Missouri Copperheads

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Published on: May. 2, 1999

Last revision: Nov. 2, 2010


Yes, copperheads and most other kinds of snakes give off an offensive odor when molested, cornered or captured. This defensive odor, produced by glands at the base of the tail, is given off at will and may also be mixed with feces. To some individuals this musk may smell somewhat like cucumbers.

However, a snake has to have a reason to expel its musk. Thus, a copperhead at rest under a rock or alongside a log will have no reason to give off its musky defense. You could walk within a few inches of the snake and never know it's there.

Black snakes breed with copperheads during floods and produce venomous black snakes. Not true. This myth has no biological basis and does not happen. Black rat snakes are not closely related to copperheads and have no interest in breeding with the venomous copperhead. Such a union would not produce viable offspring. Copperheads always move in pairs-if you see one you will find another. Not true. Copperheads are competing with each other for food and shelter. If they remain together, their chances of finding enough prey to eat is reduced. If copperheads are found together it is because the habitat is ideal and may sustain more than one snake, or the site may be an overwintering den. Baby copperheads are more dangerous than adults. Not true. There is no biological reason for baby copperheads to have more potent venom than adults. They have smaller venom glands, tiny fangs and are not capable of producing a venom more potent than adult copperheads.

For the facts on Missouri's snakes get a copy of The Amphibians and Reptiles of Missouri. It's $12.50 per copy, plus $2 S&H and .79 cents sales tax for Missouri residents. Order from the MDC Nature Shop, P.O. Box 180, Jefferson City, MO 65102, or call: (573) 751-4115, ext. 3325.

A copperhead will likely bite a person who steps on it because it is trying to defend itself. This type of bite is not that common. Most bites occur when someone sees a copperhead and decides to capture or kill the snake. During such scenarios the copperhead will do its best to defend itself.

In Missouri, no person has died as a result of a copperhead bite. In an average year, venomous snakes bite approximately 200 people in this state, with the majority involving copperheads. In over 25 years there are no records of

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