How Venomous are Copperheads? Let’s Know All About it!

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How venomous are Copperheads?

Copperhead snakes are not so deadly to humans and their venom is relatively mild and they very rarely bite until provoked to do so. They are kept as excellent pets for those with prior experience and they are very relatively easy to care for in captivity.

Copperhead bites are not as serious as other pit vipers. The bites are usually limited to local tissue destruction only. The venom is not as toxic as compared to other pit vipers and in general, they do not inject very much venom.

Copperheads belong to a member of the subfamily Crotalinae in the family Viperidae.

They are venomous, but not a deadly venomous one. In fact, they rarely bites and so are rarely fatal.

Another thing to note is that the Copperheads often employ a “warning bite” or “dry bite” when stepped on or agitated by injecting a relatively small amount of venom if any at all. “Dry bites” involves a very little to no venom. 

It has been estimated that the Copperhead’s venom that is secreted in each bite has an estimated deadly dose of around 100 mg only which is very low to cause death but enough to make you sick.

Experimental tests on mice show its potency is among the lowest of all pit vipers, and slightly weaker than that of its close relative, the cottonmouth.

They are venomous snake, that belongs to the pit viper group and are distinguished by visible sensory pits on their head that can detect heat emitted by their prey.

These pits situated between the eye and nostril on each side of the head and this helps the Copperhead to detect minute differences in temperatures so that the snakes can accurately strike the source of heat, which is its often potential prey.

Southern Copperhead snake
Southern Copperhead Snake

What type of venom do Copperheads have?

Copperheads have relatively mild venom of the hemolytic type, meaning that its venom can break down the blood cells. Although their venom is not so fatal to adult humans but it can involve the rupture or destruction of Red Blood Cells (RBCs).

Copperheads have hemotoxic venom which often results in temporary tissue damage in the immediate area of the bite.

It’s one bite can release an amount of about 100 mg of venom which is not so deadly to adults, but children, the elderly, and immunocompromised people are mostly at risk.

Copperheads venom can cause you extreme pain, tingling, throbbing, swelling, and severe nausea thus making you very sick if not cured at the earliest.

Due to the hemolytic and hemotoxic nature of the venom, damage of muscle and bone tissues can also take place at some sites, especially when the bite occurs in the outer extremities such as the hands and feet, where a large muscle mass is not available to absorb the venom.

Luckily, the copperhead snake’s venom is not so super fatal. And, most snake bites occur when someone tries to kill or harass a snake. So, the best way to avoid a bite is to leave any snake you find alone.

This simply doesn’t mean that you should ignore a Copperhead snake’s bite, as it is from a venomous snake.

Care should be taken very seriously and immediate medical attention sought, as an allergic reaction and secondary infection are always possible if you reach the hospital at the earliest.

Copperheads have fangs that release a hemolytic venom. And, the length of the snake’s fangs is related to its size, meaning that the longer the snake, the longer are its fangs.

It is also important to note that both adult and baby copperheads are able to secrete the same venom with an equal amount of lethal dose.

Even the newborn copperheads have fully functional fangs capable of injecting venom that is just as toxic as an adult’s venom.

How does the copperhead venom work?

Snakes have different types of snake venom. Some snakes have hemotoxic venom, some have proteolytic venom, some neurotoxic, and some have cytotoxic venom.

For example:  In North America, only the coral snakes, the cottonmouths, the copperheads, and the rattlesnakes are venomous. Here, the most ironic thing about the snakes is that they all have different kinds of snake venom.

Hemotoxins are frequently employed by venomous animals, including vipers and pit vipers like Copperheads.

When the Copperhead snake bites, it will rapidly insert its fangs into the body of the prey and take it out by inserting the venom inside the body. These all happen within a few milliseconds.

As it bites, the venom passes from the venom gland through a duct into the snake’s fangs, and finally into its prey.

During its feeding time, Copperheads bite the prey and then release it. They let the venom work, and then track down the prey using its pit in the head once it has died.

The venom contains enzymes and other proteins that are hemotoxic in nature. These once entered into the blood exhibit strong haemotoxic properties by interfering with blood pressure, clotting factors, and platelets, and by directly causing haemorrhage.

These venoms are also called blood poisons as they will attack the RBCs to burst open and this will eventually lead to interference with the blood clotting factors, and by causing tissue death at the site of the bite.

In muscles at the site of the bite, it will attack the Myoglobin cells that have a strong affinity for oxygen and will interfere with the use of oxygen in the muscles effectively. This will lead to muscle tiredness and even paralyzation in some extreme cases.

