not. If you spot a copperhead, take the opportunity to get away calmly without startling the snake.

Once you’re away, contact the appropriate authorities if you spotted the snake in your home. Remember not to kill snakes. Like other animals, they are an important part of the ecosystem as they keep several pests in check.

What To Do If You Get Bitten by A Copperhead in Pennsylvania

If you get bitten by a copperhead in Pennsylvania, here are steps to follow:

  • Get as far away from the snake as possible. Your first thought should be about safety.
  • Once you are safely away, contact emergency services immediately.
  • Sit still as movements can help the venom spread.
  • Do not attempt to suck out the venom or cut off the infected parts as you could aggravate your condition.

Copperhead Bites and Venom

Copperhead bites are extremely painful due to their long solenoglyphous fangs. They bite more people than any other snake in the United States each year. Although they are one of the least venomous pit vipers known, their bites are notoriously painful and, over the years, responsible for a few deaths. 

While it is important to note that the mortality rate of their bite is extremely low, it is also important to acknowledge they are not harmless. Pain, dizziness, and swelling, as well as intense nausea, are symptoms of a copperhead bite.

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.

Copperheads have an estimated lethal dose of around 85- 100 mg. However, on average, they yield 26 mg of venom – with a maximum of 85 mg. Consequently, their bites, most times, aren’t fatal. According to Stephen W. Miller, a research scientist, between 2004 and 2018, 1,452 snake bites were reported to the Pennsylvania Poison Control Centers, 847 of which were venomous.

Copperhead Bite and Death Statistics

  • 1 in 500 bites from venomous snakes results in death.
  • About half of all snake bites are dry bites. Dry bites are usually used by snakes as warning bites. A dry bite has no venom injected. About 7,000 people get bitten by venomous snakes in the US each year.

Are Copperhead Snakes Aggressive?

Copperheads are not aggressive snakes. Most of their bites are either dry bites or have low venom yield. They often bite to warn their attackers if they are frightened or stepped on.

Venomous Snakes in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania is home to three species of venomous snakes, which are copperheads, timber rattlesnakes, and eastern massasaugas. Let’s take a look at timber rattlesnakes and eastern massasaugas.

  • Timber Rattlesnake: Timber rattlesnakes are known for their dangerous venom. Their venom contains neurotoxins as well as a host of other toxins.
  • Eastern Massasauga: Eastern massasaugas (Sistrurus catenatus) are venomous rattlesnakes with cytotoxic venom that destroys tissue.

What is the Most Venomous Snake in Pennsylvania?

The timber rattlesnake is the most venomous snake in Pennsylvania. However, the eastern copperhead and eastern massasauga are also deadly.

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The Copperhead’s scales are keeled, and their eyes have vertical pupils that make them resemble cat’s eyes.
The Copperhead’s scales are keeled, and their eyes have vertical pupils that make them resemble cat’s eyes.
Creeping Things/Shutterstock.com
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