Habitats of Copperheads

By Anne Woods

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Found throughout the eastern half of the United States, copperheads often live near humans and blend smoothly into their environments. In fact, they bite more people each year than any other venomous snake in the U.S. Although the chances of dying from copperhead venom are slim, bites can result in permanent damage if you don't seek immediate medical care.

Environments

Copperheads’ habitat preferences can vary by altitude. In low-lying areas, they live in swamps or in forests near creeks, rivers and streams. They can even swim, although with a diet consisting mostly of mice, they don’t need to hunt in the water. At higher elevations, such as on mountains and hills, they often gather on stony slopes that face south, where they can soak up sunlight on the rocks. In either environment, copperheads can climb into low branches to bask or to hunt birds and lizards, which supplement their rodent fare.

Dens

In warm climates, copperheads remain active throughout the year. In areas where they might encounter frost or freezing temperatures, however, they spend the winter in communal dens. These caves or underground crevices usually are on hillsides with southern exposure, and copperheads seem to have a homing instinct that enables them to find the same den each year. They’re often joined by black rat snakes, timber rattlers and other species.

Around People

Copperheads often live in suburbs and residential areas, especially near streams and woods. They may hide beneath sheds, wood piles and other yard debris, and they frequently shelter in abandoned buildings, too. Their proximity to humans can be fatal for the snakes, because many people kill them on sight, and cars often hit them when they’re crossing roads. While they’re still common in the southern part of their range, several states -- Iowa, New Jersey and Massachusetts -- have assigned them protected status.

Range

Copperheads live throughout much of the eastern United States, as far west as Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and central Texas. Their range extends south to Florida and north to Massachusetts and New York. Within this territory, scientists have identified five subspecies -- broad-banded, Osage, northern, southern and Trans-Pecos -- that occupy distinct but overlapping regions.

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