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Copperhead Snake Care Sheet

Scientific Facts

Common Name Copperhead snake, chunk head, dry-land moccasin,
narrow-banded copperhead, highland moccasin,
northern copperhead, poplar leaf, pilot snake,
red snake, white oak snake, red oak, southeastern copperhead,
American copperhead, southern copperhead
Scientific Name Agkistrodon contortrix  
Captive Lifespan12 to 20 years
Size2 – 3 feet on an average. Typically reaches 2½ feet in length;
rarely, it can reach slightly more than 4 1/3 feet
Mass½ to ¾  of a pound
HabitatMeadows, talus slopes, pastureland,
mixed woodlands, among rocks,
and along watercourses (ponds, lakes)
Country of Origin North America

Physical Description

Image Source

Copperhead snakes possess a heavy, thick, muscular body, with a distinct coppery-russet or coppery-orange head. They lack a well-defined eye stripe. The color patterns consist of a ground color that is typically pale tan to salmon pinkish. The ground color turns darker towards the copperhead snake’s foreline and is overlaid with crossbands.

The characteristic crossbands of copperhead snakes are darker towards the edges, ranging from light tan-pinkish-pale brown in the center. The crossbands do not extend towards the ventral scales.

A major characteristic of Agkistrodon contortrix’s color motifs is that both the crossband pattern, as well as the ground color are rather pale in this particular subspecies of the Viperidae family, unlike in other subspecies, namely A. c. Laticinctus, A. c. mokasen, A. c. phaeogaster, and A. c. pictigaster.

Usually, the crossbands alternate on either side of the coppehead’s body, divided at the midline. Some individuals may have more half bands than complete bands.

Next, to the belly, a series of dark brown spots are noticeable, the darkest and the largest of which are located in the spaces right between the crossbands.

A copperhead snake’s belly is the same color as the ground color, however, it may be a bit whitish in part, too.

One to three (commonly two) brown crossbands are found at the base of the tail, followed by a distinctly gray zone.

The pattern of the tail, featuring 7-9 quite visible crossbands, with the tip of the tail yellow in color, is typically more distinct in juvenile copperhead snakes than in adults.

The crown on the copperhead snake’s head zone is unmarked, with the exception of only a pair of small, dark sport, located near each parietal scale’s midline. A postocular stripe can be also spotted, although it is quite faint, bordered below by a brown, narrow edge, and diffusing above.

With a head that is colored in solid, rich brown, and is very distinct from the rest of the body, the temperature-sensitive pit organs are present between the nostril and the eye, right below the midline.

When clad in the nuances of the fallen leaves during the autumn season, copperhead snakes are almost invisible, masterfully coiled on the forest floor as they sit in quiet ambush.

Adult copperhead snakes can grow to a traditional length, including the tail, of 50–95 cm. Males are typically larger than females. Even though some specimen may exceed 3.3 ft. in length, this happens rarely and is considered exceptional for these species.

Types

Getting the well-fitting name from their distinctly copper-red heads, it is not uncommon for other snakes to be referred to as copperhead snakes. Even though radiated rat snakes, Australian copperheads, water moccasins (aka cottonmouths), and sharp-nosed pit vipers are generally called copperheads, it is crucial to note that these species are different from the Agkistrodon contortrix (North American copperhead).

Other nonvenomous snake species that have similar coloring to that of copperheads are also frequently confused for real copperhead snakes.

However, copperheads are effortless to recognize because of being the only type of snakes with markings that come in hourglass-like shapes.

Like other snakes such as water moccasins and rattlesnakes, copperhead snakes are pit vipers. Pit vipers are known for possessing specific heat-sensory pits located on each side of the head between nostril and eye.

It is thanks to these heat-sensory pits how the different types of copperhead snakes can detect the differences in temperature. Once these differences are detected, copperheads can strike the source of the heat, which in most cases is their potential prey.

There are five subspecies of copperhead snakes in total, and they are distributed based on geographic range, namely the northern, the southern, the northwestern, and two southwestern subspecies.

