Southern Copperhead, Copperhead, Highland Moccasin, Chunkhead
Agkistrodon contortrix contortrix (LINNAEUS 1766)
* Currently accepted name
* scientific names used through time
- Boa contortrix – LINNAEUS 1766
- Agkistrodon contortrix – BAIRD & GIRARD 1853
- Ancistrodon contortrix – BAIRD 1854
- Trigonocephalus contortrix – DUMÉRIL & BIBRON 1854
- Cenchris atrofuscus – THEOBALD 1868
- Agkistrodon contortrix contortrix – GLOYD & CONANT 1990
Average adult size is 22-36 inches (56-91 cm), record is 53 inches (135 cm). A stout-bodied snake with broad, light brown to gray crossbands, alternating with dark brown to reddish-brown crossbands. Constrictions along the backbone give the dark bands an hourglass shape. On the sides of the body the dark bands usually have light centers, and occasionally one dark spot. Southern copperheads sometimes have an overall pinkish tint. The scales are keeled. The top of head in front of the eyes is covered with large plate-like scales. The pupil is elliptical, a catlike vertical slit. There is a deep facial pit between the nostril and the eye. Juvenile color is similar to that of adults, except that the tail of new born copperheads is bright sulfur yellow.
A. Top of the head (notice the large plate-like scales on the top of the head)
B. Underside of the head (chin and throat)
C. Front (face view) of the head
D. Side of the head (notice the facial pit between the eye and the nostril)
E. Keeled Scales
In Florida, this snake occurs only in the panhandle, primarily along the Apalachicola River and its tributaries, and then in the western tip of the panhandle. The FLMNH has specimens in its collections from Jackson, Calhoun, Gulf, Gadsden, Liberty, Leon, and Escambia counties. The range might extend to other nearby areas, but there are no confirmed records from other Florida counties. Outside Florida, the species ranges north to Massachusetts, and west to Texas and southeastern Nebraska.
The preferred habitat is low, wet areas around swamps, stream beds, river bottoms, and damp ravines, but it also occurs on the hillsides above the wet areas. It also is found in suburban neighborhoods near people.
VENOMOUS: Copperhead bites are extremely painful but usually are not life-threatening for healthy adults. They can be dangerous to children or older citizens in poor health. As with all venomous snakebites, the victim should seek immediate medical care from a physician or hospital experienced in treating snakebite. Juvenile copperheads have a bright, sulfur yellow-colored tail which they hold erect and wiggle like a caterpillar to lure prey to within striking range.
Comparison with other species:
This beautiful snake is often confused with juvenile cottonmouths. If you find one in Florida outside the Apalachicola River valley or the extreme western end of the panhandle, chances are you have a young cottonmouth and not a copperhead.
The two species are easy to distinguish because the dark bars on juvenile cottonmouths have numerous dark spots and speckles in them, while the dark bars on the copperhead have no dark spots or at most only one. Also, the eye of the copperhead is not obscured by the dark facial band typical of the cottonmouth.