Learn powerful up to date methods from the experts that will stop Timber Rattlesnakes in their tracks and get rid of them for good.
Lets get started
62 Minute Read
Copperhead snakes, Agkistrodon contortrix, are venomous snakes common throughout much of North America. Like rattlesnakes and cottonmouths, copperheads are pit vipers. They have a special heat sensing organ between each eye and ear. Like a heat sensing missile, they strike out towards warm-blooded prey with deadly accuracy. Of all the venomous snakes, copperhead snakes are the most likely to bite; thankfully, the venom of a copperhead is the least dangerous of the pit vipers. That is not to say, copperhead snakes pose no danger, they most certainly do. If you encounter a copperhead snake, you are more likely to be bitten if you attempt to pick up or kill the snake. If at all possible, avoid copperhead snakes!
Copperhead snakes, Agkistrodon contortrix, can be identified by their unique color and pattern. Their scientific name well describes their characteristic attribute. Referencing its fierce venom injecting fangs, Agkistrodon is Greek for hooked tooth, or fishhook. Contortrix is Latin for contorted, twisted, or complex, likely a reference to the pattern on the copperhead’s body.
Like other pit vipers, adult copperhead snakes are thick-bodied and robust in appearance. They have keeled or raised scales. Adult copperheads range in size from 24”-36” in length and juvenile copperheads are typically 7”-10” in length. As suggested, copperhead snakes are often copper in color, but their pattern is unique in the snake world. A copperhead snake has a copper-colored head, like a US penny. There are no markings on its head. Aside from the eyes and pit on its face, the copperhead’s face is unmarked.
The copper coloring extends down the body of the copperhead snake. This reddish brown/copper colored background is accentuated by darker chestnut brown markings down its back. These dark brown markings are often described as hourglass in shape. These markings are sometimes said to resemble a dumbbell or saddlebag as well. The hourglass goes widthwise across the back of the copperhead. The widest part of the hourglass is on each side near its underbelly, and it narrows at the vertebrae. These markings are usually darker around the edges and get a bit lighter towards the center. The underbelly of the copperhead is usually similar to the ground cover, a sandy whitish or yellowish color. Although rarely seen by the casual observer, the underside may be mottled with some brown, black, or grey spots.
Juvenile copperheads are more muted in color, more greyish, than adults, and the young have a bright yellow tail. This tail resembles a caterpillar and enables them to entice prey to get close to them. This bright yellow tail usually goes away at around 3 years of age.
The copperhead snake’s head is broad and distinct from its neck. If you look at some slenderly built snakes their head flows seamlessly into their body. Not so with a copperhead. A copperhead’s head is wider than its neck with a slight slope towards its body. Sometimes people describe the head shape as arrow or triangular shaped. The copperhead’s pupils are vertical slits, like a cat, and the irises are usually orange, red, or coppery-brown.
Copperhead Snake Habitat
Copperheads are very well camouflaged in their environment. They easily adapt to many different habitats, and are therefore found from the panhandle of Florida to Massachusetts. They extend west to Nebraska and the western part of Texas. In Florida, copperheads are limited to a few counties in the panhandle, and in Georgia the northern copperhead can be found in the mountainous counties of north Georgia. The southern copperhead is found in Georgia below the fall line, but not near the Florida/Georgia border. It is found more often along the Georgia/Alabama line. These 2 subspecies, the northern and southern copperheads are both found in the Piedmont area of Georgia encompassing the Atlanta area.
Throughout these geographic areas they inhabit forests and woodlands, rocky areas, and thickets. Copperheads can survive in the desert and near streams and other bodies of water. Mountains and canyons and every habitat in between can host copperhead snakes. So long as they have sunlight to warm themselves and harborage to hide themselves, copperhead snakes are an adaptable species.
Copperhead snakes are perfectly comfortable in suburban environments as well. They often seek shelter under wood piles, sheet metal, under sheds, in abandoned derelict buildings, and construction sites. Copperheads can swim in the water and climb trees enabling them to hunt prey that would be out of the reach of other snakes.
Their characteristic coloring makes them well adapted to many of these environments. They easily blend into rocks, leaves, and branches keeping them safe from predators. Lying in leaf litter, copperhead snakes are almost impossible to see. Lying amongst Georgia’s red clay, copperheads are unlikely to be noticed. They are masters of disguise and are often overlooked… until it is too late. In fact, most copperhead bites are a result of stepping on them because they are so well camouflaged. If you live within the range of copperheads, they can survive in nearly all conditions and habitats. Learn the venomous snakes in your area, and always be aware of your surroundings.
Copperhead Snakes Behaviors
Because copperheads are so adaptable and found in such a variety of habitats, their behaviors may differ a bit from location to location. Copperheads are considered semi-social snakes. They often hunt alone and live alone, but they usually hibernate together in dens. Interestingly, they often return to the same den to hibernate year after year. In some areas of the country, copperheads are known to hibernate with rattlesnakes and other snake species, and in other areas of the country, copperheads seem to prefer to hibernate in solitude.
