Missouri Copperheads

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Published on: May. 2, 1999

Last revision: Nov. 2, 2010

adults. And, if the opportunity is there, young copperheads will eat small mice.

Young copperheads have a characteristic that few people notice: The last inch or so of their tails are greenish yellow with 8 or 10 small, white markings edged in black. Their colorful tails have an important use: they help them capture prey. If a small lizard or frog ventures within a few feet of a coiled baby copperhead, the copperhead will move its tail near the center of its coil, elevate it slightly and begin to wiggle or undulate the tail. To a hungry lizard or frog that moving tail tip may look like a green caterpillar.

If the prey animal pursues the squirming "insect," the copperhead will grab it, inject a little venom and have a meal. Technically this is called caudal-luring-caudal meaning tail and luring meaning 'come over here please.' After about 18 months to two years, copperheads are able to capture larger prey and their tails become less colorful.

Over 90 percent of an adult copperhead's diet consists of mice, especially deer mice and voles. Copperheads also eat other rodents, such as house mice and young chipmunks. Snakes, including venomous species, have a role or job description as part of the checks-and-balance system of nature and should be valued as a primary, natural controller of destructive rodents.

Adult copperheads and other pit vipers are sit-and-wait predators: They locate a mouse trail, coil near it and wait until a mouse happens by. During the summer this may take place at twilight, during the night or in early morning. Copperheads may also ambush prey that enters the snake's hiding place, such as under a flat rock or piece of corrugated roof tin lying on the ground.

The copperhead's venom glands, venom ducts, fangs and venom evolved to allow them to kill mice and other prey animals. They bite a prey animal, inject venom, then quickly release the prey. The mouse or other prey dies in minutes and all the snake has to do is follow the odor trail and eat the freshly killed rodent. By using venom, the snake does not have to struggle with the prey and risk injury to itself. A copperhead's venom apparatus, however, also is used for protection.

Copperhead Myths

Copperheads smell like cucumbers. You may have heard someone say you always know when a copperhead is around because it smells like cucumbers. This is both true and

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