Virginia is home to many venomous snakes which include timber rattlesnakes, the eastern cottonmouth, and of course the northern copperhead. The northern copperhead is found throughout Virginia, except the barrier islands. It’s found in almost every type of habitat from wetlands to forests, and will use most any available structure for cover. Copperhead are a fairly placid snake that would prefer to just be left alone, rarely biting unless being stepped on or threatened.
The copperhead grows to a length of 24 inches to 36 inches, typically with a heavy body. The head has a triangular shaped head, with its distinctive copper to rust colored hourglass pattern on a tan body with dark spots along the sides. Juveniles have a sulfur colored tip to their tail, but patterns are the same as the adults. The colors can vary as seen below.
Often times people confuse other snakes for the northern copperhead. One important piece to remember with the pattern is that the hourglass shape is distinctive, and that the wider part of the hourglass shape extends all the way down the sides, and the narrower part runs along the backbone of the copperhead.
Another distinctive way to identify venomous snakes is on the underside. Locate the anal plate, venomous snakes will have a single row of scales from this plate to the tip of the tail – non-venomous snakes have a double row.
Copperheads are commonly confused with other snakes in Virginia such as the northern water snake – which is harmless. Both snakes share the same distribution across the state. The same is true with the common corn snake which is not as widely as distributed as the northern copperhead.