Copperheads are most active at night in the heat of the summer, but on mild days in the spring and fall they will hunt during the day. Copperhead snakes spend most of their time regulating their body temperature by either basking in the warmth of the sun or concealing themselves in the shade.
More than most snakes, copperheads tend to freeze rather than flee immediately upon sensing human presence. In conjunction with their extreme ability to camouflage, this is likely why humans get bit by copperheads more than other venomous snakes. Most bites occur when people step directly on a camouflaged copperhead. Unbeknownst to the hiker, this copperhead probably provided multiple warnings, but we humans simply didn’t notice them. Before striking, copperheads may defensively shake or rattle their tail in an effort to imitate the much-feared rattlesnake. Although they do not possess a rattle like a rattlesnake, copperheads can shake their tail up to 40 times per second. When we do not hear or see this exhibition, they may open their mouth wide, like a cottonmouth does. Again, they are well disguised, and this gesture is often missed. Only when contact is made, does the copperhead strike. They are not considered aggressive snakes, but because they are so perfectly disguised and they do not tend to flee at the first inkling of a human, we humans have many unfortunate encounters with copperheads.
What Do Copperhead Snakes Eat?
As copperheads mature, their hunting abilities and instincts change and develop; therefore their diet changes. Copperheads are unequivocally carnivores. When copperheads are young, they have a bright almost fluorescent yellow tail. This tail is used in a behavior called caudal luring. The young camouflaged copperhead shakes its tail which looks like a caterpillar. A caterpillar eater, such as a frog or a lizard may come close to the “caterpillar,” but is instead struck with the deadly venom of a juvenile copperhead. Baby copperheads consume insects, caterpillars, and small frogs and lizards.
Adult copperheads are ambush predators. Well disguised, they lie in wait until a properly portioned meal walks by them. When the moment is right, they strike and inject their venom into the unsuspecting animal. If the animal is large, copperheads will release the prey and track it until it dies. If the animal meal is small, it will hold on to it until it dies. The copperhead then swallows its meal whole. Copperheads eat mostly mice, but also eat small birds, other small snakes, lizards, and insects, particularly cicadas. Copperheads eat many different food items; remember their range covers a variety of climates and habitats. A study in Kansas found that the primary food source for the local copperheads are prairie voles followed by cicadas. In the summer, copperheads only need a good hearty meal once every 3 weeks.
Copperhead Snake Reproduction
Female copperheads reach sexual maturity at around 3 years of age. Copperheads typically mate in April or May, and in some areas of the country may mate again in September. Copperheads can reproduce by both sexual reproduction and asexual reproduction, a process called parthenogenesis. Copperheads carry their fertilized eggs inside their bodies for between 3-9 months. The eggs hatch inside the copperhead mothers’ body and she gives birth to live young. A typical copperhead brood is between 2-10 baby snakes. Sometimes, gravid female copperheads gather together in preparation for childbirth. These gathering areas are called birthing rookeries. The reasoning behind this behavior is very much a mystery to snake scientists.
Copperhead Snake Bite and Venom
Of all the venomous snakes in the United States, copperhead bites are the most common. It is not that copperheads are particularly aggressive and antagonistic, rather they are plentiful in the landscape and easily overlooked. Copperhead’s unique color and pattern allow them to blend into their surroundings perfectly. Snakes can sense humans long before we ever see them. Many snake species flee to avoid a possible confrontation. However, copperheads are so accustomed to relying on their camouflage that they are more likely to remain in their spot. Like many other snakes, copperheads do try to warn us before they strike out. To warn of a pending strike, copperheads can vibrate their tail quickly and they’ll open their mouths wide to expose their sharp fangs. Many times, when people are bitten by a copperhead, they usually never even saw the snake before the bite.
Given the relatively high number of bites each year, thankfully, copperhead venom is the least potent of the venomous snakes in the United States. That is not to say they are harmless, but most people recover from a copperhead bite. Snakes have the ability to decide if and how much venom to inject into their enemy. All snakes have the ability to do a “dry bite” where no venom is injected. Copperhead snakes seem to choose that avenue more often than other venomous snake species. Therefore, if you are bitten by a copperhead, there is a chance that no venom was injected. Regardless, we still recommend that you seek medical attention immediately upon sustaining a copperhead bite.
The venom of the copperhead snake is hemotoxic meaning it rapidly breaks down red blood cells. Hemotoxins break down tissue surrounding the injection site and may cause tissue death. When this venom is used on prey intended to be a meal, the rapid tissue death aids in the snake’s digestion. In humans, copperhead bites will result in immediate hot searing pain at the bite site. As your body processes the poison, you may experience throbbing, tingling, swelling, and nausea. After a copperhead bite, you may become disoriented and have a throbbing headache. The area around the bite may turn black and blue as the venom breaks down the protein in that area. Especially in the very young and the very old, more severe reactions may occur. Although rare, allergic, or anaphylactic reactions to copperhead venom are possible. Inin addition to the devastating effects of the venom infection is always possible at the injection site.
