Vigilance is the key to avoid copperhead confrontations. When walking in a forest or an area with rock outcroppings, be on the lookout for snakes. Look the ground over when you stop to stand or sit. Never step completely over logs or rocks; step on them first, then over.
Species: Eastern copperhead
Scientific name: Agkistrodon contortrix
Claim to fame: Copperheads are the most commonly encountered venomous snake in Missouri. Most copperhead bites occur when the snake is either accidentally stepped on or when someone tries to capture or handle one. Vigilance is the key to avoid copperhead confrontations. When walking in a forest or an area with rock outcroppings, be on the lookout for snakes. Look the ground over when you stop to stand or sit. Never step completely over logs or rocks; step on them first, then over.
Species status: Copperheads are found statewide in Missouri.
First discovered: The first scientific description of the winter wren was written by the famed naturalist Carl Linnaeus in 1758.
Family matters: Missouri has two subspecies of eastern copperhead. The Osage copperhead (Agkistrodon contortrix phaeogaster) is found in the northern two-thirds of the state and the southern copperhead (Agkistrodon contortrix contortrix) is found in the southern third. Copperheads belong to the reptile family Viperidae, which contains more than 200 snake species worldwide and five in Missouri. All members of the Viperidae family are venomous.
Length: 24 to 36 inches
Diet: Small mammals, frogs, lizards, small snakes, birds and some insects
Weight: Information unavailable
Distinguishing characteristics: Missouri copperheads are pinkish-tan with distinct dark brown markings along their backs that are shaped like bow ties (pinched in the middle and wide on either side.) Young copperheads (under two years of age) have a yellowish-green tip on their tail. The young snakes twitch this to mimic a worm, which in turn attracts a frog, lizard or bird. Like the state’s other venomous snakes, copperheads have elongated vertical pupils in their eyes; non-venomous snakes have round pupils. All of Missouri’s venomous snakes, including copperheads, are pit vipers. Pit vipers have a heat-sensitive pit between the nostril and the eye on each side of their head. These pits help the snake detect warm-blooded prey. Even in total darkness, these pits help the snake sense the location of a small mammal or other type of prey within approximately a two-foot radius. Within that radius, snakes can strike with great accuracy.
Life span: Up to 18 years
Habitat: Common places copperheads are found in this area include open forests along creeks, on rocky hillsides, in woodpiles, rock piles or near abandoned farm buildings.
Life cycle: Like all of North America’s pit viper species, copperheads bear live young. Courtship and mating take place in the spring and young are born from August through September.