First, we’ll take a look at Eastern Copperheads and point out their most identifying characteristics. Copperheads are born alive and with the exception of the tail tip, they are colored and patterned the same as adults. The following four photographs are of baby/juvenile Eastern Copperheads. Note the sulfur yellow colored tail tip. The yellow tail tip is used as a lure for frogs, lizards and other prey items. As the snake ages the bright tail tip fades. The only other Virginia snake with a bright yellowish to yellowish green tail tip is the venomous eastern cottonmouth.
All harmless snakes in Virginia have round pupils and lack the heat sensing pits. Another characteristic of all Virginia’s venomous snakes is the single row of scales on the underside of the tail after the anal plate (vent).
Around late August to mid October depending on the temperatures, Eastern Ratsnakes look for a nice warm place to wait out the upcoming winter. Juvenile Northern Black Racers usually do not seek winter refuge in human occupied dwellings. This is completely opposite of the pattern found on the copperhead (wide on the sides and narrow near the back bone).
Some adult Northern Watersnakes retain a strong, distinct juvenile pattern while others become a uniformed brown. In an effort to ward off predators these snakes will puff-up, hiss loudly, spread their neck and strike with the mouth closed. Eastern hognose snakes prefer sandy soil and primarily feed on toads.
Venomous Eastern CopperheadHarmless Red CornsnakeEastern Copperhead vs. Northern Mole Kingsnake Juvenile Northern Mole Kingsnakes have a strong pattern that usually, but not always fades to a uniformed brown as the snake ages. Northern Mole Kingsnakes are seldom seen out in the open and are general found under surface cover (plywood, tin, flat rocks, etc..).
Is there a water snake that looks like a copperhead?
At first glance, common watersnakes (Nerodia sipedon) look like they have a similar pattern to copperheads, but look closer. … As you might expect from their name, watersnakes spend a lot of their time in the water; copperheads rarely do.
Do copperhead snakes swim in water?
But copperheads, like northern water snakes, swim and can be found near water across the region. So, if a snake is not easily identifiable as a non-venomous water snake, it is best to beware. … Northern water snakes are relatively harmless creatures.
Are banded water snakes poisonous?
The banded water snake is also known as the southern water snake (Nerodia fasciata) are medium sized non-venomous and harmless, semi-aquatic colubrid snake species found in central and southeastern United States.
The fear of being bitten by a snake worries many folks whether the snake is venomous or not. There are 38 species of snakes found in South Carolina, but only six are venomous. The venomous snakes found in South Carolina are all pit vipers with one exception the coral snake. The pit vipers include copperhead, cottonmouth, pigmy rattlesnake, eastern diamondback rattlesnake, and timber rattlesnake. Pit vipers get their name from having a heat-sensing pit located between their eyes and their nostrils, which helps these snakes locate their warm-blooded prey.
When curled up, their camouflage resembles a pile of fallen leaves; this helps them remain hidden from potential predators including you. A copperhead bite typically occurs when its least expected, after several attempts to discourage you, the predator from coming close.
Unlike copperheads, corn snakes do not have fangs but catch and subdue their prey by constriction (squeezing and suffocating). The pattern of the northern water snake is dark blotches that are narrow on the sides and wider towards the backbone.Photo Credit: Sturgis McKeever, Georgia Southern University, Bugwood.org The pattern of the northern water snake is dark blotches that are narrow on the sides and wider towards the backbone.
All snakes, venomous and nonvenomous, play a very important role in South Carolinas environmental ecosystems. Also, from a human perspective, they play a large role in controlling rodents and many other small-sized nuisance wildlife populations.
Snakes are some of the most frequently observed animals around us and we are fascinated by them; you might think wed be pretty good at identifying these common reptiles by now. Thats not the case.
You would not measure the length of Uncle Michaels mustache to figure out who he is or examine the color patterns of Aunt Rochelles highlights before you gave her a hug; you just look at them and you know who they are! Another important thing to consider is that Uncle Michaels mustache is probably useful for telling him apart from Aunt Rochelle, but it is not a useful tip for distinguishing him from all the other people in the world.
They are closely related so they have a lot of things in common, like vertical pupils and heat-sensing pits, two features that can help distinguish them from the variety of non-venomous snakes discussed below. Heres an interesting bit: when cottonmouths and copperheads are babies they look very similar; the pattern is very distinct and striking and they both have yellow or green tail tips. Photo Dennis Church / Flickr If youre still wondering whether the snake youre looking at is a cottonmouth or a copperhead, you can check whether you are within the geographic range of either species.
