Southern Copperhead (Agkistrodon contortrix contortrix)
- Southern copperheads reach an adult length of 24 to 26 inches (60 to 66 cm). They have a pale brown to light tan body, often with a pinkish tint. Their yellow eyes have elliptical or cat-like pupils. Its body, covered with rough scales, is patterned with dark, hour glass-shaped cross bands, wider at their base and narrow across the back. Copperheads have heat-sensing "pits" located between the eyes and nostrils, hence the name "pit viper".
- Life History
- Copperheads feed on baby cottontails, swamp rabbits, rats, mice, birds, snakes, lizards, baby turtles, frogs, toads, and insects, especially grasshoppers and cicadas. They are preyed on by other snakes and raptors (birds of prey). Males reach sexual maturity within two years, females in three. Mating season is in the spring (February to early May), shortly after leaving winter dens; and fall (August to October) with fertilization delayed until following spring.
Copperheads, like other pit vipers, do not lay eggs. Instead the eggs are kept inside the female's body until the eggs are ready to "hatch." Incubation time is 105 to 110 days. The four to eight young, 7 to 10 inches (17 to 25 cm) long, weigh less than an ounce (28 g) at birth. Although duller in color, they look much like adults with yellowish tail-tips. (Tail-tips fade after third or fourth year.) Females provide no parental care after birth. One animal lived 23 years and 2 months in captivity, but in the wild, the average lifespan is probably 6 to 8 years.
Southern copperheads are diurnal (active during daylight hours) during early spring and late fall, at which time they will generally depend on the ability of their bodies to blend in with their environment to obtain prey and avoid enemies. They are nocturnal during the summer heat, actively hunting for prey during the cooler evening hours. Southern copperheads often eat one single meal every three weeks-even during their most active months. Copperheads sometimes nest with other snake species during hibernation.
Some people believe that the bite of a baby venomous snake is more powerful than that of an adult. Actually, there is no difference in the venom's potency, regardless of the age of the snake. Snake venom's most important function is to kill animals to be eaten. Defense is only a secondary function. Like all vipers, southern copperheads use the "heat seeking pits" behind their eyes to help locate their prey. Lying motionless on a bed of dead leaves, the pale-brown and chestnut-colored southern copperhead is all but invisible-a regular stealth viper! These are venomous snakes, but they are slow-movers, and depending on the season, they often share habitats with their prey.
- Southern copperheads prefer mixed pasture and wooded lowlands, usually within a river bottom, where leaf litter, logs and branches provide places to hide. They are sometimes present in wooded suburbs, adapting to the presence of humans.
- The copperhead is found in the eastern United States to the central and southern states, and in the eastern third of Texas.
- The bite of a copperhead is seldom fatal because of its short fangs (1.2 to 7.2 mm in length) and small amount of venom. Taking some simple safety precautions, however, can keep you from harm. Be careful where you put your hands and feet-don't reach or step until you can see the bottom. Never step over a log without first seeing what is on the other side. If you must move a log, use a long stick or garden tool first to ensure snakes are neither under, on or around these favored habitats. Use a flashlight when moving about at night, even in your home yard. Animal burrows make excellent habitat for snakes-don't reach in without first checking. Wear protective clothing if working in areas where you suspect snakes nearby. Heavy footwear, snake proof trousers and/or leggings will help reduce your risk. Freeze when snakes are known to be nearby until you know where they are. Allow the snake to retreat. If you must move, back slowly and carefully away from the snake.