Destruction of red blood cells and the inability of blood to clot can even cause serious internal bleeding. And, this can also disrupt proper kidney function if left untreated in children, the elderly, and immunocompromised people.

The resulting clots can block blood circulation through blood vessels and can even lead to heart failure as well.

Yes, it is already mentioned that Copperheads are not so fatal as their venom contains a small dosage of lethal venom that it can secrete at one bite. Therefore, some extreme cases can only be seen if a copperhead bites a human many times.

What does copperhead venom do to blood?

Copperheads have hemotoxic venom that can destroy red blood cells by causing hemolysis, disrupts blood clotting, and also by attacking the other types of cells and tissues.

If inserted at high dosage then it can attacks other types of cells and tissues as well thus causing profound tissue damage and often organ failure at some extreme but rare cases.

It can also attack the White Blood Cells (WBCs) and Platelets apart from the Red Blood Cells (RBCs) thus leading to all of the blood cells to clump together. This can cause the blockage of the blood flow in the other parts of the body.

The resulting blockage of the blood circulation through blood vessels and can lead to heart failure as well if left untreated in children, the elderly, and immunocompromised people.

A person bitten by a snake with hemotoxic venom may bleed from orifices like nose, eyes, and also gums and the brain. But, this happens very rarely in case of the Copperheads as they have a small dosage of lethal venom.

Are baby Copperheads more venomous than adults?

Both adult and baby copperheads are able to secrete the same venom with an equivalent amount of lethal dose. Newly born copperheads are far more lethal than an adult.

Although they contain the same type of venom with an equivalent amount of lethal dose as that in adults, but the baby copperheads are more venomous than the adults. It’s because baby copperheads are less likely to control or withhold the amount of venom they inject because they still remain at the learning phase of using their fangs to inject the venom.

Baby copperheads venom may slightly be more concentrated than those of the adults because they can’t control or withhold the amount of venom they are going to inject.

This higher concentration is actually beneficial as during their growth phase the baby copperheads must ensure that they can properly feed upon their prey and grow. So, they would need to inject as much venom into its prey as possible just in order to assure that they kill it and eat it.

The quantity of venom injected is the most important determining factor of the severity of envenomation. Adult copperheads better know how much to inject to cause worse envenomations into its prey.

So, the adult copperheads can control envenomation and the concentration of venom depending on its prey. Whereas the baby copperheads can’t control, so they release a higher concentration of venom which makes them even more venomous than adults.

Can a copperhead bite kill your pet?

A copperhead may be able or may not be able to kill your pet with its bite, but it will surely make them fall ill. It’s because the smaller the pet (dog or cat) is, the more likely they are to have a fatal reaction.

So, this can’t be surely said that how the venom will work and how it can be lethal to your pets.

If you have a baby pet or old-aged pet then the venom can be fatal to it. Or if it is an adult pet then the risk factors are pretty much low.

As soon as you have learned that your pet has been bitten by a copperhead snake then it’s always a best practice to take your pet immediately to a Veterinarian who can assess whether the animal will need anti-venom or other treatments.

Often, Copperheads will only bite with a “warning bite” or “dry bite” that injects almost little to no venom at all. So, in many cases, you won’t require an anti-venom to protect your pet.

It has been seen that many dogs and cats have survived even after the snakes like copperheads have bitten. On the other hand, other pet owners have said that their dogs and cats had died from copperhead snake’s bites.

But, who knows yours will die or not. So, its always better to consult your Veterinarian doctor at the earliest.

They will better know the course of treatment for your pet after examining them, so get them to one as soon as you can.

Are Copperheads aggressive?

No, copperheads aren’t aggressive at all. They are gentle, friendly, and peaceful type of snakes that are not out to bite humans or pets until they are provoked a lot.

They are very tolerant and quiet snakes and will never strike if disturbed for a few times. But, if you keep on provoking them over and over again then it’s very sure that they will “dry bite” you.

Remember “dry bite” which is a form of warning bite with little to no venom. But, if they can’t anymore tolerate you then they will inject the venom with their next main bite.

Copperheads really are not dangerous at all if you just leave them alone. Nobody’s ever been bitten by a snake while they were leaving it alone. It’s always when they step on it, or pick it up, or try to kill it, or mess with it, then only they bite.

Copperheads are not generally aggressive snakes and rarely injure people. They are not so fatal as well to humans so they are often used as snake pets.

Due to their non-aggressive nature, they make up for an excellent pet only for those with prior experience. Maybe that’s why copperheads are so relatively easy to care for in captivity.

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