Though often the target of rashly misguided shovels and hoes, the copperhead is one of Oklahoma's most beautiful and valuable reptiles.
One of the three venomous snakes found in Oklahoma, the copperhead (Agkistrodon contortix) inhabits the eastern and central portions of Oklahoma. Highly adaptable, it thrives in close proximity to man and encounters, though rare, are occasionally unpleasant. On the other hand, the copperhead is very efficient in controlling populations of rodents and vermin, making it extremely valuable to farmers and gardeners.
The copperhead is distinguishable y the hour-glass-shaped bands on its light brown back. During the breeding season, these copper-colored bands are almost luminous, making the copperhead one of the most recognizable snakes on the landscape. Compared to other snakes, the copperhead has a moderately heavy body, but it rarely exceeds three feet in length.
Two species of copperheads are found in Oklahoma. The northern copperhead inhabits the eastern woodlands, while the broad-banded copperhead occupies central Oklahoma, from the Red River north to the Kansas border. Like the cottonmouth and rattlesnake, the copperhead is classified as a "pit viper" because of the sensory pit between its eyes and nostrils. This pit is actually a heat-sensitive organ which helps the snake detect warm-blooded prey.
Copperheads prefer rocky, wooded hillsides above stream valleys, where they den and hibernate before the first frost of fall. Unlike rattlesnakes, copperheads do not congregate in large numbers while hibernating.
In early April, copperheads emerge from hibernation but remain near their dens for several weeks before mating. Males mate for the first time during their second summer, but females don't reproduce until age three. From late August to early October a female will produce up to 11 young. They are dark and glossy for 3-10 days after birth until their first shedding.
The copperhead's diet varies with the seasons. In the spring and fall, they subsist largely on frogs, but in the summer they concentrate primarily on small mammals like rats and mice.
Copperheads commonly sun or hide in masses of dead leaves where their coloration makes them nearly invisible. When daytime temperatures reach or exceed 90 degrees, they move to fields or creek bottoms. Hikers and campers should be more cautious in such areas, especially during spring when snakes are lethargic and less likely to flee from intruders.
Like most snakes, copperheads are not dangerous unless cornered or threatened and even then they prefer to escape without incident. Sometimes they remain motionless, relying on their natural camouflage to conceal them from danger. When provoked however, the copperhead can and will strike more than once. With its tail braced against a rock or other solid object, it can lunge the length of its body to strike. In addition, copperheads can strike from one-third to one-half their body length in any direction and from any position. Though less toxic than the other pit vipers, a bite from a copperhead is painful and requires immediate medical attention.
Unfortunately, copperheads are often killed by humans simply because they are venomous. Given sufficient space and respect, the copperhead poses little threat to humans and because they eat so many small mice and rats, the copperhead should be considered one our state's greatest reptilian assets.
ored with large, bony plates. Eyes, ears and nostrils are near
the top of the head, with valves to close the ears and nostrils
when the alligator is submerged. A transparent eyelid allows
them to see underwater. While they move with serpentine grace in
water, they are less graceful on land. They either lumber along,
or raise themselves off the ground and move at speeds up to 20
miles per hour for a short distance.
Their large, strong mouths have 80 teeth, and are used to capture, crush and dismember their prey. Alligators cannot chew, so they swallow their food whole or in chunks. They often lose teeth in encounters with prey but they are quickly replaced. Each tooth contains a small replacement tooth within its pulp cavity and examination sometimes reveals a further tiny tooth ready to erupt within that.
The American alligator’s breeding season usually begins around May and lasts for six to eight weeks. They mate underwater during the last several days of their courtship season. Females construct the nests in June and July on mounds of high banks. The construction of the nest provides a constant temperature for the 20-30 eggs so that the female doesn’t have to sit on the nest like her avian cousins.
Sex of the hatchlings is determined by the temperature of the eggs during incubation. Temperatures greater than 91 degrees produce males, temperatures less than 85 degrees produce females and temperatures in between produce both sexes. Hatching occurs in mid-August after about 65 days of incubation. When the hatchlings break out of their eggs, they make a distinctive call and the female digs up the eggs. Female alligators are very protective of their offspring, which may stay near her for more than two years. They are very vulnerable to predation by raccoons, otters, herons, snakes, fish, bullfrogs and other alligators.