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Is that a copperhead?

Close up view of a copperhead. The keels on the scales give them a rough texture.
Close up view of a copperhead. The keels on the scales give them a rough texture.
Fred Bruckman

The copperhead is one of the most misunderstood snakes found in Maryland. These venomous beauties can be found in most of the state, but only in their specific habitats. Most neighborhoods will not have copperheads, even though they are mistakenly spotted everywhere.

Amazing copperheads like this one, are found in Maryland.
Fred Bruckman

The habitat of the copperhead is deciduous forest, the type of forest found in Maryland. Usually they are found in rocky outcrops, mostly south facing to get the basking sunlight, but may face east as well. Copperheads can find their homes in swampy areas. Although not generally found in most heavily populated neighborhoods, hatchlings are known to explore further away from the den. They are generally active from March to October, depending on the temperature, and hibernate through the colder months.

Copperheads have a beautiful copper coloring, hence the name. The coloration is variable, but the ones found in Maryland are usually tan color, pinkish and dark brown. There is a very distinctive hourglass pattern to these snakes. They have keeled scales, a ridge down the middle of each scale. Babies have a brightly colored yellow tails, which wiggle as a lure to attract prey. The eyes of copperheads are catlike, with slitted pupils rather than the round pupils of the non-venomous snakes in Maryland.

The copperhead’s diet consists mostly of small mammals such as rodents. Other reptiles and amphibians can occasionally become a meal.

Many snakes lay eggs, but copperheads (and a few other snake species in Maryland) have live young. A myth is that the babies have more dangerous venom. That is untrue.

While copperheads are venomous, they do not inflict a bite nearly as serious as the bite of a timber rattlesnake, the other and most dangerous venomous snake found in Maryland. Copperheads can certainly injure a person, but rarely kill humans.

Most bites on people are “dry bites.” A dry bite is when a venomous snake bites with its fangs, but does not inject its venom. Of course, if you are bitten by a copperhead, you should seek medical attention immediately. You can experience pain, nausea, tingling, throbbing, cellulitis (skin infection) and swelling at the site. You can have an allergic reaction to the bite. Usually antivenin is not given for copperhead bites because there are more serious allergic reactions to the treatment which can be worse than the bite itself.

Enjoy these gorgeous creatures in the wild, but for your own safety, always offer them the respect they deserve.