University of Massachusetts Amherst

Snake of Massachusetts

Snakes of Massachusetts


Agkistrodon contortrix (24-36", up to 53")
MA Status: "Endangered." Illegal to harass, kill, collect or possess.

The copperhead is a venomous snake with a broad triangular head, vertically elliptical pupils and a heat sensitive pit between each eye and nostril. The body is pinkish to grayish brown with brown or reddish-brown crossbands that are narrow on the back and widest on the sides. Small dark spots commonly occur between crossbands on the back. The unpatterned head is dull orange, copper or rusty-red. Body scales are keeled and the belly is pink or light brown with dark blotches along the sides. When young, a copperhead has a yellow-tipped tail.

Mating takes place in spring and fall and females give birth to 4-8 young in August and September. Adult females usually give birth every two years.

Copperheads prefer rocky, forested hillsides and wetlands for habitat. Wet areas are particularly sought out in the hot summer months. Small mammals and frogs account for most of the prey items taken, but birds, insects and other snakes are also important parts of their diets. When approached, they will either move away quietly or lay motionless, relying on camouflage to protect them. Occasionally, they will vibrate their tails. Bites usually occur when people unknowingly step on or touch unseen snakes. Despite the venomous nature of copperhead bites, they are rarely fatal. In Massachusetts, copperheads are so rare and reclusive that people almost never encounter them.

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