How to Identify the Copperhead

By Rodney Southern; Updated April 24, 2017
The Copperhead

The copperhead is the most commonly misidentified snake in the United States due to its color and general size. This is a problem when you consider that the copperhead is one of only four types of venomous snakes in the United States. Though the venom of the copperhead is milder than the rattlesnakes, cottonmouths and coral snakes, it is still a significant danger to humans. As such, identifying the copperhead is an important skill that every American should know how to do.

Realize that the copperhead is a venomous pit viper with two fangs that retract back into its mouth when closed. When the copperhead strikes, the fangs are revealed and puncture the skin. Venom glands then pump the venom into the prey or snakebite victim. The strike is so fast, the human eye may not even see it.

Observe the coiled posture of the copperhead. When approached, a copperhead will curl up into a tight ball, with the head slightly elevated in the center of the coils. This is the "strike" position, and the copperhead can strike about half the distance of their body length.

Notice that the copperhead is a master of camouflage, and can very easily be stepped on. The copperhead blends perfectly with most ground cover to aid with an ambush style of hunting. The patterns found on the copperhead's back are very similar to leaves. This also keeps the copperhead safe from prey.

Observe that the copperhead has two facial pits on either side of its face. These pits are actually heat sensors that allow the copperhead to have a thermal view of their surroundings. The copperhead is a pit viper, and venomous. This makes the copperhead a danger to humans as well as pets.

Note that the copperhead has a pinkish shade to its body with several hourglass marking across its spine. These markings will often be a brown color, though they can be tan as well. The head of the copperhead is always copper in color, and triangular in shape.

Notice that the full-grown copperhead will reach about three to four feet in length. They can actually grow quite fat and plump, but most copperheads are slender. As babies, the copperhead will be about ten inches in length, with very similar coloration and pattern as the adults. The one exception that the copperhead juveniles will have is a yellow tail. They use this to lure prey close by dangling the tail like a worm.

Familiarize yourself with some common species that are misidentified as copperheads. These include the corn snake, the hog-nosed snake and the milk snake. All of these snakes can look somewhat similar to the copperhead, but they lack the facial pits, the diamond-shaped head and skin patterns of the copperhead.


Always wear thick boots when walking in the woods. View the copperhead from at least ten feet to avoid potential bites.


Never attempt to handle a copperhead. Never attempt to kill a copperhead. In the case of snakebite, get medical attention immediately.

About the Author

Based in Greensboro, Rodney Southern has been writing and editing sports and nature articles for going on 10 years. His articles have appeared in "Nicean" magazine, "The Sporting News" website and countless other online venues. Southern was the 2008 Ultimate Call for Content National Award Winner. He attended Guilford Tech and was trained as an EMT in the Army.