VENOMOUS

Other common names

Copperhead, Southern Copperhead, Highland Moccasin, Chunk Head

Basic description

The average adult eastern copperhead is 22-36 inches long (56-91 cm) in total length. This snake is stout-bodied with a distinctive hourglass pattern of broad light brown and dark brown crossbands. The coloration of juveniles is similar to adults, except that the tail tip of newborn copperheads is bright sulfur yellow. See below for a more detailed description of this species.

tan and brown patterned snake
Eastern Copperhead. Photo courtesy of bobbyfingers/iNaturalist

Range in Florida

In Florida, copperheads occur only in the Panhandle, primarily in the western tip and along the Apalachicola River and its tributaries. The herpetology collection at the Florida Museum contains verified records from Calhoun, Escambia, Gadsden, Jackson, Liberty, Okaloosa, and Santa Rosa counties. The range may extend to other nearby areas, but there are no confirmed records from other Florida counties.

Assessment of risk to people and pets

VENOMOUS. Copperhead bites are extremely painful but rarely life-threatening for healthy adults and for most large or medium-sized pets. Bites can be dangerous to children, older individuals in poor health, and small pets. As with all venomous snakebites, the victim should seek immediate medical care from a physician or a hospital experienced in treating snakebites. Copperheads are not aggressive and avoid direct contact with people and pets. Most bites occur when the snakes are intentionally molested or accidentally stepped on.

Comparison with other species

If you find a snake of this description in Florida outside the Apalachicola River Valley or the extreme western end of the Panhandle, chances are that you have instead found a young cottonmouth or a non-venomous watersnake. Within the range of the copperhead in Florida, there are three snake species that can look similar.

Southern watersnake
Photo courtesy of Todd Pierson.

Southern watersnake (Nerodia fasciata fasciata) The banding pattern is highly variable, but juveniles typically have alternating dark and light brown crossbands the entire length of the body that are darker, narrower, and much more numerous than those on the copperhead. The darker bands may be bordered by black. A dark stripe runs from the eyes to the corner of the mouth, and the pupils are round. The sides of the face have dark vertical lines near the mouth, whereas the copperhead has no such lines.  Large adults are typically uniformly dark brown or black with only an obscure pattern visible in some.

dark snake with tan striped head
Photo by Coleman Sheehy.

Florida cottonmouth (Agkistrodon conanti) The dark crossbands on the body of juvenile cottonmouths have numerous dark spots and speckles, whereas the dark crossbands on copperheads have no dark spots or at most only one. Adult Florida cottonmouths are typically uniformly dark with very little discernable pattern. The eye of the copperhead is not obscured by the dark facial band typical of the cottonmouth.

snake with blotched pattern blending with road surface
Photo courtesy of hunterewgley/iNaturalist

Midland watersnake (Nerodia sipedon pleuralis) The alternating dark and light brown crossbands are darker, narrower, and much more numerous than those on the copperhead. The banding pattern transitions to alternating blotches about halfway down the body. The pupils are round. The sides of the face have dark vertical lines near the mouth, whereas the copperhead has no such lines on the face. Large adults are typically uniformly dark brown or black with only an obscure pattern visible in some.

Share your observations

You can help scientists better understand the biology and distribution of this species by sharing your observations. Send photos or videos of interesting observations, along with associated information, by emailing the herpetology staff at the Florida Museum for documentation in the Museum’s Herpetology Master Database. You can also post your observations on iNaturalist.

Additional helpful information

Do you have snakes around your house? Learn how to safely co-exist with snakes.

Still have questions about snakes or identifications? Feel free to email the herpetology staff at the Florida Museum with your questions or feedback on this profile.

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