Healthy Living

Copperhead Snake Bites: What Does It Look Like?

Key Takeaways

  • Copperhead snakes are brownish or reddish in color with hourglass-shaped bands.
  • Unlike other types of venomous snakes, copperhead snakes strike instantly without warning when they feel threatened. 
  • Copperheads are mainly found in hill areas, forests, and nearby rivers.

Copperhead snake bites are one of the frequently reported snakebites annually. However, they are rarely fatal. Most of the time, snake bites happen when people accidentally step on or touch snakes, which are excellent at blending into their surroundings. When copperhead snakes are disturbed, they sometimes remain still or quickly strike and then try to escape.

Copperhead snakes get their name because of their copper-colored heads. Some snakes are also called as copperheads such as water moccasins, Australian copperheads, and copperhead rat snakes. However, North American copperheads belong to a different species called Agkistrodon contortrix.

Copperhead snakes are regarded as North American snakes. They are also likely to bite, but with mild venom, which makes their bites rarely fatal.

They are also pit vipers, which mean that they possess the ability to detect even minimal changes in temperature because of their heat sensory pits between their eyes and nostril. Water moccasins and rattlesnakes are also pit vipers. These snakes are capable of accurately striking their prey by detecting the source of heat.

Unlike other types of venomous snakes, copperhead snakes strike instantly without warning when they feel threatened. Their venom, also specifically called as hemotoxic venom, temporarily damages the tissues on the area surrounding their bite. Although copperhead snake bites are painful, they rarely cause death to humans. However, individuals with compromised immune systems such as young children and the elderly may develop certain reactions to the venom, which is why medical attention should be given right away.

Classification of the copperhead snake

Copperheads belong to the Reptilia class, Squamata order (scaled reptiles), and Viperidae family with Agkistrodon contortrix as its genus and species.

Appearance of copperheads

The bodies of copperhead snakes have a distinct pattern. Their back shows reddish-brown crossbands in hourglass shape with a tan or light brown background. Copperhead snakes are usually 2-3 feet in length and are medium-sized. However, female copperhead snakes tend to be longer than males. Male copperheads are usually identified by their longer tails. 

Copperheads are quite distinguishable because of their unique hourglass markings. They have yellowish or whitish bellies with large brown spots along the sides. They have thick bodies with ridged scales. The color of their eyes can be tan, orange, or reddish-brown. 

Adult copperheads have a different color from the young ones, which are more on the grayish side than reddish-brown. Young copperhead snakes usually have a yellowish or greenish tail, but tends to fade away after a year.

They also use their colored tails to help catch their prey. This behavior is called as "caudal luring".

List of snakes that look like copperhead snakes:

  • Cottonmouth snake
  • Northern water snake
  • Brown water snake
  • Banded water snake

Habitat

Copperhead snakes usually reside in mountainous, rocky, woody, and bushy areas that are near streams. They are also found in canyons and oases—anywhere that has cover and sunshine. They like living in ecotones, which are two ecological communities that come together and integrate.

Copperheads also adjust well when it comes to alteration of their habitat, which is why they usually survive when they reach suburban zones. They can be found in abandoned farms or old farm houses, piles of wood, junkyards, or former construction work areas. 

Copperhead snake behavior

When copperheads are disturbed, they emit a strong musky smell and rapidly vibrate their tails. Some may quickly bite, while others remain to stay still. Moreover, they use camouflage to evade predators.

As opposed to other snakes, copperheads are regarded as semi-social. They can hunt all by themselves, and hibernate with other snake species in communal dens. They are also nocturnal when summer starts and usually out during spring or fall. Copperheads like to go out during humid nights after rain. They can even swim to look for their prey. Most of the time, they are on the ground, but they can also climb trees or bushes.

Snake bite symptoms

  • Two wounds close to each other
  • Wound starts to swell and the area around it becomes red
  • Painful wound
  • Heavy breathing
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Blurry vision
  • Increased sweat and saliva 
  • Face and body numbness

However, some venomous snake bites may have other specific symptoms.

Copperhead snake bites

Copperheads are usually found in hill areas, forests, and nearby rivers. They are not aggressive but can attack when disturbed.

Copperhead snake bite symptoms include:

  • Instantaneous pain
  • Change in skin color
  • Feeling scared and shocked
  • Low blood pressure
  • Generalized weakness

What should be done after a snakebite?

First aid is essential for snakebites. While waiting for medical help, apply first aid treatments. 

  • Call 911 right away.
  • Remember the time of the bite.
  • Remain calm and avoid unnecessary movements to prevent the spread of venom to other parts of the body.
  • Remove tight clothes or jewelry because the bitten area will likely to swell.
  • Do not let the victim walk. 
  • You can take a picture of the snake but never attempt going after it.

While offering first aid, make sure to clean the wound but avoid flushing the area with water. It is always best to get medical treatment immediately without wasting time. Treatments that are given on time may help in a faster recovery.

Treatment

Doctors will examine the snakebite and decide on which treatment to give. Every snakebite is treated as life-threatening. Usually, doctors will administer an anti-venom to counter or neutralize the snake venom.

Use snake traps

Never go behind copperhead snakes to catch or kill them. Always leave the snake alone. Sometimes, it is more dangerous to catch a snake if it strikes back and attacks. The best way to catch a snake is to make use of snake traps. 

Copperhead snake bites are quite painful. Their bite may not as be dangerous as vipers, but they can make a person sweaty, scared, and feeling weak. First aid should be immediately given to the victim while waiting for medical help. Most snakes only bite in defense when they feel scared or attacked. Most snakes usually move away and live on their own.

According to studies, the first reaction of all snakes when they come near humans is to move away. Snakes will not attack humans unless they are poked purposefully or stepped on by accident.