Sunday, May 22, 2011


Photo courtesy of M. Forsberg.

Checked the drift fences with two of my students on Friday, May 13th.

We were all excited to find a Copperhead (Agkistrodon contortix) in one of the funnel traps.

The individual was a sub-adult female.

In our neck of the woods, it's a relatively common species and may even end up in suburban/urban areas. 

As a venomous snake, Copperheads are often treated harshly by humans.  Even by folks that claim to like "wildlife".  I can understand the fear venomous critters promote and, as a father, I can understand the concern folks have about them in suburban/urban landscapes.  I wish there was a good solution for this problem....but there doesn't seem to be.  This is mostly due to the fact that there's not many places to go in the eastern US if you're a snake that aren't frequented by...or at least visted by.....people. 

This means there is lots of potential for interaction between humans and things that may accidentally do humans harm.  I say 'accidentally' because, let's face it, venomous snakes don't seek out humans to bite.  Bites occur when the snake is threatened.  Unfortunately, the snake may feel threatened even if you don't know it's there.  The Copperhead blends in so well, that it's not suprising folks unknowingly step on them, or place their hands near them. 

But, to put this in perspective, I've spent literally hundreds of hours at my study sites near campus, which are confirmed Copperhead locations.  These sites are comprised mostly of good Copperhead habitat (better habitat than found in many urban/suburban backyards).  Despite this, I have yet to just walk up on one in the field, and all of the individuals I've seen were captured in drift fences.  I imagine I've walked by oodles of them without knowing.

Regardless, dealing with a Copperhead in your backyard is a much different issue than killing a Copperhead that you happen to come upon while hiking in the woods.

But, I'm a strange person and I empathize with the critters that folks fear or dislike.  Especially the critters that, despite being loathed by humanity, are able to hang on. 

Regardless....if one can separate themselves from the fact that it's a venomous snake, its an incredibly handsome critter.

Photo courtesy of M. Forsberg


  1. Copperheads are rarely seen here anymore, but were once fairly common. Very sad thing.
    They are beautiful snakes.

  2. What drives me crazy is to most people every snake that doesn't have rattlers or is black is a copperhead. I'm like you. I have rarely seen a copperhead.

  3. I find it funny that they think any black snakes are copperheads?

    Where the heck is there any black on a copperhead?!


  4. I agree, copperheads are a visually unappreciated species. that you've mentioned it, I can't remember ever stumbling across one while in the field (plenty on the road though). Samantha, I'm curious where you've perceived a copperhead decline.


  5. Ya know...I see very few on the road around here. I think it's just bad luck on my part and perhaps they aren't as common around here as further south.

    Wish I saw them more often. A cool snake.