How to Treat Copperhead Snake Bites
If you are bitten by a copperhead snake, seek medical attention at once. Do not wait to figure out for yourself if it was a “dry bite” or if your body can process the poison without medical intervention. You should be monitored by medical professionals as your body reacts to this snake attack. In addition, a rapidly administered dose of antivenom can halt the destruction of tissue, which may serve to save a limb, finger, or toe. While you wait for EMS to take you to the hospital, if possible, wash the wound with soap and water, and cover it with a clean dry cloth. Stay calm and sit or lay down in a neutral position.
The CDC has stern recommendations of things NOT to do if you are bitten by a venomous snake such as a copperhead. This list may seem counterintuitive, but it is important that your first aid does not interfere with the recommended hospital treatment.
Do not try to capture or pick up the snake that bit you… even if its dead.
Do not apply a tourniquet.
Do not try to cut the wound out or slash through the wound.
Do not attempt to suck the venom out with your mouth or a commercially available venom “extractor.”
Do not apply ice or immerse the wound in water.
Do not drink alcohol to kill the pain.
Do not take ibuprofen, aspirin, or naproxen to kill the pain.
Do not apply electrical shock or other home remedies.
Once at the hospital, the medical staff can assess your reaction and provide you with adequate pain relief and proper treatment. CroFab is the antivenom that is used in the United States against copperhead snake venom. Once administered this product binds to the toxins flowing through your body and renders them powerless. This antivenom halts the destruction of your tissue near the bite site and beyond. Again, I’ll stress, do not delay medical treatment if you have been bitten by a copperhead. Any delay can permit unnecessary tissue damage and death.
How to Get Rid of Copperhead Snakes
If found in your yard, shed, or home, a snake positively identified as a venomous copperhead, should be dealt with. Some herpetologists, snake scientists, recommend leaving copperhead snakes alone and permitting them to live in and about your yard. For families with young children who play outside and pets who roam the yard, this is unlikely to be a satisfying result. While many snake species should be left alone and allowed to fulfill their ecological role, poisonous snakes pose an unnecessary risk. But how do you get rid of a copperhead snake? As is often the answer… it depends. Your plan of attack will be different if the snake is in your home or shed, or if you saw it sunning itself on the wood pile. Your approach to removing the copperhead will be unique to your home and your situation.
The most effective method of getting rid of snakes from your yard is to make your yard inhospitable to snakes. All living creatures require food, water, and shelter to survive and thrive. Simply put, if snakes are not receiving what they require, they will move on. Copperheads are excellent survivalists and can make a meal or shelter from many things commonly found in backyards across America. When making a concerted effort to reduce the snake population in your yard, yard work is always part of the plan. Snakes hide in the shelter of yard clutter and debris. Snakes feel most comfortable in tall grass as it shields them from the view of predators such as hawks and owls. The food they eat also hides in these piles that should have been hauled to the trash or dump weeks ago.
By clearing your yard of unnecessary clutter, you’ll evict many snakes.
Keep the grass neatly trimmed
Keep shrubs trimmed
Remove fallen branches and dead stumps
Pick up children’s toys and get rid of broken, damaged, or unused playsets
Remove unnecessary stacks of wood. Store necessary wood stacks far from the often used portion of the yard.
An important part of snake reduction is eliminating their food source. While you can’t eradicate every lizard and frog within miles, you can do something about mice and rats on your property. Rodents are vital meals for copperhead snakes. By proactively reducing the number of rats and mice in your yard, the snakes are likely to move on. Talk to your pest professional about rodent prevention services. By actively engaging in rodent prevention, snake populations in your yard will decline. When thinking about reducing rats, think beyond rat traps and rodenticides. If you have a bird feeder, you may be inadvertently making your snake problem worse. Rats and mice gladly eat the bird seed that drops to the ground underneath the feeder, and many snakes gladly eat eggs and small birds. Also, to prevent rats, keep pet food indoors and covered tightly. If you have fruit trees, pick up the fallen fruit. Fruit that lays to waste on the ground is a smorgasbord for rats and mice.
Preventing snakes in your yard is your best defense against copperheads. Copperhead snakes are difficult to see and most often bite when stepped on. Whether you are doing yard work or hiking the Appalachian Trail, always remain vigilant. Wear protective clothing and keep a keen eye and ear out for snakes and their defensive warning signals.
Nextgen Copperhead Snake Removal
If you have ever come home to a snake curled up in the corner, you have experienced a unique breed of terror. Whether you can positively identify the creature as a copperhead, or you’d rather not look at it that closely, call Nextgen Pest Solutions. We have a full-spectrum wildlife removal team waiting for your emergency. Our trappers have experience removing opossums and racoons, bats and rats… and yes even venomous copperhead snakes. If you have a snake in your yard, shed, garage, poolhouse, or heaven forbid inside your home, call our professional snake wranglers. They will quickly, safely, and professionally remove the snake and give you back free reign of your home and yard.