Natural Habitat & Lifespan

The maximum longevity of copperhead snakes kept in captivity is 29.8 years, but typically averages between 12 and 20 years. In the wild, the life expectancy of copperhead snakes is lower than those kept in captivity, usually ranging from 15 to 18 years.

Northern copperheads can be found in a variety of terrains along the U.S. east coast, ranging from Georgia to Massachusetts, and from Alabama to Illinois. They particularly like rocky outcroppings but can be also found in marshes, forests, wooded slopes, ravines, and coastal areas.

Housing/Caging

A single copperhead snake or a pair of copperhead snakes can be kept in a suitable terrarium, with a capacity of 30 to 50 gallon.

You can choose to add live plants to enhance the vivarium’s naturalistic appearance and aesthetics, but also because of practical reasons, as plants aid in taking best care of a copperhead snake’s nitrogen waste, while further providing shelter and comfort.

Do make sure you only choose plants that are completely safe and non-toxic, though, and mind that live plants must be chosen based on your terrarium’s heating, temperature, lighting, as well as husbandry requirements.

Although it is not a must, it is great to consider adding a hide box as copperhead snakes are truly fond of seeking cover. For instance, you can use a small rock cave or a log placed on its side, thus, allowing for your pet to enjoy laying in ambush.

Usually, copperhead snakes spend most of their time relatively in the open. However, as they regularly seek shelter, a hide box is quite essential for enhancing their well-being.

As a rule of thumb, provided food is frequently placed at the very entrance of their hide box spot, copperheads can become quite food “aggressive.”

With newborn copperheads reaching only about are 0.17 meters (0.55 feet), they can be housed successfully if kept in something as seemingly small as a 6QT tub. For a more natural feel, you can make use of heat-treated leaves, sticks, and/or rocks collected from the outside or readily-available at stores.

Since adult copperheads average 2.5– 3.5 feet ( 0.7 – 1 meter), a cage with the dimension of 4 x 2 x 1.6 feet (1.2 x 0.6 x 0.5 meters) can work great for housing a pair of adult copperhead snakes.

It is imperative not to allow fecal material to sit in the cage, as the snake can easily crawl through it. Doing so can result in skin infections. Skin infections can often lead to other health issues.

Before servicing, always remove the snake from the cage. Chlorhexidine solutions are suitable cleaning products.

Substrate

Being burrowing snakes, the most natural substrate for copperheads consists of dry fallen maple or oak leaves. Folded newspaper, aspen shavings, cypress shavings, several layers of paper towels, or pelleted newspapers can also work as excellent substrates.

Copperhead snakes can be maintained on a wide range of substrates successfully, including aspen shavings/chips bedding and mulch. Terrariums featuring live plants and natural soil also make a wonderful choice.

As Copperheads are real camouflage masters, the best way to witness and admire their natural behavior is to set them up with sticks, rocks, plants, and soil, allowing for their inquisitiveness to shine. Then again, hiding areas, such as a plastic hide box or small, hollow logs placed strategically should be provided to ensure a copperhead’s comfort and well-being.

Temperature, Lighting, and Humidity

It is highly recommended to maintain a natural light pattern mimicking the normal daytime light pattern.

Copperhead snakes are not too pretentious when it comes to temperature gradient. However, it is crucial to keep the temperature at well-controlled rates, ranging from 29-32 °C (85-90 °F) on the warm side to about 24-27 °C (75-80 °F) on the cool side.

You can use a basking lamp to provide daytime illumination, making sure not to exceed a hot spot of 92 to 95 °F (33 Celsius – 35 Celsius) vs. a low-temperature nighttime spot that does not drop below 60+ °F (15.5 Celsius).

Although copperhead snakes do not require specific humidity rates to be maintained at all times, it is crucial to add humidity in the case your pet is to have shedding issues.

Also, it is important for copperheads to have a dry place to rest, as this helps them to keep their scales dry by preventing them from having direct contact with moisture constantly.

Diet

Juvenile copperhead snakes should be fed with freshly born pinky mice, their meals divided into appropriately sized weekly portions.

With newborn copperheads, feeding can be difficult at the start, as they tend not to want to eat mice immediately. Because of this, you need to establish a suitable starter feeding routine. You can begin by offering your baby copperhead snake frozen-thawed rodent.

