Copperhead snakes (Agkistrodon contortrix) are found throughout South Carolina and are one of the six venomous snake species, out of 38 total snake species, that our state has.
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. They have a heat-sensing pit located on both sides of their head, between their eyes and nostrils; this is used to help find their prey. This characteristic classifies them as a pit viper. Since the copperhead is a pit viper, it will have a triangular-shaped head, like an arrowhead – this space is used to fit the snake’s fangs and venom glands. Copperheads, and other pit vipers, primarily use their fangs and venom for hunting and killng their prey, only to use as a last resort for defense from potential predators.
One of the trademark features of the copperhead is its hourglass-shaped pattern. This pattern is found from the head down to the tail and lays “sideways” on the snake’s back. The hourglass shape can occasionally “mismatch” from side to side and seem like they break apart towards the tail of the snake. When curled up, their camouflage resembles a pile of fallen leaves on the ground; this helps them remain hidden from potential predators. Unexpected bites from this snake species are normally accredited to their excellent camouflage, which makes it hard to see its prior warnings to discourage you from coming close. Other bites are a result after trying to either catch or kill this snake. It’s best to leave them alone and keep a safe distance. When left alone, the snake will normally move on once they believe the threat has left. Copperheads are known to rattle their tails to mimic rattlesnakes in the hopes of discouraging potential approaching predators.
The copperhead, like most other venomous snakes in South Carolina, has a yellow eye with a black vertical and elliptical pupil, like a cat’s eye. The venomous coral snake and all other non-venomous South Carolina snakes have round pupils.
Juvenile (young) copperheads resemble adult copperheads but have a bright yellow tail, which is used to lure their prey, such as frogs and small lizards. Once they approach maturity, the yellow tail fades away.
If you are in any way uncertain whether a snake is venomous or not, always exercise precaution and do not attempt to approach or catch it. If you are bitten by a venomous snake, please stay calm and seek medical attention right away. Respect snakes from afar if you prefer, and you should not run into any unpreventable issues.
For more information on copperhead snakes and how to differentiate them from other snakes in our state, see HGIC 2907, Identifying Copperhead Snakes.