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Agkistrodon contortrix, A. mocasin, A. mokeson
Agkistrodon is derived from the Greek word ancistron which means "fishhook". This is in reference to recurved fangs.
contortrix is from the Latin word contortus which means "twisted" or "intricate" in reference to the dorsal pattern
English: Southern Copperhead,Agkistrodon mocasin, Ancistrodon mokeson
Solution of venom in glycerine
Animalia; Chordata / Vertebrata - Vertebrates; Reptilia - Reptiles; Serpentes - Snakes; Crotalidae
(some information from Mitchell A. Fleisher)
Proving by JT Kent, 7 provers of the 6C, 30C and 10M potencies; proving record in his Lectures on the Homoeopathic Materia Medica. Toxicologic records from 2 accidental bites appear in TF Allen's Encyclopedia (as Agkistrodon contortrix).
Description of the substance
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 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. Copperhead: Left to right: Top of the head (notice the large plate-like scales on the top of the head); underside of the head (chin and throat). Copperhead: Left to right: Side of the head (notice the facial pit between the eye a nd the nostril); front (face view) of the head.
Range: 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, Liberty, Gadsden, Calhoun, Gulf, and Escambia counties. The range might extend to other nearby areas, but there are no confirmed Florida records from outside these counties. Outside Florida, the species ranges north to Massachusetts, and west to Texas and southeastern Nebraska.
Habitat: 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.
Comments: This beautiful snake is often confused with juvenile cottonmouths. If you found 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. Copperheads are often reported from south Florida, and the people who found them become quite belligerent when their mistake is pointed out. 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. Hatchling copperheads hold the tail erect and wiggle the yellow tip like a caterpillar to attract prey within striking range. 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 poisonous snakebites, the victim should seek immediate medical care from a physician or hospital experienced in treating snakebite.
Distribution: Southern USA
Range: USA, southeastern Virginia and southern Indiana south to the Gulf of Mexico and westward to central Texas.
The cottonmouth and copperheads are the most primitively developed of the pit vipers.
Five subspecies exist.
Copperheads are found in most parts of the central and eastern United States. They live in very different biotopes, ranging from forests to rocky terrain and half-desert. In early Spring, they are active during the day, but become more nocturnal during the hot summer months. They hibernate in colonies, sometimes together with other snake species. The majority of snake bites in the central and eastern United States can be attributed to the copperhead. The snake immediately attacks when irritated or disturbed. Despite its irritability, however, it is said to be easy to tame – unlike Lachesis, which dies when taken into captivity.
Average length of adult copperheads is 30 inches. They have an unmarked copper-colored head, reddish-brown,coppery bodies with chestnut brown crossbands that constrict towards the midline. Copperheads are thick-bodied and have keeled scales.
There is a temperature sensitive pit organ on each side of the head between the eye and the nostril. There is a single row of scales beneath the tail (Schmidt 1941, Tyning
Tails have no rattle (Ernst 1989)
Young Copperheads are 7-10 inches long and grayer in color than adults. They have a sulfur yellow tipped tail, which fades with age and is lost by age 3 or 4.
Copperheads are sexually dimorphic in size.
Males have longer tails then females and females grow to greater lengths (Tyning 1990)
The head of the Northern Copperhead is a red, copper color with the rest of its body being pinkish to gray-brown with a dark chestnut colored hourglass shaped pattern.
The hourglass pattern is narrow on the top of its back and wider on its sides. It has elliptical pupils and facial pits between its eyes and nostrils (Ohio DNR 1999). The
underside, belly area, of the northern subspecies is dark (Schmidt 1942).
The Copperhead is primarily a carnivore, as an adult eating mostly mice but also small birds, lizards, small snakes, amphibians and insects - especially cicadas (Conant and Collins 1998). The snakes are capable of swallowing prey that is several times larger than their own diameter. This is possible because they have a very flexible jaw and it has digestive juices that allow it to digest both bones and fur. Copperheads have fangs that inject its prey with a hemolytic venom (causes the breakdown of red blood cells) which subdues its prey, making it easy for the snake to swallow it. The copperhead
seeks out its prey using its heat sensitive pits to detect objects that are warmer then its environment. This also enables them to find nocturnal mammalian prey (Ohio DNR 1999).