However, if your baby copperhead does not show any interest in taking the frozen-thawed rodent, you should offer a live rodent. In the case this approach also fails, offer your baby pet copperhead snake scented frozen-thawed rodent (frog typically works best).

Ultimately, if none of the methods described above succeeds, you can try offering different food altogether, such as for instance, a small frog.

As a last resort, you can try feeding a baby copperhead through assist feeding methods, making use of a small tube. Once you have secured the snake, you can slide down the pinkie mouse, so that when the copperhead gets into defense mode, it will automatically bite the mouse, and then simply swallow it on its own.

One of the most suitable scenting items that copperheads adore is tree frogs. You can make best use of a frozen-thawed tree frog by slicing its midsection open, and then rubbing the mouse on the tree frog’s insides.

For the purpose of maintaining healthy body weight, adult copperhead snakes should be fed with an adult mouse either on a weekly or on a biweekly basis.

Since copperheads typically grow very fast, it is essential to feed larger meals respectively.

It is best to stick to feeding your copperhead snake pet with captive-born mice and a controlled food source in general as to avoid parasites.

Eating Habits

In the wild, copperheads feed on mice, lizards, small birds, insects, amphibians, and small snakes, swallowing their prey whole.

Being typical representatives of carnivores, copperheads are also renowned as ambush hunters. Prior to swallowing they prey, they subdue it with venom and then use their flexibly hinged jaws for the purpose of swallowing their meal.

Typically, copperhead snakes allow for the venom to work, and then they track down their prey and feed once it has already died. When it comes to smaller prey, copperheads often tend to keep the victim in their mouths until it dies.

When kept as a pet, a copperhead snake usually remains active all winter long, provided temperatures are maintained on the warm side. It is not uncommon for copperhead pets to choose to skip on a meal during the cold winter months.

Sleeping Habits

In the wild, copperheads can be frequently seen during the day in the spring and fall season. This is the time of the year when they are most active, even though they are primarily nocturnal creatures.

Active copperheads are easy to spot on warm, humid nights, and especially shortly after a rain. Despite their nocturnal characteristics, they can be also spotted during the daytime, moving around or basking in the sun.

In the mountains, copperheads sometimes get into hibernation with timber rattlesnakes.

Water

You need to make sure your copperhead snake pet has easy access to a relatively large water bowl at all times. The bowl should be big enough to allow the copperhead to drink, as well as to soak. It is best to opt for a bowl made out of natural materials, such as rock or clay.

Apart from ensuring constant access to freshwater, you also need to keep the water container alike clean and fresh at all times.

Development and Reproduction

The mating season for copperhead snakes is during the spring, as well as during the fall, giving birth to between 3 –18 young snakes either during the late summer or respectively during the early fall.

Baby copperhead snakes are typically paler in color than adult copperhead snakes. However, patterning is quite the same, regardless of the snakes’ stage of development.

In the wild, while the mating season is at its peak from February – May and from late August – October, male copperheads engage in dramatic affairs, some of which are ritual combats.

Copperhead snakes’ mating ritual combats are also wittily referred to as body-shoving contests, occurring when two or more males meet in the presence of a female. If a male copperhead snake is to lose, it rarely challenges again.

Female copperheads will always reject male copperheads if the latter is to back down from a fight. Since copperhead snakes are ovoviviparous, their eggs are incubated inside the female’s body, and then babies are born live.

Young copperhead snakes typically  8 to 10 inches (20 to 25 cm) in length. They are born with venom and fangs, ready to eat different types of insects, such as caterpillars, from an early age.

Young copperheads tend to exhibit different hunting patterns than adult copperheads. Using their yellow-tipped tails, young copperheads may sit motionless, except for their flicking tails, which is a hunting tactic known as “caudal luring.” As the tale resembles a small insect itself, it is used by the young snakes to attract a frog or a lizard, among other possible preys.

A contortrix is known to breed in late summer, but this does not happen every year. It is sometimes the case that females will produce offspring for several years running, and then they will stop breeding at all for an unknown period.

The lifecycle and reproduction of copperhead snakes can be categorized into 3 main stages.

