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Copperhead, Agkistrodon Contortrix

Copperhead SnakeIntroduction Copperheads are native to the eastern and central United states.

They are a moderately sized snake attaining lengths of up to 4 1/2 ft long. They are a terrestrial species that is encountered along the edges of forests, forest clearings and humid wooded areas.

While common, they are hard to detect as their excellent camouflage renders them almost invisible among leaf litter.

A crepuscular species, they often hunt at dusk and dawn, looking for an unsuspecting prey animal to subdue with a quick bite.

Acclimation and Quarantine Quarantine and acclimation enclosures need not be elaborate, but rather sterile and easy to clean. Plastic storage bins are often used for such enclosures as they are easy to clean, come in a variety of sizes, and most provide the security needed new snake. Paper towels, newspapers, or other easily cleaned materials may be used as the substrate. A few simple branches or pieces of pvc can provide climbing opportunities. A ceramic crock could be used as the water bowl as these are powerful snakes and are likely to tip lighter dishes. A hide of some sort, and foliage should also be incorporated into the quarantine enclosure. This setup should be used until the snake is feeding regularly and appears to be in good health.

Housing Once the snake is feeding and properly quarantined, they can then be moved to a more permanent enclosure. Juveniles will have plenty of space in a ten gallon tank or even a shoe box. An adult animal should have enough cage to allow it to stretch out and not overlap itself. A tank with a footprint of 18" x36" would be fine. Furnishing the enclosure is of personal preference. Branches can be used in the furnishing of the enclosure, however the snake will stay on the bottom most of the time. Hide boxes should also be placed on each end of the cage to provide the snake with a sense of security as they thermoregulate. Foliage may be added to the cage to provide the snake with more places to hide. For substrate, soil, mulch, ground coconut, and sphagnum moss are all acceptable and will help maintain the proper humidity levels the snake needs to thrive.

Lighting and Heating There should also be a thermal gradient in the cage, so that the snake may choose the area of the cage where it is most comfortable. The warmest extreme of the cage should be between 85 - 90 degrees Fahrenheit, while the cooler side of the cage should be between 75-80 degrees Fahrenheit. It is extremely important that the snake is provided with this thermal gradient so they can escape the heat, if it is not provided, your pet may suffer from heat exhaustion and possibly die! At night there should be a slight drop in temperature, preferably of about ten degrees. This will help promote certain natural behaviors for the snake, and will also help to recreate the natural drop in temperature that the snake would experience in the wild. I prefer to use a fluorescent or incandescent bulb during the day to provide light. A heat lamp of appropriate wattage or heat pad should be all that is needed to heat the enclosure. We simply use a heat pad on one end of the cage to provide the proper gradient. Use of thermometers and or temp guns are highly recommended to ensure proper heat gradients. If you choose to use a heat light be sure to place it on one end of the tank and not in the center. By placing it on the end you ensure a hot spot and a cool spot.

Feeding Feeding is straight forward. The rodents should be of an appropriate size relative to that of the snake you are feeding. You should feed neonates frequently to ensure rapid growth. A pinky/fuzzy or two twice a week is a good regimen. For adults 1 or 2 mice once a week will suffice.

We recommend feeding be done in an enclosure other than what the snake lives in. By doing this you reduce the likely hood of an aggressive feeding response when you open it's cage. The feeding container can be bear bottom to ensure that the snake only swallows it's food and not any bedding which can lead to a mouth infection or an impaction in the stomach.

On occasion, neonates and wild caught animals may be difficult to initiate feeding, however once they accept their first meal they normally continue to feed well from then on. To entice a reluctant snake to feed try placing the animal in a restricted container such as a deli dish in order to keep the food and it's scent in close proximity to the snake. Leave it alone for about 24 hours. See our "How To" section for additional tips on How to entice a reluctant snake to feed.

Water A dish of fresh water should always be made available.

A Note on Venom While not often fatal to a healthy adult, the bite of a copperhead is a serious matter that should receive medical evaluation.

Primarily a hemotoxic venom, localized swelling and bruising is common. In severe bites tissue damage may develop. Gangrenous infections are not unheard of as tissue becomes necrotic.

As with all venomous animals, proper handling techniques and tools should be followed and used.

When working with ANY VENOMOUS ANIMAL, ALWAYS HAVE A PREPARED BITE PROTOCOL THAT CAN BE PROVIDED TO EMERGENCY RESPONDERS AND DOCTORS! Many doctors, especially regarding exotic animals have little to no knowledge nor experience with the effects of venom and it's damage to the body; and most likely will not know how to treat you.