Photo Logan Ingalls / Flickr Youve already learned the ground rules to avoid misidentifying animals in a previous Cool Green Science blog, and they all apply here too. Photo Mr.TinDC / Flickr Dekays brownsnakes ( Storeria dekayi ) are small snakes found throughout the eastern and central United States. Because they are tiny (under a foot long), can appear almost uniformly light brown, and do not have noticeable distinguishing features, many people do not recognize them and assume they are baby copperheads.
They typically appear light brown or tan; depending on where they live, they could have faint lines or a checkered pattern (similar to that of a garter snake). Southern watersnakes ( Nerodia fasciata ) have a huge geographic range throughout the southeastern United States and their color and pattern can vary significantly across that wide region.
I know, its cold outside. Temps are in the mid-20s as I write and snakes are nowhere to be seen. Most of you are probably not going to spend a whole lot of time outdoors during the next few days, so why not sit back, grab a cup of joe (or cocoa), and brush up on your snake identification skills. Besides, we start seeing water snakes in our Wetlands here at the Museum in March, just a few weeks away.
Easy to see on the pavement, the banded pattern on the water snake makes for good camouflage in the dappled light of a watery domain. Likewise, the pattern on the copperhead renders the snake virtually invisible in their preferred habitat of a leaf littered forest floor.
Copperheads and Similar Looking Harmless Species
First, we’ll take a look at Eastern Copperheads and point out their most identifying characteristics. Copperheads are born alive and with the exception of the tail tip, they are colored and patterned the same as adults. The following four photographs are of baby/juvenile Eastern Copperheads. Note the sulfur yellow colored tail tip. The yellow tail tip is used as a lure for frogs, lizards and other prey items. As the snake ages the bright tail tip fades. The only other Virginia snake with a bright yellowish to yellowish green tail tip is the venomous eastern cottonmouth.* Click on a thumbnail to see a larger versionEastern Copperheads have dark colored crossbands that are for the most part shaped like an hourglass. Usually some of the crossbands are broken and do not connect.The Eastern Copperhead is a pit-viper, as are all three of Virginia’s venomous snake species (Eastern Copperhead, eastern cottonmouth and timber rattlesnake). The “pit” in pit-viper refers to the heating sensing pit located between the eye and the nostrils on the snake‘s head. In addition to the heat sensing pit all three venomous snakes in Virginia have vertical pupils. All harmless snakes in Virginia have round pupils and lack the heat sensing pits. Another characteristic of all Virginia’s venomous snakes is the single row of scales on the underside of the tail after the anal plate (vent).While close inspection of a snake‘s face and/or its bum is a definitive way to distinguish a venomous snake from a harmless species, it requires one to get dangerously close to a potently dangerous animal. It is far better to learn the pattern and coloration of a few snakes so that a specimen may be identified from a safe distance.
Eastern Copperhead vs. Northern Black Racer
Like the Eastern Ratsnake, black racers are also born with a blotched pattern. However, unlike the Eastern Ratsnake that may retain the juvenile pattern for several years, the pattern of the Northern Black Racer usually fades to a uniformed black within the first two years of life. Juvenile Northern Black Racers usually do not seek winter refuge in human occupied dwellings. Northern Black Racers are usually one of the first snakes to become active when spring arrives.
Eastern Copperhead vs. Northern Watersnake
Juvenile and subadult Northern Watersnakes have a pattern that can vary greatly in color, from dark grayish to a reddish brown. The color of some individuals watersnakes can come close to that of some copperheads, however the pattern on the Northern Watersnake is always narrow on the sides and wide near the backbone. This is completely opposite of the pattern found on the copperhead (wide on the sides and narrow near the back bone). Some adult Northern Watersnakes retain a strong, distinct juvenile pattern while others become a uniformed brown. As the name implies, the Northern Watersnake is usually found in close proximity to water.
Eastern Copperhead vs. Eastern Milksnake
The pattern of the Eastern Milksnake is fairly consistent in Virginia, however the intensity of the colors can vary quite a bit. Usually the blotches across the back are outlined in black. Eastern Milksnakes are found state wide, but are more abundant in the mountainous regions.
