Monday, October 31, 2011

Juvenile Copperhead

Juvenile copperhead- click to enlarge
Fall is the season that snakes are on the move, seeking places to den up for the winter.  This juvenile copperhead picked the wrong gravel drive to warm up on and was crunched by an ATV.

The copperhead, Agkistrodon contortrix, is in the same genus as the cottonmouth, a.k.a. "water moccasin".  They are gray to pinkish tan in color with dark brown bands, narrow on top and wider on the sides.  These are best viewed from the side where they resemble Hershey Kisses. 
Juvenile copperheads have a bright yellow tail which they are said to use as a lure to attract lizards and frogs.

Underside view
I was taught to look for the hourglass shape, but to see this you have to be looking straight down at the snake which is way too close.  Our venomous snakes have a triangular shaped head and vertical slit like pupils.  This head shape can be deceptive as hog-nosed snakes when threatened will flatten their head and resemble a cobra or adder.
Another identifying characteristic of all venomous snakes in Missouri is the underside of the tail.  Missouri's venomous snakes have a single row of scales beyond the anal plate while harmless snakes have two parallel rows of scales.  Be absolutely sure the snake is harmless or dead before you test this fact.

See for additional pictures.


  1. Bob,
    At the risk of boring you with minutiae, you are aware, I suppose, that we have TWO copperhead subspecies locally--the Osage, Agkistrodon contortrix phaeogaster , and the Southern, A. c. contortrix. As noted in The Amphibians and Reptiles of Missouri (Johnson, 2000): "The southern copperhead is normally paler than the Osage copperhead, and the hourglass markings are narrower across the back."

    Hard to tell with the juveniles, but this looks like the Osage to me. I've seen more copperheads this year, in my yard (3) than ever before in my five years in Missouri

  2. Indeed they are divided subspecies. After looking at a lot of pictures which vary with the lighting, I have a hard time telling them apart. It would be nice to have a nest of each under our shed so we could compare them. Then again, I am not all that curious.