Eastern Copperheads

snake curled up on moss with light brown skin and dark brown diamond shaped markings
Eastern copperhead. Credit Peter Paplanus, Flickr.

Eastern Copperheads (Agkistrodon contortrix), which are a common snake across most of Virginia are venomous, which means that they kill prey by biting and injecting venom. Copperheads are typically tan to pinkish in color, and easily identified by the dark brown bands across the back that are shaped like an hourglass or Hershey’s Kiss. Copperheads rely on camouflage to escape detection.

Mice are the primary prey of copperheads, but they also take lizards, small snakes, amphibians, small birds, and insects. Copperheads play an important role in controlling rodent populations and rodent-spread diseases. They often bask in the sun on rocks or trails during spring and fall when temperatures are moderate. They find shelter in or under fallen logs, leaf litter, and rock walls and outcroppings like those found at the PEC’s Piedmont Memorial Overlook, which you can hike to via Sky Meadows State Park.

grassy overlook looking out over landscape of open space and farmland with a brown metal sign in the foreground that says "caution venomous snakes in area"
Snake sign we put up near the boulders at PEC’s Piedmont Memorial Overlook. Credit October Greenfield/PEC.

Copperheads give birth to live young in August and September. After giving birth, a copperhead mother does not care for her young. Newborn copperheads measure about 7–9 inches long at birth and look almost the same as adult copperheads in pattern and coloring, but may have a yellow tail tip.

*When threatened, copperheads will lie still or move away slowly, sometimes “rattling” their tails. Copperheads are not aggressive but will strike in self-defense if they feel threatened. Bites are rarely life-threatening, but if bitten you should always seek medical attention.

If you see a copperhead, please give it some space. It is best to keep dogs on a leash when out hiking to avoid disturbing copperheads and other wildlife. In Virginia it is illegal to kill any species of snake, unless that snake represents an immediate threat to one’s personal health or safety.