Copperhead snakes are one of the most common types of snakes in North America. The notorious snake gets its name from its copper-colored head. These snakes are venomous, but their poison is relatively mild. Still, people with compromised immune systems, children and pets can suffer severe allergic reactions from their bites.
If your home is frequently visited by these infamous snakes, this guide can help you solve your problem. Here, you can learn:
- Copperhead snakes: habitat and behavior
- Copperhead snake bites
- How to avoid copperhead snakes
- 5 ways to get rid of copperhead snakes
- 3 ways to kill copperhead snakes
- Snake traps are the best way to get rid of copperhead snakes?
- User guide: criteria for a good snake trap?
- Frequently asked questions
Table of Contents
- Copperhead Snake Characteristics
- Copperhead Bites
- How to Treat Copperhead Snake Bites
- How to Avoid Copperhead Snakes
- 5 Ways To Get Rid Of Copperhead Snakes
- 3 Ways To Kill Copperhead Snakes
- Snake Traps Are The Best Way To Get Rid Of Copperhead Snakes?
- User Guide: Criteria for a Good Snake Trap?
- Frequently Asked Questions
- The Takeaway
Copperhead Snake Characteristics
The copperhead is a pit viper, just like the water moccasin (cottonmouth) and rattlesnake. They have heat-sensory pits between the the nostril and eye on each sids of its head. These heat pits can detect subtle changes in temperature, which helps the snake find and strike its prey.
1. Copperhead Appearance
Copperheads are considered a medium-sized snake, and they can grow to be between two and three feet long. While males have longer tails, females are bigger overall. One thing that sets copperheads apart from other species of snakes is its distinct patterning. These snakes have brown or reddish-brown dorsal crossbands that are shaped like hourglasses, saddlebags or dumbbells. Hourglass markings are the copperhead’s most defining feature, as no other snake species has this marking shape. The tops of their heads have just two small, dark dots, and their bellies are either white, yellow or light brown.
Copperheads have thick and muscular bodies with keeled scales. Like other pit vipers, they have a triangular head that’s distinctive from its neck. Their pupils are vertical, too, and their irises are usually red, tan or orange in color. Baby copperheads have a grayish color with bright green or yellow tail tips.
2. Copperhead Habitat
Copperheads can be found all throughout North America, from southern New England all the way down to Texas and Mexico.
There are five subspecies of copperheads, and they correspond to their geographic location:
- Southwestern (2 subspecies)
The northern copperhead, experts say, is the largest range. Copperheads can thrive in a wide range of habitats, but they tend to prefer living in the woods or forests. They also like to hang out in what’s called “ecotones,” which are transition areas in between two types of habitats. That’s why we find a lot of copperheads in the mountains, wooded areas, rocky areas, desert oases, the thickets near streams and canyons.
These snakes are resilient, too, and can even thrive in suburban areas. Copperheads are the most commonly-seen snake in North America, so it’s no surprise that their habitat is so diverse.
3. Copperhead Behavior and Habits
The copperhead snake uses camouflage to hide from predators and to sneak up on its prey. They tend to have their own unique personalities, too. Some are reluctant to bite, while others are extremely aggressive. Copperheads are generally more aggressive when they’re on the prowl at night than when they’re at rest during the day.
Like many other snakes, copperheads use mimicry to scare off predators. If they become agitated, they will vibrate their tails just like a rattlesnake. They also emit a strong, nasty musk smell to send you running the other way.
Unlike other snakes, copperheads are semi-social, which means they do like some interaction with other snakes. They fly solo when hunting, but they sleep in communal dens. They usually sleep in the same den year after year.
Copperheads that live in the montane will actually hibernate with other species of snakes, including timber rattlesnakes and rat snakes. These snakes may even hang out together when they’re out basking in the sun in warmer temperatures.
Like other pit vipers, copperheads are carnivorous creatures that like to eat mice and other small rodents. In fact, this species of snakes plays an important role in keeping the rodent population in check. Along with rodents, snakes will also eat frogs, birds, lizards, salamanders, large insects and small snakes.
Copperheads are ambush predators, meaning that they sit and wait for their prey to walk by, and then ambush them. If they have to, copperheads will actively hunt and use their heat-sensing pits to find their dinner. When pursuing large prey, copperheads will bite their victim and then release it. Once the venom works its magic and kills the victim, the snake will track it down and devour it whole. If their prey is small, the copperhead will just hold its victim in its mouth until it dies. One meal fills up a copperhead for quite a while. Experts say these snakes may only eat between 10 and 12 meals per year.