Eastern Copperhead vs. Eastern Hog-nosed Snake
Eastern Hog-nosed Snakes are the great actors of the snake world. In an effort to ward off predators these snakes will puff-up, hiss loudly, spread their neck and strike with the mouth closed. If all else fails the hognose snake will roll over and play dead. Found state wide the pattern and coloration of these snake can vary greatly. Eastern hognose snakes prefer sandy soil and primarily feed on toads.The pattern of the eastern hog-nosed snake can vary greatly
Eastern Copperhead vs. Red Cornsnake
The Red Cornsnake also known as the red ratsnake is usually more brightly colored and and has a more reddish hue than that of the copperhead. The pattern of the Red Cornsnake is a blotch that does not extend down the sides to the ground. Unlike the juvenile pattern of the Eastern Ratsnake that fades as the snake ages, the pattern of the Red Cornsnake remains distinct regardless of age.
Ways to Identify the Copperhead
There are several ways to differentiate the copperhead from these two similar-looking species, but first, let’s start with a description of the copperhead.
The copperhead gets its name from the coppery-tan color found mainly on its head and throughout parts of its body down to the tail. An adult copperhead’s average length ranges between 2 to 3 feet but can reach 4 feet.Since the copperhead is a pit viper, you’ll notice a very distinctive triangular-shaped head. Some people call it an “arrowhead-shaped” head. These wider parts of the head allow for space to fit the snake’s fangs and venom glands.
Pattern and Camouflage
Parts of the pattern of the copperhead resemble an hourglass and is one of the most diagnostic traits of all. The hourglass shape lays somewhat “sideways” on the copperhead’s back; the wider portion of the shape starts on one side of the body, thins towards the middle-top edge of the back (closest to the spine), and then widens back out to the opposite side of the snake. To put it simply, the top of the hourglass touches the left side of the body, the bottom of the hourglass touches the right side of the body. Keep in mind that the hourglass shapes can occasionally “mismatch” and seem like they disconnect from the complete shape, especially towards the tail.Copperheads are not aggressive, nor do they go out of their way to bite humans or other unsuspecting bystanders. It all comes down to their camouflage. When curled up, their camouflage resembles a pile of fallen leaves; this helps them remain hidden from potential predators – including you. A copperhead bite typically occurs when it’s least expected, after several attempts to discourage you, the “predator” from coming close. When walking through potential copperhead habitat, the snake will likely spot you first and may try to move away. As you get closer, it will curl up into its camouflage pile, blending in with fallen leaf litter on the ground. As you get closer, the copperhead will start to shake, or “rattle,” its tail to resemble a rattlesnake. Get even closer, and the copperhead will lift its head to show you it’s ready to bite if you keep provoking. The last and final step is a strike. Even though you may have never noticed any of the prior warnings, all the snake knows is that he gave you all warnings to stay away and that you still persisted. The bite is last resort to defend itself from an animal much larger than itself and which it certainly doesn’t see as a potential meal.
Eye pupil shape is a very easy way of identifying not only copperheads but also most venomous snakes in South Carolina, except for the coral snake. The Copperhead has a yellow eye with a black vertical and elliptical pupil, similar to that of a cat’s eye. Please be advised that this does require great eyesight and an excellent viewpoint. However, don’t try to get too close to the snake to see this feature, as you might put yourself in danger and ultimately provoke a strike from the snake. The venomous coral snake and all other non-venomous South Carolina snakes have round pupils.
Juvenile Yellow Tails
Juvenile copperheads are known for having a bright yellow tail that they use to lure their prey, such as frogs and small lizards. Be careful when you come across a yellow-tailed juvenile copperhead, and please do not approach. From birth, they already have functional venom glands but can’t control (or throttle) the amount of venom they inject. Therefore, you may find yourself in more trouble being bitten by a juvenile rather than an adult copperhead.
The corn snake is one of several North American species of rat snake. Unlike copperheads, corn snakes do not have fangs but catch and subdue their prey by constriction (squeezing and suffocating).Corn snakes are more colorful than copperheads – they have several color variants but are typically redder in color as opposed to the copperhead’s copper-tan complexion.While copperheads have most of their hourglass shape on the sides of their body, corn snakes will have most of their thick “blotch” markings on the tops (or their back) of their body. Corn snakes also have a distinctive black-and-white “checkerboard” pattern on their bellies.Corn snakes have a smaller, narrower head that aligns with their slender body angle and size, different from the copperhead’s triangular head and thicker body width. It’s also important to note the corn snake’s round pupil that is a common characteristic of our nonvenomous snakes.