Adult copperheads are primarily ambushers. When attacking large prey, the copperhead bites then releases immediately to allow the venom to take its effect then later tracks its prey. Whereas the smaller prey is held in its mouth until it dies (Ernst 1989). When the copperhead eats depends on the time of the year. They are most active April through late October, diurnal in the spring and fall, and nocturnal during the summer months
(Ohio DNR 1999). When carrying young, some females will not eat at all because the embryos occupy so much of the body cavity. It has been found that some copperheads consume only eight meals in a single growing season. The only possible explanations for this could be due to a slow metabolism and/or difficulty finding prey
Young copperheads eat mostly insects, especially caterpillars, and use their yellow tipped tails to function as a worm-like lure to attract prey (Georgia Wildlife Federation 1999).
The life span of the copperhead is 18 years. Both sexes reach sexual maturity at 4 years when they are about two feet in length. However, Ernst (1989) notes that the age and size of maturity in the male copperhead is unknown. The breeding season is from February to May and from August to October.
Females who breed in autumn can store the sperm until after she emerges from the overwintering site (Tyning 1990). The length of time that the sperm can be stored appears to differ depending on where it is being stored. If the sperm is stored in the cloaca, it only lasts a relatively short time, whereas if it is stored in the upper end of the oviducts in vascular tissues specialized as seminal receptacles it seems to last much longer (Ernst 1989).
Copperheads have a gestation period of 3-9 months. They are a live-bearing snake, typically producing 2-10 young, where larger females produce larger broods. After birth, the female provides no direct care for the young (Tyning 1990).
Females are ovoviviparous (eggs develop in the body of the female and hatch within or immediately after being expelled). They produce large, yolk-filled eggs and store the eggs in the reproductive tract for development. The embryo, during this time, receives no nourishment from the female, only from the yolk. The young are expelled in a membranous sac weighing less than an ounce and 7-10 inches in length (Ohio DNR 1999).
Adults feed primarily on small mammals, but a wide variety of prey has been recorded, including various insects such as cicadas, grasshoppers, beetles, and caterpillars, and also birds, snakes, and amphibians. Young Copperheads have a bright yellow tail tip which is used to help them attract food. A young Copperhead will coil itself up on the forest floor and extend the bright yellow tail tip, then slowly wiggle it to mimic the movements of a worm. When a small frog or lizard comes close to investigate, the young Copperhead strikes and gets a meal. Predators of the Copperhead include the Indigo Snake, kingsnakes, hawks, owls, the Opossum, the Coyote, and the Bobcat.
Mating begins in the spring after the snakes emerge from winter dens (there are some reports of autumn mating). At this time males begin to seek out sexually active females using their tongue to detect pheromones in the air. Once he has located a female, the male will begin moving his head or rubbing his chin on the ground. Eventually, after a lot of tail movements, slow to rapid back to forth waving from the female, the male aligns his body with hers. This courtship may last for an hour or more if the female does not respond. After being sufficiently stimulated, the female lifts and arches her tail and
lowers the scale that covers her cloaca. Then the male arches his body and tail, everting one of his two sex organs and mates with the female. Mating time varies, the range can be as much as 3.5 to 8.5 hours. The long mating time correlates with the fact that females usually only mate with one male per year. This is because during the mating period males produce a pheromone that makes the female unattractive to other males, who pay little or no attention to mating or just mated females. Females also have little interest in mating after a long successful first mating (Tyning 1990).
This is a social snake, which may overwinter in a communal den with other copperheads or other species of snakes including timber rattlesnakes and black rat snakes. They tend to return to the same den year after year. Females with young are gregarious whereas barren females and males are solitary (Ohio DNR 1999).
Copperheads are found close to one another near denning, sunning, courting, mating, eating and drinking sites. The are believed to migrate late in the spring to reach summer feeding territories and reverse this migration in early autumn. Males are aggressive during the spring and autumn mating seasons. They will try to overpower each other and even pin the others body to the ground. This behavior is exhibited most often in front
of females but is not always the case. These interactions can include elevating their bodies, swaying side to side, hooking each others necks, eventually intertwining their entire body length (Tyning 1990).
Copperheads have been reported to climb into low bushes or trees after prey or to bask in the sun. They have also been seen voluntarily entering water and swimming on numerous occasions (Ernst 1989).
Copperheads prefer terrestrial to semi-aquatic habitats, which include rocky-forested hillsides and various wetlands (Tyning 1990).
They have also been known to occupy abandoned and rotting slab or sawdust piles (Conant 1998).