Copperheads have two mating seasons: February through May, and August through October. Spring and autumn mating seasons can be dramatic affairs. To win the chance to mate with a female, male copperhead snakes will engage in ritual combat – which is basically just one big body-shoving contest. Males who lose the fight don’t usually challenge again. Females may even get in on the fighting and challenge potential partners. And if males back down from her challenge, they lose their chance to mate.
Like many other snakes, the copperhead snake is ovoviviparous, which means moms carry their eggs inside of their bodies to incubate them. These snakes give live birth, usually in the late summer or fall. They may have anywhere between two to 18 babies at a time. When females mate in the fall, they may store sperm to delay fertilization until after they’re done hibernating for the winter. Baby copperheads are born with venom and fully functional fangs, so their bites can be just as potent and painful as an adult’s bite. Juveniles can be anywhere between eight and ten inches long, and they dine mostly on insects. Babies love to eat caterpillars.
While young copperheads are a lot like their adult counterparts, one area where they differ is hunting. Young copperheads will sit motionless, flicking their tail tips. This is what’s called caudal luring. Their tails look just like small caterpillars and other insects, so this flicking action attracts lizards and frogs. Having taken the lure, the snake will strike its prey and enjoy a nice dinner.
The copperhead snake is a part of the Viperidae family and the Crotalinae subfamily. Their species is the Agkistrodon contortrix.
There are also several subspecies of this snake that are recognized, including:
- Trans-Pecos copperhead (Agkistrodon contortrix pictigaster)
- Southern copperhead (Agkistrodon contortrix contortrix)
- Northern copperhead (Agkistrodon contortrix mokasen)
- Broad-banded copperhead (Agkistrodon contortrix laticinctus)
- Osage copperhead (Agkistrodon contortrix phaeogaster)
With a name like Agkistrodon contortrix mokasen, it’s easy to see why people still confuse the Northern copperhead with the water moccasin (or cottonmouth) snake.
Copperheads bite more people than most other U.S. species of snakes, but their venom isn’t very potent. The issue with copperheads is that unlike other venomous snakes, they don’t give out any warning signs before they strike. If they become agitated, they’re more likely to strike immediately. It’s more of a “strike now, ask questions later” kind of thing. Because they strike before they think, their bites often cause temporary tissue damage in the affected area. While painful, a copperhead bite is rarely fatal to a human.
With that siad, there are some people who are more vulnerable to complications from a copperhead bite, such as:
- People with compromised immune systems
- The elderly
Still, anyone who is bit by a copperhead needs to seek medical attention immediately to avoid any potential complications.
How to Treat Copperhead Snake Bites
If you’re bit by a copperhead, don’t try to treat the bite yourself. Seek medical attention immediately. A copperhead’s venom may be mild, but it’s important to remember that this is still a venomous snake bite and there are lot of things that could go wrong if you don’t get to a hospital. Call the poison help hotline at your local poison center, or better yet, go to the emergency room. These are one of the most common venomous snakes in North America, so treatment shouldn’t be an issue.
Common symptoms associated with a copperhead bite include:
- Pain (copperhead bites are very painful)
- Low blood pressure
- Change in skin color
It’s best not to rely on commercial snakebite kits and head straight for a hospital.
Also, here are some other things NOT to do:
- Don’t attempt to cut into the snake bite.
- Don’t use a tourniquet.
- Don’t take any medications unless directed by your doctor.
- Don’t use a cold compress.
- Don’t engage in any strenuous physical activity.
- Don’t use a pump suction device to try to pump out snake venom.
- Don’t raise the bite above your heart.
- Don’t try to suck out the venom with your mouth.
Pump devices were once recommended for snake bites to try and pump out the venom, but medical professionals now believe they may actually do more harm than good. Again, please don’t try to treat a snake bite on your own. Go to the emergency room right away. Even though copperhead bites are rarely fatal, you don’t want to wind up being that rare case. Children, people with weakened immune systems and those with severe envenomation are more likely experience complications or death from a copperhead bite. And unless you can be absolutely certain that you were struck by a copperhead, you have no real way of knowing what type of snake bit you. It could have been a dangerous, deadly snake for all you know. Don’t wait – get help right away.
When you do get help, the doctor will probably recommend a course of antibiotics, pain management and medical supervision for your recovery. In rare cases, antivenin may be administered. This course of treatment is usually reserved for those who are at great risk of complications from the bite.
How to Avoid Copperhead Snakes
One of the major reasons why copperhead snake bites are so common is that these snakes are very hard to notice. Their amazing camouflaging ability coupled with their tendency to hide in overgrowth renders them almost invisible to the casual eye. Additionally, their unusual reaction of freezing, instead of fleeing, when confronted with a threat, also makes them hard to avoid. If you are out hiking in the wild, make sure you watch your step.
Certain measures can also help you prevent being bitten by the snake:
- De-clutter your lawn and mow the grass, so that the snake has nowhere to hide.
