Eastern Copperhead (Agkistrodon contortrix)
This medium-sized venomous snake is identified by its strong, hourglass-shaped dark cross-bands. The head may have a distinctive copperish color, thus the name "Copperhead". The top of the head will also show two rather distinct dots. The tail of an adult Copperhead will be black with bright white flecks. As with all of the Pit Vipers found in the state, the Copperhead has heat-sensing pits. These occur between the eyes and nostrils. The pupils (as with all Pit Vipers in the state) are vertical, like a cat's.
Two subspecies, the Southern Copperhead (A. c. contortrix) and Osage Copperhead (A. c. phaeogaster), intergrade in the state.
Juveniles look similar to adults, but have a bright neon yellow tail.
This species is also known as the Highland Moccasin or Upland Moccasin.
While this relatively common snake may be found pretty much anywhere in the state, a few of its favorite places seem to be old abandoned barns (and other similar structures), rock piles, and rugged, rocky woodlands.
Copperheads typically den in relatively damp and shaded rock crevices (when compared to Timber Rattlesnake den sites), but other denning sites, such as animal burrows, may also be used. They emerge from hibernation in mid to late April and quickly disperse in search of prey.
Human encounters with this snake become more commonplace during the very hottest part of the summer for two primary reasons. One reason is that this is the mating season and males are moving around much more in search of females. The second reason is that it appears this is a time of year when Copperheads become increasingly more active in their pursuit of prey. In fact, they may even congregate in areas where large numbers of Cicadas are emerging; even pursuing them into trees! Dusk and dawn seems to be when these snakes are on the move the most.
A female who is gravid (from insemination the year before) will seek out a suitable spot to bask and may move very little for an entire month. She will give birth to live young in late summer, but it may take up to a week after birth for her and her babies to disperse (probably back toward a suitable denning site).
Copperheads eat a wide variety of food items, including small rodents, lizards, frogs, and insects (especially Cicadas). They may even, on occasion, eat a small bird.
Young Copperheads will use their brightly colored tails in a hunting technique called caudal luring. Essentially, they will twitch their tails and literally lure in their prey to within striking distance. This technique likely works best on small frogs and lizards.
Adult Copperheads will usually find an area with recent prey activity and simply sit-and-wait for something to come close. They also actively pursue some prey items, such as Cicadas.
I have found Copperheads to employ two primary means of defense when first encountered. One is to freeze completely, likely in hopes that they will remain invisible to any potential harm. Two is that they dart away in a hasty retreat.
When first grabbed by tongs, I have found Copperheads are sometimes quick to swing around and even bite the tongs. I can imagine that anyone attempting to "grab the snake by the tail" as it was retreating would be in serious danger of snake bite.
It is sometimes extremely difficult to get a Copperhead to "stay put" while I am taking pictures. They seem to always want to crawl away rather than stand their ground. If disturbed enough, they will vibrate their tail and emit a foul-smelling musk.
This species currently has no special protections in Arkansas.
Although this species is likely Arkansas's most common venomous snake, humans still have a decidedly negative impact. These snakes are often killed needlessly, even in remote areas. Sometimes these snakes are killed in state and national parks, where it is quite illegal to do so.
Many other species of snakes are negatively impacted because they are mistakenly identified as Copperhead and dispatched.