The copperhead is one of only two species of venomous snakes found in Maryland (the other being the timber rattlesnake). Copperheads live in coastal areas, marshes, forests, fields, wooded slopes and ravines from the Eastern Shore to the Blue Ridge Mountains.
The copperhead has a broad, triangular head, heat-sensitive pits, vertically elliptical pupils, and rust-colored markings, narrow on the back and broader on the sides. (Non-venomous snakes have round pupils and lack sensing pits.) Its belly is usually pinkish-tan. Adults can reach almost 4½ feet in length, but rarely exceed 3 feet.
Most snakes are constrictors, suffocating their prey before swallowing it live. However, venomous species such as the copperhead bite their prey, injecting poisons produced in their salivary glands to immobilize it and then swallow it whole. The copperhead's diet includes insects, birds, amphibians, other reptiles and small mammals.
Copperheads are reclusive and tend to hide in abandoned barns, sawdust piles or under boards. When disturbed, they will lay still or move away slowly, occasionally vibrating their tails. Copperheads only become aggressive if stepped on or provoked and while quite painful, their bite is rarely fatal to humans.
Female copperheads give birth to between 3 and 14 live young, which are between 8 and 10 inches in length and have bright, yellow-tipped tails. Young snakes grow rapidly and shed their skin as they grow, often four or more times a year. Adults shed once or twice a year. In preparation for shedding, the snake's eyes secrete lymphatic fluid, which gives them a murky blue appearance.
Like all native snakes in Maryland, Northern copperheads are protected by the Nongame and Endangered Species Conservation Act and cannot be killed, possessed, bred, or sold without first acquiring the proper permit from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. Additionally, Maryland requires a Captive Reptile and Amphibian Permit for the possession, breeding, and sale of native reptiles and amphibians in the state.
Photo of copperhead (Agkistrodon contortrix)