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How to Identify A Baby Copperhead Snake – 10 Key Features

How to identify baby copperhead snakes is a common concern where I live. If you have the misfortune of coming across a snake in the wild, it is wise then to know what snakes in your area look like, even the difference between baby and adult snakes of the same species. Your first priority should be to determine if the snake is poisonous. The second is to verify the species of the snake. Correct identification could be the difference between life and death if you or someone else is bitten.

Baby copperhead snakes are visually similar to their adult counterparts, with their copper-colored heads, elliptical eyes, facial pits, and hourglass-shaped splotches. However, babies possess unique features such as grayer coloring, a yellow tail tip, and often 2 small dark spots on their heads.

Copperheads are dangerous and can be lethal. They have a tendency to attack as a warning rather than slithering away from humans. It is, therefore, essential to know how to identify the youth as well as the old in this species. Especially as features like a bright yellow tail tip might lead you to think a baby copperhead was a different snake.

It is best to familiarize yourself with its features and where you are likely to find them to keep yourself safe and let you know if you need to take preventative measures and use a product like this one found on Amazon.

Young Copperhead snake on a white background

10 Distinct Baby Copperhead Features

Baby copperheads (Agkistron contortrix) look similar to adult copperheads as well as other species of snakes. However, there are a few characteristics that baby copperheads possess, when taken together, make them distinctive. By knowing what to look for, you won’t misidentify a copperhead of any age in the wild.

1. Skin Color

Adult copperhead’s skin is a light tan color with a pinkish hue. Baby copperheads, meanwhile, are grayer. As they age, they get browner. The markings on copperheads are dark brown or chestnut in color. They may have a slight red tinge to their colorings. These colorings aren’t unique to copperheads, young or old, as they are designed to blend in well with the background. It is, however, step one to identifying them.

2. Snakeskin Pattern

When observing a snake from a distance, look at its coloring and then at the shapes of its markings. Copperheads have a distinctive dorsal pattern of hourglass-shaped splotches on their backs. They create bands around their body and make between 21-25 rows.

3. Side And Belly Of The Snake

A critical difference between a copperhead and a rattlesnake is that the blotch markings can extend down the sides of the back toward the belly. The underside of the snake will be a lighter color than the top, more like a whiteish yellow with grey blotches. It will appear marble in texture because of how the colors blend.

4. Tail Tip Color

A key identifying feature of a baby copperhead versus an adult one is the tip of its tail. Baby copperheads have a vibrant yellow tail that it uses to attract prey by using it to mimic a wiggling worm. Once the victim is close, the baby snake pounces for in for the kill. As it ages, the yellow color fades and blends in with the rest of the body. Typically, this trademark is gone by the time the snake reaches its third or fourth year. Copperheads live for around 18 years.

5. Head Color

Copperhead snakes get their name from the burnt red, copper-like color on their heads. If you see this on a snake, regardless of its size, then it is probably a copperhead. However, you may misidentify it as a Northern Water Snake if you only take this feature and no other information to make your identification.

6. Spots on The Head

Adult copperheads have no pattern to them – just the distinctive red copperish color. Baby copperheads, meanwhile, typically have two small dark spots on the top of their heads. Beware, some baby copperheads will have clear heads just like their parents, so the absence of spots does not mean it isn’t a baby copperhead.

7. Head Shape

The head of a copperhead is wedge-like, almost triangular-shaped, that can look a bit like a heart when viewed from above. Its head is distinct from the neck. Other snakes that you might confuse it for may have narrow, round, or square-shaped heads. Checking the shape in context with everything else you can see will help you classify it as a copperhead.

8. Facial Pits

Like rattlesnakes and moccasins, copperheads are pit vipers. Consequently, they have two slits on their heads that lie between their eyes and nostrils. They are used to sense any changes in temperature, which is pivotal for hunting and sensing danger. They use their sense of heat to precisely locate their prey before pouncing. Recognizing these slits can help eliminate other species of snakes that may have simal markings. You’d need to be close to the snake’s head to see these, though – so be careful. It will attack if it feels threatened.

9. Eyes

Copperhead’s eyes are akin to those of a cat. They are oval, slit-like, and colored yellow or pinkish. Hopefully, you’d never be close enough to see such details, but if you are, it’s another piece of evidence to make an identification.

10. Length

As you would expect, a baby snake is quite small. Typically, when they are born, copperheads are 8-10 inches long and grow to 2-3 feet by maturity. Females tend to be longer than their male counterparts. Don’t let their small size dupe you into a false sense of security. They are still poisonous, even as babies.

Keeping Copperheads Off Your Property

Now that you know how to identify a baby copperhead, you may want to take preventative measures to keep them away from your family. While no measures are 100% foolproof, spreading snake repellant along the perimeter of your property is very inexpensive. I put this stuff out from time to time, especially after I spot a snake.

I recommend this brand, found on Amazon. It has a better smell than many other options out there and seems to stick around longer.

Are Baby Copperheads Snakes Poisonous?

All copperhead snakes are poisonous, baby or adult. It doesn’t matter. Their venom is hemolytic, which means it causes the breakdown of red blood cells. Baby copperhead’s venom is just as toxic as a fully formed adult. Thankfully, they are the least venomous of all the pit vipers.

As they are ovoviviparous, meaning they are born live, baby copperheads are born with fangs that possess venom. You might think a small snake cannot be dangerous, but a threatened copperhead will attack.