Venom and Bites:
The copperhead has solenogiyphous fangs that tend to be 1.1-7.2 mm in length. The length of the snake relates to the length of the fangs; the longer the snake, the longer
the fangs. Even newborn copperheads have fully functional fangs that are capable of injecting venom. These newborns have venom that is just as toxic as adults do. The fangs are replaced periodically with each snake having a series of five to seven replacement fangs in the gums behind and above the current functional fang.
Sometimes when touched, they emit a musk that smells like cucumbers (Ernst 1989).
A very toxic pit viper, related to the moccasin snakes and rattlesnakes. About 90 cm long when fully grown, it owes its name to its copper-coloured head. Its body is a light brown colour with 15 to 25 irregular dark brown transverse hoops. Copperheads are found in most parts of the central and eastern United States. They live in very different biotopes, ranging from forests to rocky terrain and half-desert. In early Spring, they are active during the day, but become more nocturnal during the hot summer months. They hibernate in colonies, sometimes together with other snake species. The majority of snake bites in the central and eastern United States can be attributed to the copperhead. The snake immediately attacks when irritated or disturbed. Despite its irritability, however, it is said to be easy to tame – unlike Lachesis, which dies when taken into captivity.
It bears from two to eight living young during the fall. Juveniles possess a bright-yellow tail thought to function as a lure for frogs and lizards. In Australia the name copperhead applies to the venomous Denisonia superba, a relative of the cobra.
Size: Average adults range in length from 610 - 900 mm (24 - 36 in).
Color: The Copperhead can vary in color from grayish-brown to light brown or even pinkish. It has 10 - 20 hourglass-shaped dark crossbands which are chestnut brown or reddish brown to brown. The head can vary from gray to brown to reddish. The belly can be light brown, pinkish, or cream, with black, brown, or dark gray blotches.
Other things to look for: This is a stout-bodied snake. The scales are weakly keeled. As in all pitvipers there is a pit on each side of the head between the nostril and the eye.
Most Copperheads breed in the spring months of April and May, but mating may also take place in the fall in September and October. After a gestation period of 105 - 150 days the young are born alive and ready to feed. This snake is active from March through November in the South.
In rocky, mountainous regions, it will congregate in rock crevices to hibernate for the winter months.
The Copperhead can be found in a variety of habitats, from bottomland hardwood forest along the coastal plain to rocky hillsides in the Piedmont and mountains. Adults feed primarily on small mammals, but a wide variety of prey has been recorded, including various insects such as cicadas, grasshoppers, beetles, and caterpillars, and also birds, snakes, and amphibians. Young Copperheads have a bright yellow tail tip which is used to help them attract food. A young Copperhead will coil itself up on the forest floor and extend the bright yellow tail tip, then slowly wiggle it to mimic the movements of a worm. When a small frog or lizard comes close to investigate, the young Copperhead strikes and gets a meal.
Predators of the Copperhead include the Indigo Snake, kingsnakes, hawks, owls, the Opossum, the Coyote, and the Bobcat.
The genus Agkistrodon has long been placed into the pit viper family, with other snakes such as rattlesnakes. There has been much debate as to whether this group should be a family of its own or a subfamily within the family Viperidae (Gloyd and Conant 1990). They are now considered a subfamily, Crotalinae, under the family Viperidae (Gloyd and Conant 1990).
Since its discovery in the late 18th century, the northern copperhead has been given many different names. Here is a complete history (from Conant, 1990) of the nomenclature of Agkistrodon contortrix mokasen:
Agkistrodon mokasen by Palisot de Beauvois in 1799
Cenchris mokeson by Daudin in 1803
Scytalus cupreus by Rafinesque in 1818
Scytale cupreus by Say in 1819
Scytale mockeson by Say in 1819
Tisiphone cuprea by Fitzinger in 1826
Cenchris marmorata by F. Boie in 1827.
