The Northern Copperhead is one of three venomous snakes in Virginia (the others being the Cottonmouth). Copperheads are a member of the Crotaline (pit viper) subfamily. They can be found all across Virginia, which leads to them being the most encountered venomous snake in Virginia.
Copperhead color patterns vary, but generally consist of a pinkish tan color which becomes darker near the midline. The crossbands are generally pale brown in the center. The neonates (juvenile snakes), like all venomous snakes in Virginia, have a yellow tipped tail that they use to attract unsuspecting prey (caudal luring). The yellow tip is no longer present in the adult stage. Adult copperheads usually grow anywhere from 20-37 inches in length, and males tend to be larger than females.
Deciduous forests and woodlands are the best area to run into a copperhead. They are often spotted near rock outcroppings and ledges, but can also be found in swampy regions. They blend in very well with their surroundings.
Copperheads are generally an ambush predator. An exception to this is when they hunt insects. They usually feed on small rodents, such as voles and mice. They will also eat small amphibians and reptiles.
Like all venomous snakes in Virginia, copperheads give birth to live young. Each litter typically consists of four to seven hatchlings. Contrary to other venomous snakes in Virginia, copperheads will often freeze when startled by a predator. This can be a problem for unsuspecting humans since copperheads blend in very well with their surroundings. They typically do not bite unless harassed, but this “freezing” action makes the likelihood of stepping on them greater.
As with any snake, your best option is to leave them alone. Copperheads are generally non-aggressive and bites are rarely fatal. It is important to always seek medical attention from any venomous snake bit, since an allergic reaction, or secondary infection, can arise in addition to the symptoms from the venom. Snakes play a vital role in our ecosystem, and the venom from copperheads is actually being used in medical research to halt the growth of cancer cells.