Stage 1 – Eggs

After a successful mating is brought to an end, the female copperhead snake would oviduct-store the sperms for about 30 – 60 days (1 – 2 months).

Afterwards, the female is to produce large eggs. The fertilized eggs are laid under rocks or in other suitable shallow holes.

The outer layer of the eggs is much like soft leather rather than hard covering. Females are to guard and look after their eggs until they hatch.

Each of the live young typically reaches about 20 cm (7.9 in) in length.

Stage 2 – Juvenile

It is not uncommon for various types of snake species, including copperheads, to warm the eggs by twitching their muscles. This is done in order for the hatching process to be speeded up.

After biting the egg cover, the juvenile copperhead snake comes out of the egg. It is from the egg yolk how the snakes obtain all its nutrition prior to birth.

Stage 3 – Adult

It takes about 2 – 4 years for juvenile copperhead snakes to fully mature.

The frequency of molting per year is one of the major features that distinguish juveniles from adults. In quite some contrast to an adult copperhead snake, which usually sheds its skin only once a year (two times per year at the most), a juvenile is to shed its skin about 4 times annually.

How to Breed Copperhead Snakes

For those who intend to breed copperhead snakes, it is important to note that they will probably require an average of 3 months (90 days) dormancy period.

Typically, northern copperheads are to give birth to an average of 17 young in a single annual clutch, although the biennial clutch is also possible. Neonates reach about 9 inches in length.

The gestation of copperheads lasts between three – nine months, with the total time spent in gestation being dependent on whether the snake is to undergo hibernation prior to giving birth or not.

Young copperheads reach sexual maturity after they turn four years old.

Handling

As with humans, the temperament of copperhead snakes can greatly differ from one individual to another. For instance, some are quite defensive while others are quite placid.

Even though copperhead snakes do not belong to the most toxic category of native to North America pitvipers, it is best to avoid any issues associated with bites from happening. Copperheads’ bites are painful and serious, and they require you to seek immediate medical attention.

As a rule of thumb, copperhead snakes are not aggressive animals. They will rarely ever bite because of mere aggression. However, in the case they feel threatened, they are not afraid to bite, as this is their natural defensive mechanism.

Handling a copperhead snake must be approached with diligence and caution. ALWAYS remove a copperhead from its terrarium/cage before cleansing or other servicing practices. Also, don’t forget to use proper handling tools, such as hooks/sticks.

Any time when the cage is open, copperheads are to switch into a food “aggressive” mood, as they are ready for the prey to present itself. Because of this, you need to be extra careful during feeding and avoid any possible handling.

How to Prevent and/or Address Possible Health Issues

1) Shedding

Typically, copperheads shed successfully with facing no issues at all. However, you do need to make sure to keep the humidity level higher than the usual rates during the shedding period.

In the case, shedding issues occur, you can give your copperhead snake a small box equipped with moist moss. Doing so will allow the snake to crawl into to loosen the shed easily.

2) Potential Health Problems

Copperhead snakes are very hardy, resilient species. Provided you keep a copperhead snake properly, it will rarely ever encounter any health issues throughout its lifespan.

Firstly, you want to make sure the cage is kept clean at all times.  

Secondly, give a copperhead snake constant access to fresh, clean water.

Thirdly, maintain the needed temperature gradients.

Fourthly, ensure that the snake has a dry place to sit and/or hide.

Last but not least, only feed copperheads food from reliable sources to avoid parasitic/microbial attacks.

If you are to follow these simple rules, your copperhead snake pet should grow and develop easily as a happy, healthy animal.

Possible Dangers to Humans: Copperhead Snake Bite Protocol

For every venomous species that you may intend to keep as a pet, including but not limited to copperhead snakes, it is highly recommendable to have a bite protocol handy.

A dedicated bite protocol will include important information about the species’ venom, as well as signs and symptoms of envenomation if you accidentally get bitten.

In the case you get bitten by a copperhead snake, it is imperative to immediately contact people who specialize in snakebites.

Copperheads are known to have bitten more people in most years than any other U.S. snake species. But on the bright side, their venom is not very potent, so a timely visit to medical rooms should solve any possible issues. Do NOT attempt to suck out the venom before qualified medical help is provided to you by the professionals.

