How to Spot a Copperhead: Agkistrodon contortrix

Introduction by Amanda Newsom; Illustration by Rose Williams

Warning: you’re about to experience a blog about a venomous snake, and it’s going to be pretty cool! If you’ve ever logged onto social media and seen a photo of a snake with someone asking what kind it is around here, the large majority of the answers you’re going to see will vehemently identify it as, “Copperhead!” 

But let’s be honest—not everyone can accurately identify a snake off the top of their head, and too few take the time to do a quick Google search to see if they can figure it out based on the characteristics in the photo.

Just a couple weeks ago I saw one such post of a juvenile Eastern Ratsnake that had been misidentified as a Copperhead by someone who claimed to have no doubt about the ID, and no one challenged it before I was able to comment. So I reached out to a herpetology (that’s the study of reptiles and amphibians) enthusiast who also happens to be a fantastic artist, Rose Williams, to see if we could work on an educational illustration about how to identify a Copperhead, and she designed the illustration on the next page. 

We not only want you to be able to identify a Copperhead more effectively, we want to show off some features of this native venomous snake. If you take the time to really look at them, they truly are beautiful snakes. They have some interesting characteristics, like their pits used to track down prey and the yellow tail they sport as youngsters to lure prey. 

We also hope to change perceptions of Copperheads when encountered in the wild. It’s understandable that many people are scared of these snakes because they don’t want to be bitten (or have a dog or child be bitten). However, most snake bites occur when people try to kill the snake or accidentally step on it, so the best way to avoid a bite is to steer clear and to watch where you step. Once they see you, chances are they’re going to leave to get away from the scary human they just saw.

We hope you’ll enjoy this illustration and learn a little bit about one of the venomous snakes in your area. Please think twice before killing a snake and let it be instead, and pass on your newfound knowledge to your friends and family. We hope that by learning more about these beautiful creatures, you’ll come to admire them as much as we do!

 

FUN FACT:

There are only two venomous snakes that are native to Athens, GA—the Copperhead and Timber Rattlesnake (also often referred to as Canebrakes)—and only six in the state of Georgia, compared to over 30 non-venomous species. 

 

RESOURCE ALERT!:

The University of Georgia’s Savannah River Ecology Laboratory has an excellent website that lists each snake species in Georgia and South Carolina that can help you identify snakes in a pinch: http://srelherp.uga.edu/snakes/.