Monday, November 28, 2011

The Northern Copperhead, WV Native, Pit Viper.


The northern copperhead or the agkistrodon contortrix mokasen (“Snakes of WV,” 2006), from the kingdom animalia (“Copperhead snakes, 2011), is one of only two venomous snakes in the state of West Virginia (“Snakes of WV,” 2006). This reptilian beauty is rightly named for her large, triangular, copper-colored head. The underbelly of the northern copperhead is a pinkish color, while her back is covered in an hour glass pattern, wider on the sides and narrow through the middle, a reddish brown in color, serving as a camouflage from larger predators (“Snakes of WV,” 2006). Copperheads are classified as pit vipers, named for the indentations which sense heat located between the eye and nostril on both sides of the face (Henricks, 2008).
Young copperheads are recognized by the yellow tip on their tail and are often much shorter in length (“Snakes of WV,” 2006). The average length of this West Virginia predator is around two feet for adults and around eight to ten inches at birth. The record length for the state is four and a half feet (“Some snakes of,”).


As is common among snakes, copperheads have jaws that are not fused together to accommodate for devouring sizable prey whole. It is difficult to sneak up on a copperhead unless they are getting ready to strike, for their sense of hearing is gained through vibrations in the jaw bone through the ground.
Copperheads are not known for a vicious demeanor and are not usually dangerous unless startled or threatened (“Some snakes of,”). Bites from a copperhead are very rarely lethal, though said to be incredibly painful. Venom is made up of a blend of saliva, proteins and enzymes, and that of a copperhead contain hemotoxins, which prevent blood from clotting and damages muscle tissue, as well as neurotoxins which attack the central nervous system (Henricks, 2008). The northern copperhead will strike from birth (“Some snakes of,”).


The mountains of West Virginia are a perfect environment for this predator, as the biome of the agkistrodon contortrix mokasen is that of the deciduous forest however, copperheads are known to wander into domesticated areas, in part, because of their diets (Jathar, 2011).
Juvenile copperheads often live mainly on invertebrates before they reach full strength and speed, although adults are also known to seek out aquatic prey. Amphibians and reptiles, frogs, turtles and other snakes that are indigenous to the area, are also common menu items for both adult and juvenile. However, the older the copperheads become, the more they feast primarily on rodents such as mice and moles (“Copperhead snakes,” 2011).
It is the pursuit of rodents that is most likely the reason for domesticated spotting of the northern copperhead. They have been spotted around barns and buildings, city gardens, wood and sawdust piles, and in haystacks, all places one is likely to catch a mouse (“Some snakes of,”).

Life Cycle:

Adult copperheads generally shed once to thrice a year and will shed to heal infection and injury. Juveniles shed to accommodate growth as well as for healing (“Copperhead snakes,” 2011).
Northern copperhead mating season begins in February and ends in April. The age of sexual maturity is around the 4th year of life for both the male and female. A female will mate with a single male per season and can store the sperm he produces for several months. The act of mating can last for three to eight hours, the end of which involves the male fertilizing the female with one of several reproductive “spikes (“Copperhead snakes,” 2011).”
Gestation is typically three months and spawns between one and fourteen juveniles (“Some snakes of”). Copperheads are viviparous, meaning their births are live rather than hatched from eggs as with some species of snakes (“Copperhead snakes,” 2011).
During the winter copperheads will den with other copperheads as well as several other species of snakes, which could prove fatal to the copperhead as it is not uncommon for snakes to eat other species of snakes (“Copperhead snakes,” 2011).


(2006). Snakes of west virginia. Elkins, WV: West Virginia Division of Natural Resources.

Copperhead snakes. (2011). Retrieved from

Hendricks, B. (2008, May 25). Watch where you walk, work, play wisdom, caution can help sportsmen avoid venomous bites. Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

Jathar, R. (2011, September 21). Deciduous forest animals. Retrieved from

(n.d.). Some snakes of west virginia. Charleston, WV: West Virginia Department of Agriculture.

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