By Anders Nielsen, Ph.d.

In the eastern parts of the US, the copperhead snake is the most common venomous snake. The copperhead, which has the Latin name Agkistrodon contortrix, has alternating dark and light colored bands of different widths across most of its body aside from the tip of its tail, which has a very characteristic green or yellow hue. Sometimes it will wriggle its tail to attract potential prey.

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Copperheads can reach lengths of 40 inches (1.05 meter), but the normal size is in the 24 to 36 inch range.

Copperhead snakes eat small animals, such as rodents, cicadas, birds, lizards, amphibians, and all sorts of invertebrates, such as insects. They are nocturnal and primarily forage during the night.

Copperhead snake facts – courtesy of


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Copperhead Snake Bite


Usually Copperheads will not bite. However, if you get too close, it can and will bite you to defend itself. The copperhead was responsible for approximately 37 percent of all venomous snake bites in the U.S. in 2001 (Lavonas E.J. et al., 2004)1, and most bites from the copperhead snake are in the eastern parts of the U.S., where they are more abundant.

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The venom from a copperhead snake bite is toxic, and bites are painful. Medical treatment may not be necessary, but I will recommend visiting a doctor anyway. However, bites are very seldom fatal, and in fact, it is one of the least venomous snakes in the USA. Most people bitten by copperheads do not get antivenin because it is not necessary.

t may, however, cause serious damage to your tissue and leave scars. Also, there is always a risk of catching secondary infection from bacteria in the snake’s mouth.

Therefore, there is no point in trying to handle them unless you have some formal training in doing so, regardless if it bites or not.

Copperheads can strike at a distance of 1/3 to 1/2 of their own bodylength. Copperheads have alternating light and dark bands, as do many other snakes, but the darker bands in the copperhead are unique as they are wide at the bottom of the snake and narrow toward the back. They have heat sensitive pits between their eyes and nostrils that helpthem track down prey.

Aggressive if You Touch

Usually found in rocky areas near water, copperheads prefer rodents but do take frogs and insects when needed. As the guy in the video explains, the venom is not that dangerous, and most people manage without antivenom. Be aware, if you mess with them, they can be rather aggressive.


Copperheads live in many different types of habitats, but they prefer staying close to water and rocky areas. Its density in wooded or suburban areas also indicates that it is a generalist regarding habitat.

When a copperhead is afraid, it lies completely still. Therefore, you may often encounter many dead copperhead snakes on roads, where they are killed due to their habit of freezing.

In nature it is often an advantage to remain motionless and wait for a threat to pass by. Such evolutionary reminiscences are a disadvantage in traffic.

Behavior Prior to a Bite

When the copperhead is disturbed, it will shake its tail to warn intruders. Sometimes it strikes out after trespassers. If its fangs accidentally penetrate skin, it will probably only inject a smaller dose of venom. See it as a warning rather than an attack, but do not agitate it further. It is not aggressive, but it will bite if threatened.

Life Cycle of Copperhead Snakes

Copperhead snakes breed from the end of July to September and give birth to snakes that are 7-9 inches long. They overwinter in dens, where they share a den with rattlesnakes and rat snakes.


1Lavonas et al., (2004) “Initial experience with Crotalidae polyvalent immune Fab (ovine) antivenom in the treatment of copperhead snakebite”, ANNALS OF EMERGENCY MEDICINE 43 (2): pp. 200-206

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