Remember, where this is one baby copperhead snake, there could be 1-19 others close by as female copperheads give birth to up to 20 at a time, although fewer than ten is most common. The older the snake is, the more likely that its siblings have dispersed as they like to hunt alone. As they mature, their fangs grow, as does the volume of venom they can inject. Their fangs are also indexed to the size of the snake. That is, the longer the snake, the longer its fangs are.

Their bite may not have as much venom as an adult snake, but the site of the bite will be painful. It is unlikely that it will inject you with enough venom to be fatal. This is because copperheads only inject a little venom when it feels threatened. It does this because a copperhead will attack immediately, which is unusual for snakes, so it preserves its venomous reserves. It is mostly trying to bite you as a warning, not trying to kill you with its venom.

If the baby copperhead can’t control its venom properly, or it confuses you for prey, it can release enough to kill you.

Don’t be blazé about being bitten by a baby snake. Seek medical treatment immediately. Their venom is designed to lyse (break down) red blood cells, which then leads to the death of the prey. It can be fatal for pets, children, and those with compromised immune systems.

Related What Snake Ranks as the Most Dangerous in the Americas?

Where Do Copperhead Snakes Live?

There are five sub-species of Copperheads, and they are indigenous to the Eastern and Central United States. The boundaries include the states of Connecticut, Kansas, Florida, and Western Texas.

You will find them in a variety of habitats, which makes it important to be able to identify them as they could be almost anywhere in nature. Their natural dwellings include rocky and wooded areas and heavy green zones along rivers and lakes. You can also expect to see them near desert oases, canyons, mountains, and swamps.

Copperheads also seek manmade structures for shelter, including barns, junkyards, abandoned buildings, and wood and sawdust piles. They can even climb trees. Essentially, you can find them almost anywhere that they can find cover and food.

During the spring and fall, copperheads are active throughout the day. However, in the warmer months, they seek shelter during the hottest parts of the day and are active in the cooler hours of the day. You are most likely to see them on a warm, humid night or shortly after summer rainfall.

In the winter, they hibernate in dens with other snakes, even those from different species. Expect to see copperheads in a den with timber rattlesnakes and black rat snakes, as well as other copperheads. This is the only time you’ll see multiple copperheads outside of the mating season, which is both late spring and early fall. These snakes are habitual and will return to the same den year after year.

What Do Copperheads Eat?

Copperheads are carnivores and thrive on a diet of mice, smaller reptiles, birds, and insects. Like most viper snakes, copperheads are ambush predators. This means that they don’t tend to hunt but rather prefer to wait for food to pass by and attack it.

  • With large prey, the copperhead will retreat as soon as it has injected its venom and wait for it to die. It will track the prey during the dying process.
  • With smaller prey, the copperhead will hold it in its mouth until it dies. As with most snakes, copperheads eat their prey whole, which it is able to do by possessing a flexible jaw that unhinges.

Cool Fact: If their meal is substantial enough, copperheads only need to feed 10 to 12 times a year. On average, however, they ingest a meal once every three weeks, even during the active months of the year.

Copperheads are not apex predators, and these snakes can become a source of food themselves. They are especially vulnerable when they are young. Other snake species, e.g., kingsnakes, racers, and cottonmouths, will eat copperheads. They are also a source of food for bullfrogs and larger reptiles such as alligators. Cats, coyotes, and opossums will also dine on these snakes. They seek shelter to protect themselves from above as they are a key food for hawks, crows, and owls.

Final Thoughts

Baby copperhead snakes are venomous reptiles that have distinct characteristics that make their identification straightforward. While all copperheads have a red, copper-like coloring to their heads, baby copperheads may have two distinct dark dots. Another defining feature separating the babies from the adults is the bright yellow tail that the younglings have to help them catch prey.

Now you know what to do if you ever encounter a strange snake and wonder if it’s a baby copperhead. Also, keep in mind that most of the time, that snake you are seeing in your garden will be a garter snake, not a copperhead. Thanks for reading!

Helpful Related Products

If you encounter snakes often or are planning a trip outdoors, here are a few products you may be interested in that I recommend.

Related Questions

Can Copperhead Venom Cure Cancer?

Copperhead venom contains the chemical contortrostatin, which has been demonstrated to affect blood vessel formation in malignant tumors. A 2005 study that used human breast cancer cell lines in mice showed that contortrostatin, a disintegrin, had potent anti-tumor and anti-angiogenic activity. It was then shown to also work with human ovarian and prostate cell lines in the same way.

Overall, tumor growth was inhibited by 70-80%, and stopped metastasis by 90%. However, despite a few publications showing promising data between 2000-2005, there has been no new research using contortrostatin since. There are several reasons for this. Copperhead venom is difficult to obtain in sufficient quantities, and research in mice models rarely translates to humans. Cancer treatment has also evolved since these publications toward personalized immunotherapy.

How to Get Rid of Copperhead Snakes in Your Garden

Copperhead snakes are one of the most common species found in the United States. They are everywhere conceivable, from the North-Eastern states down to Florida and all the way west to Texas. If your garden is riddled with tall grass, it is prime land for a copperhead to home.

If you live on land that is favorable for rodents, then your grass not only provides cover for the copperhead, but it is also offering a steady food supply. Therefore, the best way to take care of two problems at once – the rodents and the snakes – is advisable to remove whatever is causing there to be a food source. Rodent control is, therefore, a good place to start. Remove the food, and the snake will move on. If rodents aren’t your problem, then you can use a snake repellant. It won’t kill the snake, but it will aggravate it enough that it will move on.

For more, check out What to Do if You Encounter a Snake While Hiking.