What is a Copperhead Snake?

Nick Doniger

Copperhead snakes are among the most prominent reptiles in North America and are considered pests since these snakes are both poisonous and often infest residential properties. Copperhead snakes are usually found in heavily wooded areas and retreat to dens during hibernation and birthing, and belong to the family Crotalidae. Crotalids, or pit vipers, are named for the small pits between the eyes and nostrils. These facial recesses sense heat to aid in location of prey. Mating and birthing takes place at various times of the year.

Both the copperhead and moccasin are of the Agkistrodon genus.
Both the copperhead and moccasin are of the Agkistrodon genus.

Copperhead snakes are named as such due to the copper coloring on the side of the head. These snakes have an overall brownish color with dark bands across the body, though younger copperheads tend to be grayish in color with yellowish tails. A copperhead snake's coloration blends well with dead leaves on the forest floor, allowing the snakes a strong camouflaging advantage. An adult copperhead snake is generally between 20 inches (50 centimetres) and 40 inches (101 centimetres) long.

Low blood pressure may occur as a result of a copperhead snake bite.
Low blood pressure may occur as a result of a copperhead snake bite.

Most copperhead snakes are found along the eastern border in the United States. They are, however, found all over North America, including the deep south and Mexico. These reptiles can often be found in residential gardens, under decks, and in cars, giving them a reputation as an unwanted, threatening pest.

In the United States, approximately 37% of all reported venomous snake bites in 2001 were administered by copperhead snakes. Swelling, low blood pressure, and extreme pain often result from such a bite. Fatality is rare among humans, though small animals may die from copperhead venom. Medical attention, however, is still required for humans upon being bitten. A copperhead snake is generally not inclined to administer a venomous bite unless it perceives an immediate lethal threat from a potential predator.

The copperhead snake is fairly adaptable to various types of ecosystems, but prefers the deciduous forest. On occasion, copperheads can be found in swamps, wetlands, and even pine forests. Copperhead snakes prefer to live in wooded areas near water sources, as this is where prey is most likely to be spotted. Prey includes rodents, frogs, other reptiles, insects, and even small birds.

From October to February or early March, the copperhead snake hibernates in its underground den, which receives exposure to southern or eastern sun. These dens are frequently returned to by the snakes for years. Baby copperheads are birthed at dens as well.

The copperhead mating period takes place in either autumn or spring. Birthing generally takes place between late summer and early autumn. Approximately ten to 12 baby snakes are produced per litter, and these babies are independent from the parent snakes right from birth. Baby snakes are birthed alive, rather than hatched from eggs as many types of snakes are.

While extremely painful, a bite from a copperhead snake is generally not considered fatal to humans.
While extremely painful, a bite from a copperhead snake is generally not considered fatal to humans.

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Discussion Comments


Have you heard that copperheads smell like cucumbers and this is a good means of identifying them? This is true sometimes. A copperhead snake will release an odor similar to the smell of cucumber when it feels threatened. Other than in those situations, they smell like other snakes, I guess.


@Laotionne - A healthy adult with a healthy immune system most likely is not going to die from a copperhead snake bite. When you read that a copperhead is not deadly, the writing is referring to the fact that the venom of this snake is not as potent as the venom of other snakes.

A person who dies from a copperhead bite will do so in most cases because of an allergic reaction or because of other health issues that were made worse or highlighted by the injection of venom. Of course, whether you die directly from the strength of the venom or indirectly from an allergic reaction or organ failure, you are still dead.

I would have to say that any snake bite has the potential to be deadly, so you should take all precautions and seek treatment if you are bitten by one. And since the copperhead is venomous, you should be more concerned about them than non-venomous snakes.


I have always heard that copperheads are deadly snakes. However, according to copperhead snake information I read recently, copperhead snakes are not deadly. I am getting confused.

This article says that copperhead bites are rarely fatal to humans, so that tells me some people do die. So how concerned should I be about these snakes and their bites?

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