Acintias atrofuscus by Troost in 1836
Toxicophis atrofuscus by Troost in 1836
Trigonocephalus cechris by Schlegel 1837
Trigonocephalus contortix by Holbrook in 1838
Trigonocephalus atrofuscus by Holbrook in 1842
Cenchris contortix by Gray in 1842
Cenchris atrofuscus by Gray in 1849
Trigonocephalus histrionicus by Dumeril in 1853
Agkistrodon contortix by Baird and Girard in 1853
Ancistrodon contortix by Baird in 1854
Agkistrodon contorting by Abbott in 1869
Ancistrodon atrofuscus by Cope in 1875
Ancistrodon contortix by S. Garman in 1883
Ancistrodon mokasen by Brown in 1908
Agkistrodon mokasen mokasen by Gloyd and Conant in 1934
Agkistrodon mokasen cupreus by Glod and Conant in 1938
Agkistrodon mokeson mokeson by Gloyd and Conant in 1943
Agkistrodon mokeson by Davis and Brimley in 1944
Agkistrodon contortix mokeson by Klauber in 1948
Ancistrodon contortrix mokeson by Schmidt in 1953
Ancistrodon contortix contortrix by Prince, Duppstadt, and Lyons in 1955
Agkistrodon contortrix mokasen by Smith and Gloyd in 1964 (This is the currently accepted nomenclature.)
Ancistrodon contortix mokasen by Peterson in 1970
The type locality of this species is the area around Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Agkistrodon is only one of several genera in the subfamily; however, it does include many snakes in both the Old and New World. Among them is the Copperhead, Agkistrodon contortrix. Within this species, several subspecies exist. They include: A. c. contortix, the Southern Copperhead, A. c. laticinctus, the Broad Banded Copperhead, A. c. mokasen, the Northern Copperhead, A. c. phaeogaster, the Osage Copperhead, and A. c. pictigaster, the Transpecos Copperhead.
Other genuses in the subfamily Crotalinae include, but are not limited to, Bothriechis, the eyelash vipers, Crotalus, the rattlesnakes, Sistrurus, the massasauga and pygmy rattlesnakes, and Trimeresurus, tropical pit vipers and other tree vipers.
It is one of three poisonous snakes found in Ohio. It is the state's most numerous and frequently encountered poisonous snake, residing primarily in southeast Ohio.However, even though the copperhead does have the potential to inflict harm, it is like most other snakes--nonagressive. The copperhead will take a defensive posture only when directly threatened. Interestingly, when it is aroused, it may vibrate its tail like a rattlesnake, although it has no rattles. The bite of a copperhead, while painful and capable of producing severe illness, rarely results in death.The poison that generates such fear in people is an adaptation that helps the snake survive and serve as a valuable part of the environment. Snakes like the copperhead often prey on animals larger than themselves and so there is a distinct advantage in having that animal quiet or immobile, particularly if the animal could hurt the snake. Copperheads are pit vipers, and have large, hollow fangs at the front of their mouth that are connected to the bones of the upper jaw and palate so that they are folded against the roof of the mouth when the mouth is closed and are automatically brought forward when the mouth is opened. These fangs are used to inject venom into the prey. The poison of the copperhead is hemolytic, meaning it causes the breakdown of red blood cells in the bitten animal and this eventually subdues the animal, allowing the snake to easily swallow it.Snakes are able to swallow prey many times their own diameter because of an unusually flexible jaw mechanism. Further, the snake's digestive juices allow it to digest even bones and fur.Another unique adaptation of all snakes is the forked tongue. The split, two-pointed tongue, often seen darting from the mouth, is an organ used by the snake to interpret its world; the tongue provides the snake with a sense of touch and smell. Odorous particles adhere to it, the tongue is withdrawn into the mouth, and the tip is projected into a specialized part of the nasal cavity called the Jacobson's Organ. The copperhead also has the advantage of heat sensitive pits near the front and sides of its head. They are located between the nostril and eye. The pits enable the snakes to seek out and strike accurately at objects warmer than their surroundings; this adaptation helps the copperhead prey on nocturnal mammals.
The copperhead as mentioned previously has a red, copper-colored head, but the rest of its body is shaded differently. The body is pinkish to gray-brown with a dark chestnut colored hourglass shaped pattern on the body. This pattern is narrow on top of the back and wider on portions of the side of the body. Like other poisonous snakes, the copperhead has facial pits between its nostrils and eyes, and elliptical pupils. The copperhead is not, like many other poisonous snakes, a rattlesnake.On average, a copperhead snake is 24 to 36 inches long; an average weight has not been determined. The oldest reported copperhead in the wild was 30 years old. The average life span is much less; according to studies, only five percent live to be older than eight years of age.Five subspecies of copperhead have been identified in the United States; only two are found east of the Mississippi River. The Northern copperhead is the only subspecies found in Ohio. It also ranges from Massachusetts and Connecticut southward on the Piedmont and highlands to Georgia, Alabama, and northeast Mississippi. Its range continues west through southern Pennsylvania and the Ohio Valley to Illinois. In Ohio its range is basically limited to the unglaciated (southeast) portion of the state. Locally, the home range for a female copperhead is eight acres and 24 acres for a male.
