Why the Copperhead Bites More People Than Any Other Snake in the United States

Written by Emmanuel Kingsley
Published: June 2, 2022
Image Credit Wildvet/Shutterstock.com
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Copperheads are venomous pit vipers found in many parts of North America. They grow between 20 to 37 inches in length and weigh no more than 12 ounces, making them perfectly medium-sized snakes. Copperheads get their names from their copper or orange-red heads that are triangularly shaped. They have pale brown to pinkish-brown background skins decorated with hourglass-shaped markings that are copper or reddish-brown.

Copperheads are said to bite more people than any other snake in the United States. But is this true? And if it is, why? This article gives you all the answers to why the copperhead bites more people than any other snake in the United States.

Copperhead Snake Venom

The venom of a copperhead contains hemotoxins which destroy the muscle tissue and cause respiratory problems.

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Copperheads’ venom contains hemotoxins. Hemotoxins destroy the muscle tissue, attack the circulatory system, and cause respiratory problems. In large quantities, it can be extremely fatal. However, the copperhead’s venom is rarely fatal.  Copperheads have a maximum venom yield of 85 mg but only inject about 26mg on average. Since it takes 80 to 100mg of copperhead venom to kill a man, it is easy to see why copperhead bites are rarely fatal. 

Do Copperheads Bite More People Than Any Other Snake?

The Copperhead’s scales are keeled, and their eyes have vertical pupils that make them resemble cat’s eyes.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention(CDC), about 7,000 to 8,000 people are bitten by snakes in the US each year.

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According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention(CDC), about 7,000 to 8,000 people are bitten by snakes in the US each year. Further research shows that about 2,920 of these bites were from copperheads. This makes them responsible for about 39% of all reported bites in the US. No other snake bites so many people in a year, so it is safe to say that copperheads bite more people than any snake in America. But why is this so? Let’s find out.

Why Do Copperheads Bite More People Than Any Other Snake in the USA?

Northern Copperhead (agkistrodon contortrix mokasen) on leaf litter - taken in New Jersey. Its ground color is pale brown to pinkish-brown, and it has darker, hour-glass shaped bands down its body.
When copperheads freeze in an attempt to camouflage into their surroundings, humans fail to spot them and end up getting bitten.

iStock.com/David Kenny

Copperheads bite mainly to warn or fight back against attackers. Most of their bites are warning or dry bites, meaning little to no venom is injected.

When most snakes sense or hear humans nearby, they slither away even before the human arrives. They do this to avoid making contact. However, when copperheads sense humans nearby, they do not slither away. Instead, they freeze in an attempt to camouflage into their surroundings.

The problem is that this works- a little too well. Humans do not spot these creatures and end up stepping on them or near them. This threatens copperheads and naturally, they react by biting.

Copperhead Bite

Copperheads make up for their lack of strong venom with excruciatingly painful bites. Their bites are often accompanied by nausea and swelling.  Copperheads have long solenoglyphous fangs that tear through the skin and inject venom in a similar manner to how hypodermic needles work. Their bites cause damage to the surrounding tissues. The affected skin might turn black and fall off. However, if the bite is treated, the damage is reversible.

How Many People Die From Snake Bites Each Year?

Copperhead deaths occur when victims refuse to seek immediate medical help because they underestimated the snake’s venom. Since only 0.01% of copperhead bites are fatal, we can correctly estimate an average of 1 death every 4 years. This number is, of course, regrettable because getting treatment in time can save the victim’s life.

It is important to remember that although 99.99% of victims survive copperhead bites, the remaining fraction still represents people who never assumed they would be unlucky to fall into that segment. If you’re bitten by a snake, venomous or not, see a doctor immediately. 

The CDC states that an average of 5 people die each year from snake bites. Considering copperhead death statistics (1 in every 4 years), it is safe to say that copperheads are responsible for 1 in 20 deaths caused by snakes.

What To Do If You Come Across A Venomous Copperhead

If you come across a venomous copperhead, leave it alone and respect its boundaries. Snakes, like all animals, are important and play an important role in the ecosystem. Copperheads will not attack unless they feel threatened, so it is important to ensure to avoid actions that can startle them. If you spot a copperhead in your home, calmly exit and contact pest control services.

How To Treat A Copperhead Bite

If you’ve been bitten by a copperhead or any snake, do not attempt to treat yourself. If the snake’s venom reaches the victim’s heart before they can get treated, it usually results in death. Since snake venom is such a dangerous mix of toxins and chemicals, treatment is best handled by professional medical providers.

If you’ve been bitten by copperhead snakes, here are some tips to remember:

  • Stay calm: Walking around, pacing, and movements, in general, will help the venom circulate. You do not want to do that. Instead, keep the bitten area still and below your heart.
  • Contact emergency services: If you’ve been bitten by a snake, contact emergency services. Even if you are fairly certain of your ability to identify nonvenomous snakes and feel that you have been bitten by one, contact emergency services. Even nonvenomous bites can be infected. In addition, misidentification of snakes is common. A lot of snakes such as the coral snake have lookalikes.
  • Try to remember what the snake looked like: Being able to identify the snake you were bitten by will save the doctor’s time. However, if you can’t, don’t sweat it. Modern medicine is advanced enough to enable doctors to figure it out.
  • Use a cool compress to ease swelling: While waiting for medical care, you can use a clean and cool compress to ease the pain and swelling of the bite.
  • Do not attempt to treat yourself: If you’ve been bitten by a snake, attempting to suck the venom out, applying a tourniquet, or cutting off the infected part will only make the situation worse. Do nothing and wait for help.

How you handle a snake bite situation greatly affects the outcome. Once you’ve contacted emergency health services and followed our other tips, stay calm and remember to breathe. 

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