Authored by Rodney Southern in Nature and Wildlife
Published on 02-25-2009
The copperhead is easily the most infamous snake found in North Carolina. This is due to the large numbers of them scattered throughout the majority of North Carolina. Another reason is because about 90 percent of the venomous snakebites in North Carolina are by the copperhead. They are very adaptive snakes, and can be found in backyards all across the state. This close proximity with us is the primary reason that it bites us more frequently than the other venomous snakes in North Carolina. They prefer to be in areas that are not occupied by humans, but expansion and growth have invaded their natural hunting grounds.
The copperhead is a pit viper, and as such has the triangular shaped head and short stout build that marks the majority of the family. It is a stout little snake when fully grown, and has several color variations depending on where in the state you come across one. The copperhead as a rule is a rusty, pinkish, or tan color with hourglass shaped markings running across it’s back. The hourglasses are darker in color than the background color, and they are usually quite distinct. The copperhead also has a yellow tip on it’s tail when it is young. This tip is used to wiggle like a worm and draw a prey item in close enough to be bitten.
Many people confuse the copperhead with the cottonmouth even though they are vastly different snakes. The copperhead is generally not territorial though it will stay in an area that is providing nourishment. The easiest way to tell the copperhead from the cottonmouth is the lack of a black line that runs from a cottonmouth’s eye to the angle of the jaw. Cottonmouths are almost always found in or near a water source as well. Copperheads are not averse to water, but can be found far from it as well.
The venom of the copperhead is a dangerous cocktail that has the potential to kill a human being. Generally, a copperhead bite is not that serious that you would die, but the potential is certainly there if you do not seek medical attention. The copperhead, like most venomous snakes, is not a willing biter unless you muck with them or otherwise prevent their escape. Most bites happen when the copperhead is picked up or stepped on. Sometimes a copperhead bite is dry. That is, they did not actually inject any venom. This happens sometimes because the snake wants to save that venom for prey. They have no interest in us as a food source, so why use the venom?
The copperhead is found pretty much everywhere in North Carolina. Even with it having a healthy population, your odds of seeing one is still fairly rare. It happens of course, but they are not crawling around every ten feet like some people think. If you are in the woods and hunting snakes, you are likely to eventually come across a copperhead. About the only place in North Carolina you can not find the copperhead is in the Outer Banks.