Habitat and Habits
The copperhead will reside in a variety of areas including oak-hickory hillsides with rock crevices and slides, swamp borders, old slab piles from sawmill operations, and the abandoned foundations and wood structures of old buildings. They also show a preference for moist habitats.Copperheads' primary food is mice. They will also consume small birds, frogs, small snakes, and insects--particularly locusts and moth larvae. Depending on the time of year, these snakes will be active day or night. In the spring and fall when milder temperatures are the norm the snakes are out during the day; conversely, in the heat of summer copperheads come out at night. Overall, they are most active from April to late October.This snake is social and may overwinter in a communal den with other snakes of its own kind or with other species of snakes including timber rattlesnakes and black rat snakes. Overwinter dens are usually near the top of a rocky ridge on a south-facing slope.
Reproduction and Care of Young
Based on research conducted in Kansas, among this species of snake most females are sexually mature at the age of three. It is unknown at what point males reach sexual maturity.Courtship and mating occur from late August through October and in late February through April. Females don't mate unless they are receptive, which in this case means their ovaries contain mature egg follicles. However, for those snakes breeding late in the season, fertilization doesn't occur until the female comes out of the overwinter den. The sperm from a fall mating remains inactive, but viable over the winter in the female's reproductive tract. Mating will occur one time about every other year.Gestation for copperheads is estimated to be 105-110 days with most snakes born in August and September. Females carrying young are generally gregarious as opposed to barren females and males that maintain a solitary existence. Copperheads are ovoviviparous (eggs develop in the body of the female and hatch within or immediately after being expelled). The female produces large, yolk-filled eggs which are retained within her reproductive tract for a considerable period of development. The developing embryo receives no nourishment from the female, only from the yolk. Just prior to parturition or giving birth, the female will seek out a birthing den. The young are expelled from her body encased in a thin, membranous sac from which they will shortly emerge. Three to 10 young are produced per litter. When they are born the young copperheads are 8 to 10 inches long and weigh less than half an ounce. Although they can't produce the volume that an adult can, newborn copperheads' venom is just as strong as an adults. The appearance of immature copperheads is slightly different from the look they will take on as adults. The head is a duller red and the tail is yellow; the body markings or patterns are the same although lighter in color. The mortality rate for young copperheads is high.
The Division of Wildlife has no specific plan, other than monitoring the results of research conducted by interested scientists, for managing existing populations of copperheads. The Division is working to educate the public and dispel the many negative stereotypes about this and other species of snakes in the state.
As stated earlier, populations of this snake are restricted to the unglaciated portions of Ohio. This fact coupled with this snake's relatively secretive nature translate into very limited viewing opportunities for the public. Further, the Division advises individuals that frequent the copperhead's natural habitat to exercise caution as the venom from this snake's bite will make you extremely ill, and left untreated carries the potential for death.
Males will mate with more than one female; however, the female only mates once, generally every other year.
Peak Breeding Activity:
Late August through October and February to April. Sperm is stored until sometime after the female emerges from its overwinter
Is estimated to last 105-110 days Young are Born (Parturition): Most in August to mid-SeptemberLitter
3-10 young per litterYoung: Precocial and are on their own after hatching from their membraneNumber of Litters per Year: Generally 1 every other year.
UnknownAdult Length: 24-36 inches; the maximum authenticated length is 53 inches.Adult Height: Not applicableLife Expectancy: Between 1 and 7 years; only 5 % are known to live beyond 8 years. Oldest recorded was 30 years.Migration Patterns: Year-round resident; females have a home range of 8 acres and males 24 acres.
Depends on time of year. Copperheads are most active April through late October and are diurnal in the spring and the fall, nocturnal in the summer.Typical Foods: Mice, small birds, frogs, small snakes, and insects.Native to Ohio: YesActive or Potential Nuisance Species: Not generally. Copperheads are not aggressive and prefer to avoid all contact with human beings. When in an area where copperheads occur caution should be taken to avoid an encounter.The copperhead's presence in the state is stable and this species doesn't have any special management status designation.