- Be extra cautious when walking over rock outcroppings or fallen logs.
- Keep a close eye around when walking near creeks, marshes, and lakes
- Always wear protective shoes and don’t shove your heads into places which you cannot see from the inside.
- When hiking use a walking stick to probe the ground where you will next step.
5 Ways To Get Rid Of Copperhead Snakes
Copperhead snakes can frequently find their way to your home as these structures provide them with food and shelter. Many of these snakes can get rid us of pesky pests like mice, rats, lizards, and other harmful creatures. These snakes are very beneficial to the ecosystem, but they can turn dangerous if a lot of them make their way to your home and start terrorizing children and pets.
Here is what you should do if a snake makes its way into your home.
Shove It Out With a Broom
Use a broom or a long-handled rake to gently shove the snake out of your room. Needless to say, this is one of the most dangerous options, as the snake can rear up and bite you. Homeowners should not attempt this if they do not have previous experience of handling snakes. Call an animal control company to get rid of the copperhead snake.
Use Essential Oils
Essential oils are considered to be eco-friendly alternatives to harsh chemicals. Some essential oils, including cinnamon, peppermint, clove, and castor, have quite strong smells and have been found to be effective in warding off snakes.
Soak a few cotton balls saturated with clove oil, cinnamon oil or eugenol in areas prone to snake activity or add 5 to 10 drops of a blend of essential oil in a gallon of water and spray it on your backyard.
Use a Chemical Copperhead Snake Repellant
Use a chemical repellant to get rid of copperhead snakes from a distance. Many chemical repellants contain the active ingredient naphthalene. Naphthalene is derived from black walnut trees and is the same substance used in mothballs. The sharp-smelling substance is very toxic and can cause retinal and nerve damage. The unpleasant smell also serves to ward off snakes from your home.
Although snakes have nostrils and a nose, they don’t use them often. Instead, if they find something worth focusing on, they will flick out their tongue, which has special receptors that can sense odors. These organs are called vomeronasal organs, and they can detect whether a substance is harmful to snake or not. If it is, they will avoid the area.
Use a Sonic Copperhead Snake Repellant
Sonic repellants generate ultrasonic noise that is way above the frequency that humans can hear. Although snakes do not have external ears like humans, they can sense vibrations. An ultrasonic repellant may irritate them a lot, making then leave your property alone. However, the device can only create appropriate vibrations if the ground is hard and packed solid. If it is mushy and loose, it will not carry the sound around.
Use a Copperhead Snake Trap
Snake traps come in a variety of designs, shapes, and sizes. They can be any device that is designed to capture snakes and include a simple sticky paper to a complex caging machine. Since snakes are almost entirely composed of muscles, they are very strong and traps designed to hold other pests, like a rodent, don’t work on them. That’s why snakes have their own specialized traps that can be over 6 feet long.
Snake traps are not expensive, but some devices cost more than others, for obvious reasons, like durability, strength and weather resistance. For example, a solid metal cage may be more effective than a glue trap.
Metal traps work by using bait or scented glue inside a cage and being placed near a snake’s nest or wherever there is snake activity. You can find out where snakes live by looking for holes around trees, bushes and garden and other cluttered spaces where they can hide.
Once, the snake gets trapped, take it into the wild and free it somewhere far away from your home.
3 Ways To Kill Copperhead Snakes
It is not a good call to kill copperhead snakes. They are a very beneficial to the eco-system and only bite when they feel threatened. The best way to deal with them is to keep them away by keeping your yard clean and mowed. Additionally, a lot of times people mistake harmless water snakes with venomous ones and kill them on the spot, which again harms the environment.
Killing copperhead snakes should be a last resort. Additionally, you will need to be extra careful as you may need to approach the snake in close quarters to kill it. If your assassination attempt fails, the snake will become angry enough to attack you.
Here are some of the ways to kill a snake.
1. Lethal Traps
As discussed before, there are a large variety of traps that can be used to kill snakes. There are some designs that help you capture live snakes, allowing you you kill them yourself or release them elsewhere. However, some are specifically designed to kill the snake by gripping it and crushing it. Their effectiveness is debatable as they do not always succeed in killing the snake and if you approach the injured reptile, it may strike at you.
2. Garden Implements
Using garden implements to kill snakes is not just very inhumane; it is also quite dangerous. When some people see a snake, their first impulse is to grab a pitchfork and to behead the animal in one blow. However, most of the time, they only succeed in injuring and angering the snake, which strikes back. The snake can also coil around the long handle of the garden equipment and rear up to bite you near the face. Most snake bites when dealing with copperhead snakes occur this way.
If you must use garden implements to kill a snake, make sure you wear protective gear.
