Lethally lying in the leaf litter of the forest floor, Connecticut copperhead snakes are smart, skilled, stealthy hunters who utilize their camouflage, fangs and specialized sense of smell to locate and annihilate their unsuspecting prey.
One of only two venomous snakes in the state, (the other being the timber rattlesnake) copperheads are uniquely adorned with fashionable markings that both add to the beauty of their sleek, slender bodies and heed a warning that this snake is no run of the mill ophidian. Named for their copper-red heads, these stylish serpents have copper colored bodies that are covered with wide bands of brown and dark copper coloring on their sides and thin narrow bands on their backs. Their belly sides are pink with darker markings and their triangle heads are larger than their necks, which is an indication that they are venomous vipers, like their cousin the rattlesnake.
Copperheads and rattlesnakes are pit vipers, which means that mother nature has suitably equipped them with a cavity on each side of their heads, located between the nostril and the eye, that contains a pit organ. This organ enables the snakes to seek out and strike accurately at objects warmer than their surroundings. This distinctive adaptation allows pit vipers to prey easily on nocturnal mammals. In addition, they also have large, hollow fangs, at the front of their mouth, that are connected to the bones of the upper jaw and palate, which fold against the roof of the mouth when the mouth is closed and are automatically brought forward when the mouth is opened. These fangs precisely inject the lethal, hemolytic venom; breaking down the red blood cells of their prey quickly, subduing the animals, allowing the snakes to swallow their catches without a struggle.
Patient and precise, copperheads are seldom looking to start a fight and although their venom can be deadly, they are not responsible for a high number of human fatalities. However, they should be left to themselves if happened upon, because their fangs do pack powerfully painful bites, which can cause medical complications for humans and mean death for dogs and cats. It can also destroy skin and muscles tissue, as well as, cause liver, kidney, heart, neurological and joint damage so, medical attention should always be sought immediately if you find yourself, or your pet, in a tangle with a copperhead.
There is a dog vaccine for copperhead bites, but it does not completely protect k9s from the venom of the snake, it simply reduces the likelihood of the animal dying from a bite and the chance of severe and permanent damage resulting from the toxin.
Like most other snakes, copperheads favor areas away from the hustle and bustle of people and things, they tend to gravitate towards low-lying areas. According to the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection website, copperheads are predominantly found in central and southern Connecticut, along wooded, basalt ridges, rock ledges, talus slopes, and rocky hillsides, or at the edges of meadows. The meadows are usually bordered by marshes, streams, or swamps. They hunt their prey, which is mostly made up of mice, small birds, insects, amphibians, other reptiles and small rodents, by lying in wait motionlessly.
Like many other inhabitants of Connecticut woodlands and marshes, adult copperheads, which usually range in size between two and four feet (the bigger the snake the bigger the fangs) are most active from spring to fall. They breed in late summer and give birth to live babies, which have hatched in eggs inside the mother’s body. Once born, baby snakes are left alone to immediately fend for themselves in the “cold” world.
Wishing they could be snowbirds, copperheads do not have the luxury of migrating south to warmer weather in the winter. Once cold weather descends upon the state in late October, these redheads seek out the safety, security and sanctuary of dens, which are usually located in caves and hollowed out tree stumps. They often share their spaces with other snakes in the area who are also seeking refuge and warmth.
Hikers, walkers, lovers of the forest and the outdoors take heed; if you find yourself up close and personal with the slithering, slender supermodel serpents of the reddish type, leave it be, admire its beauty from afar and in most cases, it will do the same. Copperheads, like most other Connecticut wildlife, just want to be left alone, to be free, live with purpose and find their next meal before it’s too late.