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Trans Pecos Copperhead

Asheville Wildside Creature Feature!

Trans Pecos Copperhead (Agkistrodon contortrix pictigaster)

One of the most commonly encountered venomous species of snake in the U.S. is the ubiquitous Copperhead (Agkistrodon contortrix). This widespread pit viper has five sub-species including the nominate southern form (A. c. contortrix). The one we will be looking at is the sub-species with the westernmost range. The Trans Pecos Copperhead is found in dry sparsely vegetated scrub land in western Texas and parts of northeastern Mexico. During the heat of the day these snakes seek out rock crevices, fallen timber, and man made debris to hide under. They then emerge from cover in the later cooler hours of the evening to hunt for small mammals, lizards, and amphibians.

Like all copperheads the Trans Pecos produces hemotoxic venom. This venom is manufactured in the animals modified salivary glands and stored until they strike, bite and choose to inject the venom through a pair of hollow hyperdermic like fangs. Hemotoxins are widely encountered in North American venomous snakes and upon injection begin destroying red blood cells, disrupt clotting, and cause tissue degeneration.

Copperheads belong to a specialized group of venomous snakes called pit vipers. One of the universal characteristics that separate these snakes from others is the presence of a loreal pit located on either side of the head between the eyes and nostril. This pit is a deep and complex structure that opens into a eardrum like membrane that is connected via a tiny duct and surrounding muscles. This allows the pit viper to adjust and balance the air pressure on the membrane. This membrane is covered in numerous nerve endings and allow the snake to detect even the smallest amount of infrared radiation, thus allowing them to detect the presence of warm bodied prey, determine size, distance and even trajectory in complete darkness.

Like most pit vipers copperheads are ovovivaprous (giving birth to live, fully formed young). They emerge from a form of brumation (reduced activity) in the early spring and breed shortly after. The females typically give birth to four to eight neonates in early autumn. All sub-species of copperheads are born with a bright yellow colored tail tip and it is believed that this is an adaptation to be used as a lure to attract prey to within striking distance.

Venomous snakes are often feared and misunderstood animals. These beautiful creatures will avoid confrontations with humans whenever possible and utilize their venom for defense only when cornered and given no escape vector. Here at Asheville Wildside we work with and produce a selection of venomous snakes, these animals are not for inexperienced hobbyists. Safety, responsibility, experience and knowledge all play important roles in the proper care and maintenance of venomous reptiles.

Thanks again for taking the time to read about some of our amazing animals!

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