|Common Name:||Northern Copperhead|
|Scientific Name:||Agkistrodon contortrix mokasen|
|Genus:||Agkistrodon is derived from the Greek word ancistron which means "fishhook". This is in reference to recurved fangs.|
|Species:||contortrix is from the Latin word contortus which means "twisted" or "intricate" in reference to the dorsal pattern.|
|Subspecies:||mokasen is the Native American Algonquian word meaning "moccasin".|
|Vernacular Names:||Dumb rattlesnake, red adder, red eye, red snake, white oak snake, deaf snake, beech-leaf snake, chuck head, copper adder, copper-bell, deaf adder, hazel head, popular leaf snake, thunder snake, harlequin snake.|
|Average Length:||24-36 in. (61-90 cm)|
|Virginia Record Length:||48 in. (121.9 cm)|
|Record length:||53 in. (134.6 cm)|
PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION: The length of this species is 24-36 inches and the color is coppery-red on the head with an hourglass pattern. There are dark rounded spots at the sides of belly and the scales are weakly keeled *882*. The dorsum of the body and tail are pinkish tan to dark brown and almost black, with hourglass shaped crossbands colored chestnut to dark brown; most dorsal scales are sprinkled with black flecks; head is triangular and the labial region of chin and the venter are cream colored; the neck is narrow and the dorsum of the head is flat *10760*. Adult males are generally larger than females; Juveniles have the same color patterns as the adults, except the tip of the tail is a sulfur yellow and lack the black flecking of the adults *10760*. There is some regional differences in body color and pattern throughout Virginia *10760*. At least seven melanistic individuals have been documented. The record length is 53 inches. The longevity record for this species is 9 years, 5 months *11523*.
REPRODUCTION: This species mates in April or May *1008*. Fall mating has also been recorded in September *11523,11499*. 1-17 young are born from mid-August to early October *1101*, occasionally as early as July *1008*. The young are 8-9 3/4 inches at birth *882*. The young have a yellow tail tip, and a narrow dark line through the eye that divides the dark head from the pale lips *882*. Sexual activity is rarely observed, and they are probably nocturnal and under cover. Mating often occurs when individuals congregate along hibernation ledges in the spring and fall *2066,949,10760*. Hibernation is from November to April *2066,1008*, in crevices in rock outcroppings, with a preference for a southern exposure *2066*. They will often hibernate in the company of other snakes *882*. Most of the birthing occurs from late August to early October; litter sizes range from 3-15 in Virginia *10760*.
BEHAVIOR: This species is normally sluggish, and they rely on camouflage to escape detection *1013*. They are gregarious *882* and largely nocturnal *2067*. They may vibrate the tail rapidly when alarmed *882*. The summer cover is under logs, rocks, piles of rubbish, in stone walls and cracks in foundations *949,10760*. The home range for males average 27.4 acres, and for females 8.5 acres. In autumn, after birth of the young, at least 5 individuals may be found per acre of favorable habitat *2066*. Studies have shown that six or seven adult copperheads per acre can be found when conditions are optimal *11523,11500*. They may wander into brush, grassland or weedy fields *2066*. The alert pose is a coiled body, with the head at a 45 degree angle; vibrates tail when disturbed; generally remains alert and motionless to hide itself; usually docile when caught but will strike if aggravated; give off a pungent odor when very warm; males sometimes engage in combat before the mating period; during mating one observation found them to coil around each other and look at each other and occasionally unwrap one coil length and then recoil with the heads always about 4in. apart *10760*.
AQUATIC/TERRESTRIAL ASSOCIATIONS: This species is associated with Microtus pennsylvanicus, Peromycus leucopus, Blarina brevicauda, Quercus alba, Quercus rubra, Kalmia latifolia *2066*. Black racers (Coluber constrictor) and red-tailed hawks (Buteo jamaicensis) are known to prey on this species *11523*.
References for Life History
Northern Copperheads have dark colored crossbands that are for the most part shaped like an hourglass.
Usually some of the crossbands are broken and do not connect.
