Copperheads get their name, unsurprisingly, from their bronze-hued heads.
These large snakes, found through the southern and eastern United States, have bodies that range from tan to copper to gray, with characteristic hourglass-shaped stripes. The reptiles grow to lengths between two and three feet, although there are records of individuals longer than four feet. Their stout bodies abruptly taper toward their thin tails.
The species (Agkistrodon contortrix) is responsible for more venomous snakebites than any other in the United States, in part because they are widespread and populous. They can also tolerate living in subdivisions and developed land, making interactions with humans more common.
Luckily, their venom is not among the most potent, and bites are rarely deadly; children, the elderly, and immunocompromised people are most at risk. Copperhead venom is hemolytic, meaning it breaks down blood cells.
The snakes typically feed on mice and other rodents, but will also go after small birds, lizards, and frogs. After biting their prey, the serpents often hold it in their mouth until the venom has done its job.
Immature copperheads have unique, yellow-tipped tails, which they wiggle and use as a lure to attract prey. This coloration fades when they reach about three years of age. The snakes, which reach sexual maturity at four years of age, live for around 18 years.
The animals are a type of pit viper, and have small indentations in their head, between their eyes and nostrils, which allow them to sense heat. This helps them hunt and find mammalian prey in the darkness, when they are most active. Like other pit vipers, they have triangular heads.
These snakes commonly breed in the spring, at which time males search out females and become aggressive while competing with one another. In the winter, the animals will den underground, commonly returning to the same spot year after year, and often commune there with other snake species, such as rat snakes and rattlesnakes.
Females give birth from a couple to as many as a dozen offspring, which are born in a thin membrane through which they quickly break free. The young are born with fangs and venom and may even feed before hibernating for the winter.
They are five subspecies of the snake.