Is That a Copperhead?

by Ann Barnes, EMGV

Recently, my colleagues and I were surprised by a copperhead curled up in our compost bin. Fortunately, nobody was bitten, and we were able to move the snake to a safe location. Harmless snakes are often mistaken for copperheads. Take a look at this excellent site from the Virginia Herpetological Society and learn to spot the differences.

Copperheads are found throughout North Carolina. They are carnivores, eating mice, birds, lizards, frogs, and some insects. Copperheads live where their prey is plentiful – wooded areas, near streams and ponds, and around covered areas such as wood piles, rock walls, compost piles, stumps and debris. During summer, copperheads are more active at night and hidden during the day. Their coloring provides excellent camouflage.

While copperhead bites are seldom fatal to humans, they are painful and require medical attention. According to Dr. Whit Gibbons of the University of Georgia, most snakes that are approached by people will first try to escape. If escape is not a possibility, most venomous snakes will give a warning – such as a rattlesnake’s tail vibration or a cottonmouth’s open mouth – before striking. Copperheads react differently: they tend to strike without a warning if unable to escape human contact. Many copperhead bites occur when people step on or accidentally touch a snake. Experts recommend avoiding these snakes and allowing them to escape. Use caution when doing yard work (especially in overgrown areas) or participating in outdoor activities such as hiking.