Mind that unlike most venomous snake species, copperheads give no warning signs before they strike. The strike is almost an immediate one, and it so occurs if they are to feel threatened.

Because of the venom of copperheads being hemotoxic, it often leads to temporary issue damage, effortless to spot in the immediate area of the bite because of the frequently accompanying swelling/redness.

Ultimately, despite the bite being commonly painful, it is rare to almost never lethal to humans. However, minors, as well as elderly people, may exhibit stronger reactions to the venom because of their still immature or compromised immune system. In any case, medical attention must be sought as soon as possible.

Availability: Where to Get a Pet Copperhead Snake from?

In most states, it is legal to catch and keep copperhead snakes as pets, and this rule applies to most of other venomous types of snakes, as well. However, it is only legal to do so provided you have a permit.

Wild-caught varieties can be adopted as pets but captive-bred snakes remain the superior choice. Not only do captive-bred copperheads have beautiful color morphs and patterns, but they are also parasite-free and in great health.

Getting your copperhead snake pet from an authorized online or offline pet store, reptile exhibit or expo, and/or directly from selected breeders will allow you to get further details regarding the history, age, and lineage of the snakes, which is crucial for your pet’s future development and well-being.

Fun Facts about Copperhead Snakes

  1. During the breeding season, A. contortrix males are known to have longer tongue tine lengths than females. It is believed that this intriguing phenomenon aids in males’ chemoreception when searching for females.
  2. Unlike insects, in which molting has much to do with ensuring the growth of the organism, copperhead snakes’ skin renewal does not really have a significant role in their growth, although it does have a significant role in their healthy development.
  3. Despite being responsible for the most snakebite attacks in the United States, copperheads’ bites do rarely ever result in fatality.
  4. Contrary to many other viper snake species, copperhead snakes do not attempt to make a fast getaway in cases when they sense danger. Instead, copperheads freeze in their tracks, patiently waiting until the danger has passed.
  5. The brown, rust, tan coloring of copperheads is probably the major reason why these species are to “blame” for the most bites in the U.S. since they are very difficult to spot when lying peacefully on leaves and/or soil, in their characteristic motionless behavior. Because of this, it is important to always look before you step in hiking areas where copperhead snakes are common to live.
  6. Unusually for most snakes, copperheads are diurnal in the fall, as well as in the spring, but are to become nocturnal during the summer season.
  7. Interestingly, you could potentially inbreed copperheads and cottonmouths, as both species share very similar characteristics. The result of such breeding are hybrids, known as “copper mouth” or “cotton heads.”
  8. According to the American Museum of Natural History, a particular chemical in copperhead snakes’ venom may be helpful in inhibiting the growth of cancerous tumor cells.
  9. The length of a copperhead snake’s fangs is closely related to the length of the snake. The longer the snake grows, the longer the fangs grow.
  10. In certain occasions when touched, copperheads are known to emit a specific musk that smells just like cucumbers.
  11. Copperheads tend to be more social than some other snakes, as copperheads are known to sometimes hibernate in packs. What’s more, copperhead snakes do often allow other breeds to share their dens.
  12. Northern copperheads are known to brumate, which is a process that is very similar to hibernation. However, it does involves different metabolic processes than hibernation. As copperhead snakes brumate, they can be mostly asleep yet still fully capable of engaging in occasional activities.
  13. In late September 2018, a rare, two-headed copperhead snake was found in Virginia. This is not the only case of a two-headed snake being discovered, as there are other two-headed snakes, apart from the copperhead snake found in Virginia. Typically, two-headed snakes live for only a few months. However, some of them have been reported to not only live a full life but to even get reproduced, with their offspring resulting in normal, one-headed snakes.

How to Take Care of a Copperhead Snake

The first step in taking care of a pet copperhead snake is to prepare its habitat. After carefully and thoroughly cleansing the terrarium/cage from any possible impurities, it is time to add a suitable substrate.

Next, you need to set up the lighting system and check if the temperature and humidity rates are kept in norm before transferring the copperhead into its captive realm.

