Northern Copperhead Snake

What does the northern copperhead snake look like?

The average length of the northern copperhead snake in Montgomery County is about 30” inches. On rare occasions one may be found up to 53” inches. This species has a thick body. The head of this species is a tannish coppery color with no markings. The body can have a reddish-brown or coppery color with chestnut brown cross bands that get narrower at the center of the back. The copperhead has a pit organ on each side of their head between the nostril and the eye. The function of this pit organ is to detect the different temperatures in the surrounding environment and to detect prey. Males have a longer tail and are shorter in length than females. Many people confuse the northern water snake with the northern copperhead snake.

As you can see in the photos above the juvenile looks a lot like the adult except they are a little grayish and the last inch or so of the tail is a bright greenish or yellowish color which fades away as they grow. Juveniles are about 10” inches long when they are born.

Where is the northern copperhead snake found in Montgomery County?

The northern copperhead snake is found in the crawlspaces and backyards of Bethesda, Potomac, Gaithersburg, Silver Spring, Kensington, Damascus, Germantown, and Chevy Chase. They are generally nocturnal and are often seen by Montgomery County residents at night or as the sun is setting and as it starts to rise. This species is rarely found in homes however snake control companies have removed a few from basements in summer of 2015’. This snake is often removed from yards that have ponds, stacked rock walls and rocks in the landscaping or flowerbeds. New born babies and juveniles are sometimes found under loose mulch or large pieces of mulch. Forested areas with rocky outcrops, hillsides, and wetlands are the northern copperhead snakes preferred territories.

What animals pray of the northern copperhead snake?

Birds of prey, raccoons, opossums, fox and coyotes will feed on the northern copperhead snake.

Is the northern copperhead snake venomous?

Yes!!! The northern copperhead snake is venomous. Even new born baby copperheads have fangs that are able to inject venom. Though their venom is mild and rarely kills a person, you should seek medical attention at the nearest hospital if you are bitten. Most people that have died from a northern copperhead bite are young children or elderly people or people that have breathing problems. This snake does not want to bite people but will bite if it feels threatened. If you are not a snake expert then you should not attempt to pick up or remove this snake.
Montgomery County exterminators report receiving calls from residents saying the copperhead in their yard was mixed with a rattlesnake! However the timber rattlesnake and copperhead cannot reproduce offspring. The northern copperhead will vibrate its tail in stones or leaves or vegetation to make it sound like a rattle even though it does not have a rattle.

What does the northern copperhead snake eat?

Adult northern copperhead snakes feed on mice, small birds, lizards, small, snakes, insects like cicadas, and frogs. This species of snake has two large fangs at the top of their mouth which are used to inject venom into their prey. Copperhead snakes have a hemolytic venom that causes the red blood cells to breakdown. After the venom is injected the copperhead will let the prey go. Once the prey is overcome by the venom the copperhead will track it down and swallow it whole. If the prey is small then the copperhead will hold it in their mouth until its dead. Juvenile northern copperhead snakes feed on insects such as caterpillars. The tip of their tail is greenish-yellowish and is used to attract or lure prey.

What are the habits of the northern copperhead snake?

In the wild northern copperhead snakes can live up to 18 years. Usually when one copperhead is found there is more in the area. They will migrate in the spring to their summer territories where they will feed. In the fall they leave the summer territory and repeat the path back to their den site. The time during the spring migration to the summer territory and the time during the fall migration to the hibernation den is mating season. Males become very aggressive during the spring and fall mating seasons. During that time males will wrestle, hook their necks together, intertwine their bodies and overpower each other in front of females to compete for mating rites.

What are the hibernation habits of the northern copperhead snake?

The northern copperhead snake hibernates from October to March or April. They are a very social snake and will hibernate with other copperheads, timber rattlesnakes, northern water snakes and black rat snakes in a communal den. Year after year the copperhead will return to the same den site.

What are the reproduction habits of the northern copperhead snake?

The northern copperhead reaches sexual maturity when they are four years old. At that age they are around 24” inches long. Mating occurs during the spring and fall. Males will use their tongue to detect any pheromones in the air that may be from females. After the male finds a female the courtship begins and he will rub his chin on the ground and move his head around oddly. If other males are in pursuit of the same female then the males will wrestle and intertwine their bodies until one submits. The winner gets to mate with the female. After mating males will emit an unattractive pheromone in the female to ensure no other males will try to mate with her that season.

Some females will mate in the spring as they emerge from hibernation but some will mate in the fall just before hibernation starts. Females that mate in the fall will store the sperm until they emerge from hibernation in the spring. Females give live birth to between two and ten babies in July or August.