Ask a Naturalist: How do I identify a copperhead?

Discovery Place Nature

We’ve recently had a number of visitors bring in or send our Naturalists pictures of snakes they have killed, mistakenly believing the snakes were copperheads when they were harmless rat snakes or racers.

These snakes are non-venomous and extremely beneficial. They prey on vermin such as mice, rats, squirrels and chipmunks, which can cause destruction to your home.

Copperheads eat rodents and also can be helpful. While you might not want them in your yard, they can be safely relocated by a trained professional.

The blog post below, originally published May 20, 2014, can help you identify a copperhead.

We are lucky that we don't have many venomous snakes here in Mecklenburg County. We mostly only have to keep our eyes out for copperheads. So, do you know how to identify one?

There are several ways to tell if a snake is a copperhead, but the easiest and safest way is to look at their pattern. The darker spots on the back of the snake are in an hourglass shape, meaning they are wider on the sides and thinner in the middle.

If you look at a copperhead from the side, the hourglass spots touch the ground. Most similarly patterned snakes have spots that do not reach all the way to the underside of the snake.

Copperheads also have diamond-shaped heads and cat-like eyes. These two characteristics are not as easy to spot as the snake's patterned skin, so it can make identifying much harder.

Lastly, young copperheads sport a bright green tail and are the easiest to differentiate between other types of snakes.

When it comes down to it, the best thing to do if you see a snake in your yard is to keep your distance, no matter what type it is. Snakes aren't known to chase people, so if you stay away, you stay safe.

For extra fun, click here to try your hand at identifying copperheads and other snakes.

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