Northern Water Snake
The northern water snake is a large, nonvenomous common snake native to North America. This, in my experience, is the snake most commonly mistaken for the copperhead. This is most likely because of their similar pattern and colors.The pattern of the northern water snake is dark blotches that are narrow on the sides and wider towards the backbone. This differs from the copperhead’s pattern that is wider on the sides and narrower towards the backbone.Unlike copperheads, northern water snakes have round pupils, which, as stated previously, is a common characteristic of nonvenomous snakes. The northern water snake also has a narrower head compared to the copperhead’s “arrow-shaped” head since it lacks venom glands and fangs.
Cottonmouth or Copperhead?
Given my general philosophy on snake identification, let’s take a look at cottonmouths (They are closely related so they have a lot of things in common, like vertical pupils and heat-sensing pits, two features that can help distinguish them from the variety of non-venomous snakes discussed below.For one, both species have relatively similar patterns. Copperheads have a color and pattern that has been described as Hershey Kisses in chocolate milk, although there is some variation (some appear almost orange) and in the western portion of their range the Hershey Kisses get broad and lose their characteristic shape.Cottonmouths have a similar pattern, but it’s messier. The kisses aren’t well-defined and there are likely to be spots and blobs all over. Here’s an interesting bit: when cottonmouths and copperheads are babies they look very similar; the pattern is very distinct and striking and they both have yellow or green tail tips.Over time, cottonmouths lose their distinct pattern and usually become uniformly dark snakes by the time they’re big adults. On the other hand, copperheads keep their patterning throughout their life. Another way to tell the difference between these species is to look for a dark bar running through the eye: cottonmouths have it, copperheads don’t.If you’re still wondering whether the snake you’re looking at is a cottonmouth or a copperhead, you can check whether you are within the geographic range of either species.For example, cottonmouths range throughout much of the southeastern United States west to central Texas and north to southern Illinois. If you live somewhere else, like New England, the snake you saw probably wasn’t a cottonmouth (no matter how much your neighbor insists there are lots of moccasins around).Copperheads, on the other hand, range throughout much of the eastern and central United States (but not extremes, like Maine and the Florida peninsula) west to Texas and a bit of northern Mexico.There are a few common species that are frequently mistaken for either copperheads or cottonmouths, but before we get into how to distinguish them, a word of advice.
Beware the Rules of Thumb
You’ve already learned the ground rules to avoid misidentifying animals in a previous Cool Green Science blog, and they all apply here too. But snakes add a layer of complexity: venom. There are tons of tips out there (and in here) to help you distinguish venomous snakes from those that are harmless; not all of them are particularly helpful.For example, many people will tell you that pit vipers (like cottonmouths and copperheads) have a triangular or diamond-shaped head. But, this is relative; you need to have looked at a lot of snake heads to know which are relatively triangular and which are not.Also, lots of non-venomous snakes flatten out their body and neck when they are feeling unsafe, this makes their heads look very triangular!If you really want to learn how to identify snakes, I recommend getting a copy of Peterson’s Field Guide to Amphibians and Reptiles and go through the process of trying to identify every snake you find (you can do this for pictures you find online too). Note that there is a separate version for the western United States.Over time, you will start to get a feel for the different species. I also suggest that anyone interested in learning how to recognize snakes join the Snake Identification Facebook group and watch snakes get identified in real-time. It won’t be long before you start identifying them too.Okay, with these caveats aside, let’s start with the copperheads, which are often confused for a wide variety of species.
Copperhead or Common Watersnake?
At first glance, common watersnakes (These shapes look more like saddles. As you might expect from their name, watersnakes spend a lot of their time in the water; copperheads rarely do.So, if you see a snake swimming around or even submerged, remember that this is snake is more likely to be a watersnake than a copperhead.
Copperhead or Dekay’s Brownsnake?
Dekay’s brownsnakes (As we’ve already learned, copperheads have a distinct banding pattern and Dekay’s brownsnakes don’t. They typically appear light brown or tan; depending on where they live, they could have faint lines or a checkered pattern (similar to that of a garter snake).Dekay’s brownsnakes also sometimes have a head that is a bit darker than the rest of their body.