How to Identify a Baby Copperhead Snake

baby copperhead

Did you know that baby copperhead snakes are poisonous like the adult copperheads?

When the copperhead baby snakes are born, they already have fangs and venom! The baby copperheads are about 8-10 inches in length and camouflage with the bushes or leaves, making it extremely difficult to spot them. Also, copperheads do not flee when threatened. Instead, they freeze.

If you move away quietly, then they do no harm, but if you mistakenly step on them or provoke them, they attack. So watch out when you are out for a trek.

How do we identify a baby copperhead snake? Do they have any distinct features? Let us find out!

young copperhead

Important Identifiers –What to watch out for!

It is important to understand how to identify the baby copperheads so we can keep a safe distance from them. But be warned not to step too close for identification.

The baby copperhead snake looks to a great extent, as the adult copperhead. The copperheads are pit vipers. They have a pit on the face, between each eye and the nostril, which detects heat and helps them find their prey or predator. The pit also helps them locate their prey or predator in dark places and even at night. The copperheads mostly feed on insects, rodents, and amphibians.

What color are they? What is the shape of their heads?

They get their name from the reddish coppery head they have. The head of a copperhead, when viewed from above, will be wedge-shaped or heart-shaped. There have two small dark spots on the top of the head. Apart from the spots, there are no other markings on the head. Be careful! Some species of the copperhead do not have the spots on the head. The copperheads have yellow elliptical eyes. Their pupils are slit and not circular in shape; they resemble the pupils of a cat, so if you are out in the dark and see cat-like eyes be doubly sure before approaching.

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The body of the copperhead is usually light tan or beige to light pinkish color. Some species like the Northern copperhead are brown or tan colored. The baby copperheads may sometimes have a dark greyish colored body. The copperheads have markings similar to an hourglass all along their body. This could also look like two Hershey’s Kisses chocolates touching each other! There are some other species of snakes who also have these markings, but the copperheads are distinguished by the hourglass markings that extend to the sides. The adult copperheads have this marking all over their body, while the baby copperheads have the hourglass-shaped band only till their tail.

The belly of the snake is lighter than the rest of the body and has a rough patchy look. Some of them have dark smudge like markings with spots on the side of the belly. 

copperhead snakes

The tail of the Baby Copperhead

The baby copperheads have one distinctive feature in comparison to the adults. They have a bright, sulfur-yellow colored tail. They are smart and use their tail to trick and hunt the prey; this is termed as caudal luring. The young copperheads wiggle their tails to lure the prey. The prey seeing the yellow wiggling tail, thinks that it is a small worm and comes closer. When close enough, the baby copperhead attacks it with its fangs. The venom kills the prey, and the baby copperhead waits for the prey to die and then swallows it. They retain this yellowtail till about three years. As the baby copperhead grows into an adult, the color of the tail changes, and it becomes the same color as the rest of the body.

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Are they poisonous? Can their bite be fatal to humans?

Did you know that copperhead snakes release a musk that smells like cucumber when they feel threatened?

Snakes are as much scared of humans as we are of them! They bite humans more out of fear and threat and for their own defense. Their bite could be very painful but seldom fatal. It can nevertheless be dangerous if not treated immediately as it could lead to a secondary infection. As the copperheads attack humans more for their own defense, so they do not inject as much venom as they do for prey. But when the snake injects the venom, they do not plan the amount of venom to be injected; it is the reaction at the spur of the moment for self-defense. The baby copperheads do not have as much venom as the adults, but the venom in the babies could be more concentrated, so it is still dangerous. Do not provoke or annoy them if you want to be safe! 

Habitat – Places where you need to tread carefully!

Apart from knowing how to identify them, it is also important to know where they live to avoid any possibility of an encounter. 

The copperhead snakes are native of Eastern North America. The copperheads are found in wooded locations, rocky areas, and more often near water bodies where sunlight and shade are both available. You may also find them in abandoned buildings, construction sites, and sawdust piles.  

There are some other snakes that are often mistaken to be copperhead snake. Let us see what these are and how to distinguish it from a copperhead –

1.     Corn Snake These snakes also have a reddish-brown or rust color that they can be easily misunderstood to be a copperhead. But apart from the color, they do not have the hourglass shape or the Hershey’s kisses shape on their body. The body of the corn snake is also thinner. The tails of the baby corn snake will not have the yellow tip. 

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2.     Northern water snake – Being a water snake, these are generally found in water. Also, the bands in their body are opposite of what the copperheads have. This means the northern water snake has patterns that are wide in the center and narrow in the edges. 

3.     Hognose snake – They are usually confused with copperheads because they live in the same habitat. But they don’t look very similar and can be distinguished easily.

4.     Black racer snake – This is the one with the coolest name. The baby black racer snakes have a pattern that can be quite confusing with the copperhead pattern. Though the black racer snake pattern is not a distinct hourglass pattern, it still looks similar unless you observe it closely. As they grow, the pattern fades. 

5.     Mole king snake – The baby mole king snake also has patterns similar to that of copperheads. These too, lose their pattern as they grow older. The king snake also has small black eyes and a narrow head.

So keep in mind the above identifiers when you are out in the wild. The eyes, shape of the head, hourglass marking, and bright yellow tails are what make the baby copperheads distinct. But do not get too close in the guise of identification, for they may find you a big threat and attack. This would help you to co-exist with this fascinating yet dangerous young reptile safely.

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