What is a Copperhead?

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  • Written By: Sheri Cyprus
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
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  • Last Modified Date: 11 May 2020
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A copperhead is a venomous snake of the species contortrix and the genus Agkistrodon. This genus also includes the cottonmouth, or water moccasin. Copperheads are also called highland moccasins or American copperheads and they are found in the United States from Texas to the East Coast. The copperhead is the most common of the eastern venomous snakes, but its venom is considered comparatively mild as most copperhead bites are fatal to small animals, but not humans. Medical attention should always be sought immediately after a copperhead bite as the bites are usually painful. The type of venom copperheads carry destroys tissue that can cause secondary infection.

The copperhead is of the family Viperidae which means it is a type of pit viper. Pit vipers have a triangular head, folded fangs and a wide body. They find their prey by pits near their eyes and nostrils. Copperheads prey on other snakes as well as insects, mice, birds, frogs and lizards. The copperhead may be found in a wide range of habitats including both forests and suburban areas. They are often found near water and plant life.

The crisscrossing pattern and neutral colors of the copperhead help it hide in many different natural settings such as in leaves or on hillsides. They may be accidentally stepped on and may strike when disturbed. Research has found that copperheads tend to strike without warning unlike many other North American venomous snakes such as the diamondback rattlesnake. When the copperhead strikes as a warning, it may not release much venom. Chances should not be taken, such as trying to kill or capture the copperhead, as the bite could still be very dangerous and painful, especially without immediate medical attention.

A copperhead snake's head is copper in color, but the body color varies from a brownish pink to a rusty tan. Medium to dark reddish brown hourglass-shaped bands crisscross over the body color of a copperhead. Baby copperheads have adult coloring, but also have bright yellow tail tips.

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