Name: Trans-Pecos Copperhead
Scientific name:  Agkistrodon contortrix pictigaster
Range: Davis mountains and Big Bend region of Texas
Habitat: can be found under logs and wood piles.   wooded areas, streams and ponds is another favorite place for the copperhead
Status: The copperhead is endangered. It is illegal to kill, collect, or possess the copperhead.
Diet in the wild: small animals(rodents, lizards, frogs and other snakes too)
Diet in the zoo: mice and other small rodents
 Location in the Zoo:  Herpetarium
Physical description:  Length 18-30" from head to tail, weight 268-299 grams. Background color:The copperheads skin is pale reddish or pinkish brown. The copperhead  has chestnut brown cross bands that extend laterally. 
General information

The copperhead is a poisonous snake that lives in North America.  It has an unpatterned head and a copper or rust colored body.  The bands are wide and long.  Their color allows them to be camouflaged with fallen foliage.  The copperhead can be determined as having a triangular head.  The snake has vertically elliptic pupils and heat sensitive pits between the eye and nostril. 

Special anatomical, physiological or behavioral adaptations:

When disturbed the copperhead will vibrate its tail rapidly like a rattlesnake.  Although it has no rattles you can here the vibrating foliage on the ground.  Another interesting thing is that a copperhead is known to create an odor that smells like cucumbers.   The copperhead is apart of the Viperidae or "pit viper" family.   This means that the snake has heat sensitive pits near the eyes and nostrils.  They have large hollow fangs at the front of the mouth. These hollow fangs allow the copperheads poison to be injected into its prey.  These fangs are connected to the upper jaw bone of the mouth.  The fangs are automatically brought forward when the mouth is opened.  The fangs can fold in an out of the mouth.     The copperhead like all other snakes has a forked tongue which it uses to smell and touch. 

They mate from spring to fall.  When any snakes mates its looks more like a dance.  They twist and turn and loop around one another.  Females do not mate unless they are receptive.  Females do not become sexually active until the age of three.   They only reproduce one time a year.   Females may produce  3 to 10 offspring during  pregnancy.  The young are born in August or early October and are mature in about 2 years. 

The babies can inflict poison when they are first born.    The copperheads poison is hemolytic.  It breaks down the red blood cells.  This kills the animal slowly so the snake can swallow it head first.  There is rarely any cases of deaths from the bite of copperheads. 

Comments about the copperheads of the Fort Worth Zoo.
 Copperheads in the wild usually eat frogs rodents and other snakes.  The zoo feeds them mice and other supplements as well to keep the snakes healthy.  The Trans-Pecos copperhead at the zoo was caught in 1996 outside of Sanderson Tx.  Zoologists estimated that the snake was around 5 years old.  The copperhead at the zoo is a male. 
Personal Observations

Some personal observations that I have studied about this animal is its aggressiveness.  It seems that the copperhead does not go out and look for trouble.  It's the fact that people stumble upon them and feel that they are evil and should kill them.  If you encounter one of these snakes do not badger it and make it angry.  You may be in for a painful surprise.  But the bites are rarely fatal.  My visit with the copperhead lasted one hour.  I could see the snake but barely.   He blended in with habitat so it took a while to find him.  He was also hidden behind some rocks.   I waited approximately 34 minutes before he started to move.  His body was not too long.  I could see the distinguishing pits on the head of the viper.  The snake slithered very smoothly to the glass.  He looked so graceful.   I wanted to see the zoo keeper feed the snake but the opportunity never came up.   This snake does look like a malicious beast but if humans just leave them alone there would be no problems. 

Source Materials and Related Links:


Animal Behaviour, "Body size and agonistic experience affect dominance and mating success in male copperheads" July 97, Vol.54, issue 1 pg.213

Animal Behaviour, "Head lifting by female copperheads, Agkistrodon contarix, during courtship: potential mate choice" Feb. 96, Vol.51, issue 2 pg.367

Pamela Forey and Cecilia Fitzsimons: Reptiles and Amphibians , Pub. BONANZA BOOKS. 1987


Ohio Division of Wildlife
The Copperhead Pages

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Snakes at the Fort Worth Zoo
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