Copperhead

Copperhead

Chunk head, Highland moccasin, (dry-land) moccasin, Narrow-banded copperhead, Northern copperhead, Pilot snake, Poplar leaf, Red oak, Red snake, Southeastern copperhead, White oak snake, American copperhead, Southern copperhead, Cantil cobrizo (Spanish)

Kingdom
Phylum
Subphylum
Class
Order
Suborder
Family
Genus
SPECIES
Agkistrodon contortrix
Population size
Unknown
Life Span
15-29 yrs
WEIGHT
120-197 g
LENGTH
50-95 cm

The Copperhead is a large venomous snake native to Eastern North America. The body of this snake is relatively stout and the head is broad and distinct from the neck. The skin is pale tan to pinkish-tan in color and becomes darker towards the foreline, overlaid with a series of 10-18 crossbands. These crossbands are light tan to pinkish-tan to pale brown in the center, but darker towards the edges. A series of dark brown spots are also present on the flanks, next to the belly, and are largest and darkest in the spaces between the crossbands. At the base of the tail are one to three (usually two) brown crossbands followed by a gray area. In juveniles, the pattern on the tail is more distinct: 7-9 crossbands are visible, while the tip is yellow. Males in this species are usually larger than females.

Distribution

Copperheads are found in North America; their range within the United States is in Alabama, Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Northern Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and West Virginia. In Mexico, they occur in Chihuahua and Coahuila. These snakes occupy a variety of different habitats. In most of North America, they favor deciduous forest and mixed woodlands. They are often associated with rock outcroppings and ledges but are also found in low-lying, swampy regions. In the states around the Gulf of Mexico, however, Copperheads are also found in coniferous forest. In the Chihuahuan Desert of West Texas and northern Mexico, they occur in riparian habitats, usually near permanent or semipermanent water and sometimes in dry arroyos (brooks).

Copperhead habitat map

Climate zones

Habits and Lifestyle

Copperheads are highly terrestrial but may also climb trees to gorge on cicadas. These snakes are social and during the winter, they hibernate in dens or limestone crevices, often together with Timber rattlesnakes and Black rat snakes. They also can be found in groups near den sites, while basking in the sun, drinking, eating and during the breeding season. During hot summer months, Copperheads are active during the night but in the spring and fall, they become diurnal. Like all pit vipers, Copperheads are generally ambush predators; they take up a promising position and wait for suitable prey to arrive. However, when hunting insects, Copperheads actively pursue their prey. Juveniles use a brightly colored tail to attract frogs and perhaps lizards; this behavior is called caudal luring. These snakes prefer to avoid humans and leave the area without biting. However, they often "freeze" instead of slithering away, and as a result, many bites occur due to people unknowingly stepping on or near them. This tendency to freeze most likely evolved because of the extreme effectiveness of their camouflage. When lying on dead leaves or red clay, they can be almost impossible to notice. They frequently stay still even when approached closely, and generally strike only if physical contact is made. Like most other New World vipers, Copperheads exhibit defensive tail vibration behavior when closely approached. They are capable of vibrating their tail in excess of 40 times per second - faster than almost any other non-rattlesnake snake species.

Seasonal behavior

Diet and Nutrition

The Copperhead is a carnivorous species. Most of its diet consists of small rodents, such as mice and voles. It also hunts insects, frogs, lizards, salamanders, and other small creatures.

Mating Habits

MATING BEHAVIOR
REPRODUCTION SEASON
spring, fall
PREGNANCY DURATION
3-9 months
BABY CARRYING
4-7 young
INDEPENDENT AGE
at birth
FEMALE NAME
female
MALE NAME
male
BABY NAME
snakelet

Copperheads have a polygynandrous (promiscuous) mating system in which both sexes have multiple partners. Males have longer tongue tine lengths than females during the breeding season, which may aid in chemoreception of males searching for females. These snakes breed in the spring and fall but not every year; sometimes females produce young for several years running, then do not breed at all for a time. Females give birth to live young, each of which is about 20 cm (7.9 in) in total length. The typical litter size is 4 to 7, but as few as one, or as many as 20 may be seen. The gestation lasts 3 to 9 months. Snakelets are independent at birth and ready to fend for themselves. Their size apart, the young are similar to the adults but lighter in color, and with a yellowish-green-marked tip to the tail, which is used to lure lizards and frogs. Copperheads become reproductively mature when they are 3 to 4 years old.

Population

Population threats

Copperheads don't face any major threats at present. However, locally they suffer from habitat loss and degradation, collection for the pet trade, and killing by humans.

Population number

According to IUCN, the Copperhead is locally common and widespread throughout its range but no overall population estimate is available. Currently, this species is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List and its numbers today are stable.

Ecological niche

Like all snakes, Coppeheads play a very important ecological role in their environment. Due to their diet, they help control populations of small rodents they prey on.

References

2. Copperhead on The IUCN Red List site - https://www.iucnredlist.org/species/64297/12756101

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