Pieces of wood, such as driftwood, are especially suitable for the creation of the much-needed hide box for copperheads, as to mimic their natural habitat and ensure the snake is to feel comfortable. Doing so greatly limits any aggression-related issues. Even though copperheads are not aggressive, unsuitable habitat and/or bad feeding practices can make the animals more irritable than usual.

Rocks will ensure the copperhead has access to a dry place at all times, and will also aid the snake in shedding its skin.

The copperhead snake’s terrarim must be maintained properly following high hygiene standards to ensure the reptile’s, as well as the owner’s health. These mesmerizing animals should be treated with care and respect for their personal space, eating and sleeping habits at all times, and their whimsical beauty is to be admired to the fullest.

FAQ Section

Are Copperhead Snakes Bites Deadly to Dogs and Cats?

Even though most copperhead snake bites do not lead to fatal consequences to humans, they can lead to fatal consequences to cats and dogs alike. If you notice your dog/cat getting bitten by a copperhead snake, or if you are suspicious that it may have been bitten by a copperhead, immediately contact a qualified veterinarian and seek professional help. Do not attempt to suck out the poison prior to receiving qualified help.

Are There Snakes that Look Similar to Copperhead Snakes?

Yes, there are different copperhead snake look-alikes. These include but are not limited to Northern water snake, Corn snake, and Eastern hognose snakes.

What to Do if You Get Bitten by a Copperhead Snake?

If you get bitten by a copperhead snake, immediately seek medical attention. Check out for fang marks and if possible, immediately clean the wound with water and soap but do not put ice on it. Instead, use a tourniquet and do NOT suck out the venom out of the bite. Lie down, try to stand still, and keep the bitten area lower than the heart area before the medical team arrives.

Can a Copperhead Snake Bite Kill You?

Out of an average of 7000 – 8000 people who get bitten by a copperhead snake in the US annually, about a total of five people die. Since the venom of a copperhead snake is the least toxic, its bites are rarely fatal to humans.

How Long Does it Take to Recover from a Copperhead Snake Bite?

Despite a copperhead snake’s envenomation being seldom fatal, all patients experience swelling, pain, and redness in the area of the body where the venom has been transferred following up the bite. Usually, those bitten by a copperhead snake return to their daily rhythm of life within about 2 – 4 weeks. However, although in rare occasions, residual symptoms may last for a year, or even more.

Are Baby Copperhead Snake Bites more Dangerous than Adults Bites?

There is a common misconception that baby and/or juvenile copperhead snakes are more venomous because they are thought not to be able to control the amount of venom they inject, and/or because of their venom possibly being more concentrated as opposed to that of adult copperhead snakes. This is not true. Baby, as well as juvenile copperhead snakes’ bites, are not more dangerous than adults’ bites.

Can a Copperhead Snake Bite You through Jeans/Denim?

Typically, denim clothing provides effective protection against venom injection from a copperhead snake, and it can be a cost-effective means to provide a simple solution to possible bites. However, even though wearing appropriate jeans can reduce the severity of snake bites, it greatly depends on the type of denim, as well as the level of the physical power of the snake, so it is best not to rely 100% on denim protection.

Is a Copperhead Snake Active at Night?

Copperheads can be often spotted during humid, warm summer nights, and especially shortly after rain. Typically, they are solitary (the mating season is an exception) and can be seen during the day in the spring and fall season. It is in the summer when copperhead snakes become primarily nocturnal.

Where Does a Copperhead Snake Hide?

Copperhead snakes tend to use tree stumps, logs, abandoned animal warrens, tree stumps, and piles of sawdust as a den. When resting in the fallen leaves, a copperhead snake may be also into ambush, waiting for its prey, perfectly hidden in the camouflage of its unique coloration. For copperheads raised in captivity, a suitable hiding spot greatly contributes to the reptile’s well-being.

Can You Have a Copperhead Snake as a Pet?

Yes, it is possible to keep a copperhead snake as a pet. Unlike copperhead snakes in the wild, those in captivity will usually continue to eat even during the wintertime, since they are kept warm, and in return, active. It is not uncommon for captivated copperhead snakes kept as pets to refuse to miss a meal during the cooler part of the winter months, though.

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