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Agkistrodon contortrix, is a venomous pit viper species commonly known as the copperhead. It is native to North America and northern Mexico.


They look like everyone else: Adult specimens have a coppery colored head and neck. They are not large snakes, generally about 50 cm long (1.5 ft), but specimens up to 1 m long (3 ft) have been encountered. The body is thin by pit viper standards. There are five clearly defined subspecies. All subspecies have distinctive light and dark brown or reddish banding. A. c. mokasen, A. c. contortrix and A. c. phaeogaster have bands that tend to narrow dorsally, giving them an hourglass shape, whereas A. c. laticinctus and A. c. pictigaster generally have bands of uniform width. Intergrading occurs in areas where the subspecies geographic ranges overlap, so pattern variations are commonplace. A. c. pictigaster is known especially for its distinctively patterned underside, with white and black banding.

© Patrick JEAN / muséum d'histoire naturelle de Nantes. The copyright holder of this image allows anyone to use it for any purpose including unrestricted redistribution, commercial use, and modification.

Sneak Attack!: Like all pit vipers, the copperhead is an ambush predator: it takes up a promising position and waits for suitable prey to arrive. Roughly 90% of its diet consists of small rodents, such as mice and voles.

Mama Mia: The copperhead breeds in late summer, but not every year: sometimes a female will produce young for several years running, then not breed at all for a time. They give birth to live young about 20 cm long: a typical litter is 4 to 7, but it can be as few as one or as many as 20. Their size apart, the young are similar to the adults, but lighter in color, and with a yellow-marked tip to the tail, which is used to lure lizards and frogs.

Stay Out of the Pool: Commonly, the average person will assume any reddish or brownish snake is a copperhead. This is far from the case. Many harmless snakes, such as the brown snake (genus Storeria), or water snake (genus Nerodia) are frequently mistaken for copperheads. Copperheads are primarily a terrestrial species, and though quite capable swimmers, they are rarely found swimming.

Windows to the soul: The easiest way to tell venomous snakes from non-venomous in North America is by the shape of their pupils. All venomous snakes in North America, with the exception of the coral snake, are pit vipers and have a vertical type pupil,
like a cat's eye. All non-venomous snakes in North America have a round pupil like a human.

Once Bitten, Twice Shy: The best way to avoid being bitten when in the outdoors in copperhead country is to be aware of their typical behavior and habitats and take appropriate precautions. Like most North American vipers, copperheads prefer to avoid humans and, given the opportunity, will leave the area without biting; however, unlike the rattlesnake, they are unable to make an audible warning of their presence.

Scared Stiff: Copperheads often tend to "freeze" instead of slithering away; thus, many bites come from people unknowingly stepping on or near them. This tendency to freeze likely evolved because of the extreme effectiveness of their camouflage. When laying on dead leaves or red clay they can be almost impossible to notice. They will frequently stay still even when approached closely, and will only generally strike if physically harassed or trod upon.

Look Carefully: Small hiding places such as niches in rock walls, woodpiles, etc., should be examined before hands or feet are placed in them, and one should stand on or bend over a fallen log to look for a snake instead of blindly jumping over. Favorite habitats include rocky hillsides above wooded streams. In the south, copperheads are nocturnal during the hot summer months, but are commonly active during the day during the spring and fall. A pair of stout leather hiking boots might blunt the strike of a snake. Heavy tramping of feet will cause vibrations in the ground that can alert snakes to peoples' presence, giving them time to quietly escape. The majority of snakebite incidents are the result of attempting to handle the snake or attacking it with an object.

911!: If bitten, one should not apply a tourniquet or suck blood from the bite — the victim should be kept calm and be transported to a hospital as quickly as possible. A tourniquet will increase tissue damage in the area of the bite and may even create the need to amputate a bitten limb that may have otherwise been saved. Never cut where the bite is.

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 Kingdom: Animalia

 Phylum: Chordata

 Subphylum: Vertebrata

 Class: Reptilia

 Order: Squamata

 Suborder: Serpentes

 Family: Viperidae

 Subfamily: Crotalinae

 Genus: Agkistrodon

 Species: Contortrix