Image Credit : Andrew Snyder Photography
Agkistrodon contortrix is a member of the pit viper family. As pit-vipers they have facial pits that sense heat and are used to detect prey and predators.
Agkistrodon contortrix can be a light brown or tan in color with dark, irregular banding. The bands can be solid in color or can have a fading color appearance from the outside to the inside, from dark to light pigment. The body is relatively stout and the head is broad and distinct from the neck.
- Scientific name : Agkistrodon contortrix
- Distribution : South-east USA, North-east Mexico
- Average Size : 0.8 m (2.6 ft)
- Life Span : 20 years or more
- Difficulty : Advanced
As I prefer natural setups with my animals, there are many different ways to house copperheads successfully. Newborn copperheads are only about 0.17 meters (0.55 feet), so keeping them in something as small as a 6QT tub works well, give them places to hide and feel comfortable. I prefer to use use heat-treated, sticks, leaves and rocks from outside to give a more “natural” feel. Adults will average 0.7 – 1 meters (2,5 to 3,5 feet), a cage with dimensions of 1.2 x 0.6 x 0.5 meters (4 x 2 x 1.6 feet) for an adult pair, works well.
It is not a must for a copperhead, but they do enjoy seeking cover. Hide box, can even be a log on it’s side or a small rock cave, they enjoy laying in ambush, relatively in the open, but will regularly seek shelter. Copperheads can become very food “aggressive” at the entrance of hide box if food is frequently presented at the entrance.
They can successfully be kept on a wide variety of substrates, bedding (aspen shavings/chips), mulch, and in living terrariums with natural soils and live plants. Copperheads are masters of camouflage, so giving them a set up with soil, sticks, rocks and plants allows you to witness the natural behavior of these inquisitive animals.
Lighting – Heating
It is recommended to keep a natural light pattern that mimics normal daytime. Copperheads are not very specific as far as temperature gradient. Warm side of 29-32 °C (85-90 °F) then a cool side around 24-27 °C (75-80 °F) works well.
A relatively large water bowl, with constant access to fresh water is a must!
Not specific on humidity unless having shedding issues, then add humidity, but always allow for a copperhead to have a dry place to rest as it’s important for them to keep their scales dry and not have constant direct contact with moisture.
Feed juveniles weekly appropriate sized meals, fresh born pinky mice. Newborn copperheads can be difficult to start feeding, they may not want to take mice immediately. The order/method I use to get newborn snakes feeding is as follows, offer frozen thawed rodent, if that does not work > offer live rodent, if that doesn’t work > offer scented (usually frog) frozen thawed rodent, if that doesn’t work > offer a different food item such as small frog, if that doesn’t work > as a last resort I will assist feed, using a small tube, secure the snake, then slide down pinkie mouse, snake will usually bite in defense then swallow in it’s own. This has worked very well for me to get not only copperheads, but many small pit vipers feeding well on their own. As stated before, one of my favorite scenting items for copperheads and similar snakes, is tree frogs. I will often use a frozen thawed tree frog and slice the midsection open, then rub the mouse on the insides of the tree frog.
Adults copperheads can eat an adult mouse weekly/biweekly and maintain a healthy body weight. Copperheads grow very fast, so as snake grows feed larger meals to maintain healthy body weight. In the wild they eat a wide variety of prey, in captivity they do well on captive born mice to avoid parasites and a controlled food source.
Temperaments differ between individuals, some are very placid, while others can be quit defensive. Although copperheads are not the most toxic of North America’s pitvipers, their bites are serious/painful and require immediate medical attention. Copperheads are responsible for the most snake bites in the United States, but rarely result in a fatality. Copperheads are not aggressive animals, but they are not afraid to bite if they feel threatened. As a general rule of venomous, ALWAYS remove snake from cage before servicing, as well as using proper tools (hooks, ect.). They are usually very food “aggressive”, any time a cage is opened a healthy copperhead is ready for a mouse to present itself.
Always keep them clean, do not allow fecal material to sit in a cage where the snake can crawl through it. This can cause skin infections and lead to other health issues. Also being a venomous snake, ALWAYS remove the snake before servicing! Cleaning products such as Clorhexadine solution are recommended.
Copperheads typically shed with no issues as long as the humidity level is higher during the shedding period, but like any snake if kept with too low humidity, problems can occur. If copperhead is having issues shedding, give it a small box with moist moss to crawl into and allow the shed to loosen.
Potential Health Problems
Very hardy species, if kept properly, rarely do health issues appear. Keep clean, access to fresh water, stay within the temperature gradients, dry place to hide/sit and your copperhead should grow to be a happy healthy animal.
It’s highly recommended for every venomous species that you keep or interested to keep to have the bite protocol. Each species has a dedicated bite protocol that includes general information regarding the species, information about their venom and signs and symptoms of envenomation if bitten. It also includes a detailed information about first aid (what to do and what not to do), specific treatment recommendations for medical personnel to provide appropriate care including information about the antivenom or antivenoms required for treatment. Finally it includes a list of people who specialize in snakebites and their contact information so they can be consulted to assist with the care if needed and a list of all the references used for the create the protocol.
The information contained in this care sheet reflect the opinions and methods of the mentioned breeder, based on their expertise and long-established experience.