The centers for disease control estimate that 7,000 – 8,000 people are bitten by venomous snakes each year. Copperheads are responsible for more bites than any other venomous snake.
Baby copperhead bites are very painful, but less than 0.01% are fatal.
Very few cases require anti-venom to neutralize the venom, but infants, the elderly, and people with compromised immune systems, are at greatest risk from complications.
Most bites occur from people accidentally stepping on them or picking them up.
In this guide we will teach you seven easy ways to identify this snake, how to safely remove them and how to prevent them from getting in your yard.
How To Identify A Baby Copperhead
There are many myths surrounding venomous snakes.
The biggest myth is that juveniles cannot control their venom and therefore bite with a larger amount than adults. This is false!
Baby copperheads have smaller venom glands and therefore hold a smaller amount of venom. However, they are also still capable of venom metering – altering how much venom they inject based on their target’s size.
The second myth is that all venomous snakes have triangular heads.
Pit vipers do have triangular heads as this is necessary to accommodate their venom glands. However many nonvenomous snakes mimic this appearance by flattening their heads and extending their jaws.
Also, many snakes have perfectly narrow heads but are venomous. A good example is the Coral Snake. These tiny snakes are the 2nd deadliest in the world!
To help you identify this snake we have put together seven easy steps you can take.
1. Look At Their Tail-Tip Color
Many baby copperhead snakes are born with a bright yellow or green tip to their tail.
This bright color is used to attract and lure prey to enter within striking distance. This helps babies find food and grow quickly.
Normally after one year their tail will turn dark brown or in some cases even black.
2. Look For An Hourglasses Pattern
These snakes have a pale, pinkish-tan color and their heads are a remarkable copper tone (giving them their name).
Copperheads have a distinct pattern that stays uniform throughout their lives.
Their markings are dark brown in color. The bands are thin over their spine and widen as they approach the sides of the belly. When observed from above, this pattern looks like dark hourglasses. When seen from the side, it looks like a row of Hershey’s Kiss chocolate candies.
The belly is white with dark brownish-red spots.
3. They Have Facial Pits
Copperheads are a member of the pit viper family.
Pit vipers have a pair of heat sensors either side of their face between the eye and nostril.
These pit glands help snakes to find prey and thermoregulate.
Snake eyesight is notoriously poor. Without these glands finding prey by motion alone would be very difficult. Heat sensing allows them to see the world in infrared.
Pits are obvious in close-up pictures, however, you will need to get very close to a baby copperhead to be able to see its pits.
4. They Have Vertical (Slitted) Pupils
Most venomous snakes are known for their “cat-eye” pupils.
The pupils are slitted vertically, unlike the round pupils of nonvenomous snakes.
They have golden-yellow eyes with a thin black pupil slit down the center.
Though beautiful to look at, they are best observed from a picture.
5. Do They Have Keeled Scales?
Keeled scales are raised scales that give snakes a rough texture. The scales have a ridge down the center that create a raised triangle shape.
Almost all venomous snakes have keeled scales.
It can be hard to tell if a snake has keeled scales without touching.
Unless you have had proper training for handling venomous snakes it is not recommended to attempt handling.
You should instead rely on their pattern, tail and other features apparent from a distance.
6. Do They Have A Short But Thick Body Type?
Like most venomous snakes, this snake has a short but thick body.
Baby copperheads are typically 7 – 10 inches long and adults reach 24 – 36 inches.
Babies are thin for the first three months. However, after a steady food source is found, they quickly grow to and have a thick body.
A copperhead at 24 inches may be as thick as the circle formed when touching your pointer finger and thumb together.
7. Look For Post-Vent Scutes
This last identification method is best left to experts because it is extremely hard (and never recommended) to flip a potentially dangerous snake over and examine its tail.
Most snakes become frantic and try to strike if you flip them over.
However, this is a guaranteed method to identify a baby copperhead.
Scutes are the long, straight scales that line the bellies of snakes and help with locomotion.
In a nonvenomous snake, the scutes after the vent are divided into two, giving a “zipper” appearance. In venomous snakes, there are single, elongated scales past the vent.
Snakes Commonly Confused For Copperheads
The United States has over 125 species of snakes. Many are often confused for copperheads because they look similar. The most common lookalikes are:
|Juvenile Eastern Rat Snake||This species is normally gray and black with large spots over the spine. Not like the hourglass pattern above.|
|Juvenile Black Racer||Juvenile Black Racers look almost identical to the eastern rat snake (above). They have a darker gray base and more brownish spots.|
|Northern Water Snake||This species can be separated because of their thick dark spinal bands and narrow dark bands towards the belly. Water Snakes may have bands that are completely broken too.|
|Eastern Hognose||Hognoses are short, thick-bodied snakes that are totally harmless. They come in a variety of colors but have a busy, erratic pattern unlike the uniform pattern above.|
|Cornsnake||Cornsnakes are normally bright orange and red tones with large spinal spots. These spots do not meet the sides of the belly, unlike the hourglass above.|
|Juvenile Mole King Snake||Mole Kings typically have gray or tan base colors with dark reddish-brown spots over their spines. As they age, they turn almost fully brown.|
You should now be able to identify and avoid mistaking other snakes for this species.