The northern copperhead is a pit-viper, as are all three of Virginia's venomous snake species (northern copperhead, eastern cottonmouth and timber rattlesnake). The "pit" in pit-viper refers to the heating sensing pit located between the eye and the nostrils on the snake's head. In addition to the heat sensing pit all three venomous snakes in Virginia have vertical pupils. All harmless snakes in Virginia have round pupils and lack the heat sensing pits. Another characteristic of all Virginia's venomous snakes is the single row of scales on the underside of the tail after the anal plate (vent). While close inspection of a snake's face and/or it's anal plate is a definitive way to distinguish a venomous snake from a harmless species, it requires one to get dangerously close to a potentially dangerous animal. It is far better to learn the pattern and coloration of a few snakes so that a specimen may be identified from a safe distance. Copperheads play a pivotal role in controlling rodent populations. Without copperheads and other rodent eating snakes there would be a drastic increase in crop/food damage and rodent spread diseases. While Copperheads are venomous they are very placid snakes that only bite if stepped on or otherwise threatened. If you see a copperhead, leave it alone and rest assured it will do its best to avoid you.
|Venomous Northern Copperhead||Harmless Eastern Ratsnake|
|Both the northern copperhead and eastern ratsnake are found state wide in Virginia.|
|The hourglass pattern on the copperhead's back starts on the side of the snake.||The blotch pattern of the eastern ratsnake do not extend to the sides.|
Like the eastern ratsnake, black racers are also born with a blotched pattern. However, unlike the eastern rat snake that may retain the juvenile pattern for several years, the pattern of the black racer usually fades to a uniformed black within the first two years of life. Juvenile black racers usually do not seek winter refuge in human occupied dwellings. Black racers are usually one of the first snakes to become active when spring arrives.
|Venomous Northern Copperhead||Harmless Northern Black Racer|
|Both the northern copperhead and northern black racer are found state wide in Virginia.|
|Venomous Northern Copperhead||Harmless Northern Water Snake|
|Both the northern copperhead and northern watersnake are found state wide in Virginia.|
|Venomous Northern Copperhead||Harmless Eastern Milksnake|
|Both the northern copperhead and eastern milksnake are found state wide in Virginia.|
_____________________________________________________________________________________________Eastern hognose snakes are the great actors of the snake world. In an effort to ward off predators these snakes will puff-up, hiss loudly, spread their neck and strike with the mouth closed. If all else fails the hognose snake will roll over and play dead. Found state wide the pattern and coloration of these snake can vary greatly. Eastern hognose snakes prefer sandy soil and primarily feed on toads.
|Venomous Northern Copperhead||Harmless Eastern Hognose Snake|
Both the northern copperhead and eastern milksnake are found state wide in Virginia.
The pattern of the eastern hognose snake can vary greatly and thus isn't a reliable identifying characteristic.
|>Venomous Northern Copperhead||Harmless Corn Snake|
|Venomous Northern Copperhead||Harmless Mole Kingsnake|
*Click on a thumbnail for a larger version.
|Arlington County||Arlington Co. - Neonates with yellow tail tips||Fairfax County||Page County||Patrick County||Prince William County|
|Head Features||Pulaski Co.||Douthat State Park||Bedford County||Washington County||An atypically colored/patterned copperhead from Russell County|
all photos © Deborah Splendorio
A description of copperhead male combat given by Joseph Ackroyd from his 1947 observation from Winchester, Frederick County:
"Possibly two-thirds of the anterior portions of the snakes' bodies were entwined vertically with the exception of a portion of the neck. The heads were opposite each other and were held horizontally, three or four inches apart. They seemed to gaze hypnotically at each other and there was a slight swaying movement between them. About one turn of coil was wound and unwound, first in a clockwise and then in a counterclockwise direction. At no time did the distance between the heads change during the rhythmic movements, and at no time did the snakes progress along the ground. It seemed as if the posterior ends were definitely "anchored."
On three distinct occasions one of the snakes broke the rhythm of the dance by darting its head rapidly at the other. The visibility was not good but I imagined the movement to be a caress, with contact made somewhere in the region of the chin of the other snake. What most amazed me was their utter disregard for me. I watched them from a distance of about three feet, engulfed them in the rays of the light for minutes, and yet the dance continued. From the time I first saw them until they were prodded with a stick and moved off into the underbrush, approximately twenty minutes elapsed."