Missouri Copperheads

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Published on: May. 2, 1999

Last revision: Nov. 2, 2010

others along the back and sides help disrupt or break up the outline of their body and, along with their pinkish tan coloration, allow them to blend perfectly with the colors of dead leaves on the forest floor.

The name copperhead actually comes from the head color of the northern copperhead, which lives in southern New England, Pennsylvania, Ohio and into the Appalachian Mountain states. Northern copperheads have a slightly orange or copper-colored head, but this coloration seldom holds true for those living in Missouri. Most of Missouri's copperheads have a head color that's about the same pinkish tan as their body, but the copperhead name still stands. Their cream-colored belly has large, gray blotches along the edges that extend up slightly onto the sides.

Copperheads are considered medium-sized snakes and average 24 to 36 inches long. Adult male copperheads generally grow to longer lengths than females. Thus, a copperhead 36 or 39 inches long is likely a large male. Copperheads may reach a maximum length of over 43 inches.

The Osage copperhead lives in open forests along creeks, on rocky, southeast-, south- or southwest-facing hillsides and near abandoned farm buildings, abandoned saw mills and discarded woodpiles. Copperheads will live under lumber piles, discarded corrugated roof tin or other objects near abandoned farm buildings. The southern copperhead has a tendency to live close to creeks, rivers, river backwaters and swamps. Missouri has abundant natural and manmade habitats where copperheads can live and thrive.

All North American pit vipers give birth to live young (they don't lay eggs). Many nonvenomous snakes also produce live young, including water snakes, garter snakes and several species of small, woodland snakes. Actually, about half of Missouri's 51 kinds of snakes produce eggs (all nonvenomous) and half produce live young, including our five venomous species.

Female copperheads can produce a litter ranging from one to a maximum of 20, with four to seven young being a common litter size, in late August through September. Research in Kansas showed that female copperheads may produce a litter of young for two years, then may go several years without reproducing. Newly born copperheads are 7 or 8 inches long. The young resemble adults, although their background color is lighter and their markings are a lighter brown.

We know young copperheads eat small lizards, such as skinks and fence lizards, and frogs. There are reports of young and adult copperheads eating cicadas-either nymphs or newly transformed

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