It is now time to remove and prevent this snake from entering your yard.
How To Safely Remove Baby Copperheads
You have found a snake in your yard and have determined it is a Copperhead, what’s next?
If it is near the edge of your yard, it will likely slither away on its own without intervention. So observe or walk away.
Most snakes will just be passing through.
However, if it needs to be moved, or you feel more comfortable with knowing the snake isn’t near your yard follow the steps below.
Use A Hook
If you live in Copperhead country, it is useful to invest in snake handling devices.
This is the safest and least harmful way to handle the snake. Your hook should be at least 3 feet long or more to create a “safe zone” between you and the snake.
To use a hook, gently take the pointed end and slide it underneath the middle of the baby copperhead.
Lift the snake up quickly enough that it is unable to slither off.
They are known to be fickle on hooks, so it may help to gently vibrate the hook to make them want to hold on.
Place the snake in a large bucket or tub to move it to a desired location.
If the snake keeps slipping off the hook, it may be necessary to use a clamp stick.
Or Use A Clamp (Grab) Stick
Grab sticks are very effective in picking up a snake and holding it securely.
A grab stick works the same way a trash grabber works, it just has a more snake-friendly clamp. The handle has a trigger that is connected to a pulley that closes the clamp.
To pick up the snake:
- Slide the bottom arm of the clamp under the center of the snake’s body.
- Slowly, but firmly, close the clamp around the snake.
- Avoid squeezing the clamp too hard or too quickly, as this can sometimes break the snake’s back or ribs.
- Once secured, you can then relocate it or move it into a bucket for safe relocation.
Do not grab the neck or tail region with either a hook or clamp! Handling a snake in these areas can cause damage to the spine or neck, permanently injure or even kill.
Alternative Tools To Use
If you are surprised to find a baby copperhead in your yard, and do not have a hook or grab stick, there are alternative tools you can use.
Find a long (3 or more feet) object to either pick up the snake with.
The key is to maintain a safe distance and avoid injuring the snake.
One option is to use a shovel to scoop the snake up and place it in a bucket. This gives you plenty of space to create a safe zone around the snake.
If the snake keeps slithering off before you can get it into a bucket, you can try using the shovel to gently push the snake into an overturned bucket. Using the shovel push the bucket right-side up to trap the snake inside.
You can also sweep the snake into a bucket if it is on a smooth surface. Again, the key is to create a 3 foot safe zone between yourself and the snake.
Signs A Copperhead Is Stressed
Moving and re-locating a snake can be a stressful time.
Copperheads may react in a variety of ways when they feel threatened.
Recognizing these signs can tell you when the snake is likely to bite or needs a moment to calm down:
- Coiling up and shaking their tail.
- Striking out.
- Trying to slither away.
- Mouth breathing or hissing.
- Musking (releasing a pungent disgusting smelling liquid).
If you notice the snake showing any of these behaviors they are likely to bite. Step back and give the snake time to calm down before trying to capture again.
How To Stop Copperheads From Entering Your Yard
The best way to get rid of Copperheads is to prevent them from nesting in your yard at all.
Snakes prefer to be hidden. The most important factor in preventing them from entering your yard is the grass.
When you let your grass grow, snakes feel safer.
A regularly mowed lawn will deter most snakes from wanting to travel across it. If you happen to step on a traveling venomous snake it is likely to ruin your day.
People who repeatedly find snakes in their yards typically have accidentally given them housing by allowing their grass to grow.
To snake-proof your yard:
- Walk around the base of your house and look for any hole they could go in (they look for cool, dark places to hide during the heat of the day).
- Fill in any holes or gaps. This will stop them from being able to nest close to your home.
- Rake brush and leaves.
- Many people ignore bushes when doing yardwork because they tend to hide the underbrush that collects beneath them. The problem? All that brush is a perfect hiding place.
If you feel like you still see too many snakes after using these methods, then you can use physical deterrents. Snake fences are the most effective deterrent, since they prevent the snake from entering the yard at all, though they still aren’t failproof.
Never use commercial traps as they are normally unsuccessful and the crushing mechanism can severely injure the snake. These contraptions are inhumane and are not recommended.
Bites from copperheads are not fatal, but they are painful. They can take weeks to heal and sometimes require expensive anti-venom treatment.
The best way to prevent a bite is to avoid them altogether.
Knowing how to identify this species will help you understand when to act. If you identify a snake as a baby copperhead, remember to keep your three feet safe zone!
When attempting to remove them make sure to use safe methods and tools such as hooks, grab sticks, or shovels.
Be gentle and realize that the snake is just as stressed as you are. Slow movements will help them stay calm.
Lastly, you should prevent them from nesting in your yard by keeping a well maintained lawn, removing clutter and filling in holes.
Do you feel like you can successfully identify this snake? Are you prepared to safely remove them?
Let us know how you feel about it in the comments!