The copperhead has a red, copper-colored head, but the rest of its body is shaded differently. The body is pinkish to gray-brown with a dark chestnut colored hourglass shaped pattern on the body. This pattern is narrow on top of the back and wider on portions of the side of the body. Like other poisonous snakes, the copperhead has facial pits between its nostrils and eyes, and elliptical pupils. The copperhead is not, like many other poisonous snakes, a rattlesnake.
On average, a copperhead snake is 24 to 36 inches long; an average weight has not been determined. The oldest reported copperhead in the wild was 30 years old. The average life span is much less; according to studies, only five percent live to be older than eight years of age.
Five subspecies of copperhead have been identified in the United States; only two are found east of the Mississippi River. The Northern copperhead is the only subspecies found in Ohio. It also ranges from Massachusetts and Connecticut southward on the Piedmont and highlands to Georgia, Alabama, and northeast Mississippi. Its range continues west through southern Pennsylvania and the Ohio Valley to Illinois. Locally, the home range for a female copperhead is eight acres and 24 acres for a male.
The copperhead will reside in a variety of areas including oak-hickory hillsides with rock crevices and slides, swamp borders, old slab piles from sawmill operations, and the abandoned foundations and wood structures of old buildings. They also show a preference for moist habitats.
copperhead's primary food is mice. They will also consume small birds, frogs, small snakes, and insects--particularly locusts and moth larvae. Depending on the time of year, these snakes will be active day or night. In the spring and fall when milder temperatures are the norm the snakes are out during the day; conversely, in the heat of summer copperheads come out at night. Overall, they are most active from April to late October.
This snake is social and may overwinter in a communal den with other snakes of its own kind or with other species of snakes including timber rattlesnakes and black rat snakes. Overwinter dens are usually near the top of a rocky ridge on a south-facing slope.
This species of snake most females are sexually mature at the age of three. It is unknown at what point males reach sexual maturity.
Courtship and mating occur from late August through October and in late February through April. Females don't mate unless they are receptive, which in this case means their ovaries contain mature egg follicles. However, for those snakes breeding late in the season, fertilization doesn't occur until the female comes out of the overwinter den. The sperm from a fall mating remains inactive, but viable over the winter in the female's reproductive tract. Mating will occur one time about every other year.
Gestation for copperheads is estimated to be 105-110 days with most snakes born in August and September. Females carrying young are generally gregarious as opposed to barren females and males that maintain a solitary existence. Copperheads are ovoviviparous i.e eggs develop in the body of the female and hatch within or immediately after being expelled. The female produces large, yolk-filled eggs which are retained within her reproductive tract for a considerable period of development. The developing embryo receives no nourishment from the female, only from the yolk. Just prior to parturition or giving birth, the female will seek out a birthing den. The young are expelled from her body encased in a thin, membranous sac from which they will shortly emerge. Three to 10 young are produced per litter. When they are born the young copperheads are 8 to 10 inches long and weigh less than half an ounce. Although they can't produce the volume that an adult can, newborn copperheads' venom is just as strong as an adults. The appearance of immature copperheads is slightly different from the look they will take on as adults. The head is a duller red and the tail is yellow; the body markings or patterns are the same although lighter in color. The mortality rate for young copperheads is high.