3. Shooting a Snake
This option should only be tried if you are a really good shot and only if there are no humans nearby. It should also be legal in the area where you are living. If you choose firearms as a mean to rid yourself of a copperhead snake, make sure the bullet hits it square in the head. Some people use shotguns because of the larger number of ammo pellets that issue from it, and it can be effective if you are shooting the snake at close range.
Snake Traps Are The Best Way To Get Rid Of Copperhead Snakes?
A lot of people want to get rid of all snakes because of a pretty common phobia of snakes. They believe that every snake is venomous, aggressive and prone to attack humans for no reason. If you take out some time to educate yourself on the type of snake species that visit your yard, you won’t go into an instant panic mode when you see a reptile slithering outside your home. One of the best ways to ensure no snake comes wandering in is to make your home free of pests, garbage, and rodents.
If a copperhead snake still slipped into your yard, the best way is to trap it and then relocate it. In this case, glue traps work the best. A good quality glue trap comes with a strong adhesive that grips the snake when it slides against it. These traps often come in a box form, so there is little danger of the trapped creature biting you. Once you move the trap far away from your home, you can pour cooking oil onto the trap and snake, which will dissolve the glue and allow the reptile to go home free.
User Guide: Criteria for a Good Snake Trap?
Here are four key factors that make up a good copperhead snake trap.
As we said before, snakes are muscular creatures, which makes them quite powerful. Even small species such as a corn snake can grip a human hard enough to cause a bruise while bigger ones, like boa constrictors, can crush a grown man’s ribs and suffocate him to death. Hence, even small-sized serpents are able to lunge at the trap and break away if the material is flimsy.
To counteract this, make sure the trap you buy comes with a very strong adhesive that can restrict the animal’s movement or is contained in a metal cage.
Handling a trapped snake can be pretty tricky because unlike rodents, snakes are larger and more dangerous. Choosing what type of trap to buy depends entirely on the person’s skills at handling the serpent. Cages are easier for beginners to use as the metal bars will keep you safe from the snake’s fangs.
When looking for the right trap, get a high-quality one with a cover that will not lessen in effectiveness due to inclement weather. Some low-priced brands offer glue traps, which are made of scented glue boards that are open and exposed to the elements. These can be rendered ineffective because of rain or heat.
Most snake traps are not expensive, and their price can start from just $6. However, if you buy the more expensive traps, they can be used more than one time and are more durable. If all you need is to trap a small snake, even a cheap brand can work. But if a snake is of a larger variety, like a copperhead, you will need to buy a more sturdier and reselient trap.
Q: How strong and effective is a snake repellant?
A: Unlike rodents, snakes use different ways to sense a repellant. As mentioned above, snakes have noses, but they often prefer flicking out their tongue to get a sense of an object in their path. Hence, if the repellant only smells bad, but is not harmful to the snake, the reptile may ignore it and slither into your yard. Similarly, snakes hear differently than other animals as well. Additionally, some products work well on a certain species of snakes, but not work at all on another species. It is best to ask your pest control department what repellant will work on the kind of snake visiting your yard.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: How much do snake repellants cost?
A: Snake repellant can range from a few dollars to $80, depending on what type you are buying and what ingredients they have. If you are buying a sonic repellant that works using electricity, it will last longer and will be pricier as well.
Q: Do snake repellants even work?
A: No snake repellants work 100% effectively, no matter what snake control marketing geniuses may want you to believe. Snake repellants only try to ward off snakes but cannot create a physical barrier to keep them away. The snake may slow down but, depending on the way it senses the repellant, it may either choose to leave or slither into your yard anyway.
Q: What is the best way to control copperhead snakes in the yard?
A: Keep your yard free of clutter so that copperheads have nowhere to hide. Get rid of everything that attracts them in the first place, like pests and rodents. If possible, create fencing around your yard of a strong metal mesh that copperhead snakes are unable to cross.
Q: What should I do with a trapped copperhead snake?
A: If your trap has successfully caught a copperhead, the humane thing to do is to take it far away from your home to its natural habitat. There you can free it back into the wild. Your trap needs to be covered and strong so that the trapped reptile does not have a chance to bite you.
Q: If a copperhead snake finds its way into my home, what should I do?
A: if you have never handled a venomous snake before, get out of the room and lock all the doors and window leading to the rooms into your home. If you can do so without going close to the snake, open the doors and windows that lead to the outside, so that the reptile has a chance to slither out on its own. Do not try to capture it yourself, if you do not have a trap. Instead, call a professional.
The sight of a copperhead snake in your yard can be quite alarming. However, there is no need to start worrying just yet. Make sure you get as much information as you can to identify the type of snake and then try one of the above methods to get rid of it for good.