Copperhead Bites: How Deadly Are They?

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Copperheads are one of the most common snake species in the eastern United States. These venomous snakes are beautiful, but they can also pack a punch if you happen to get bitten. There are five subspecies of copperheads ( more on this below ), with the northern copperhead being the most widespread. If you live anywhere from Nebraska to the East Coast, you've probably come across one of these snakes before! Today, we'll explore copperhead bites and learn how deadly they can be. By the end, you should know more about the venom of these snakes and have some guidance on what to do if you encounter them. let's start!

How dangerous is a copperhead snake bite?

copperhead-snake-bite-how-deadly-are-they
Copperhead bites are rarely fatal and can be treated with modern antivenoms.

©Scott Delony/Shutterstock.com

Copperheads are some of the most common venomous snakes in the United States. Due to their venom and wide range, bites are unavoidable. However, how dangerous are they if you get bitten?

copperhead venom

Mississippi Snake - Southern Copperhead (Agkistrodon contortrix)
Copperhead venom is hemotoxic and can damage tissue around the injection site.

© Jay Ondreicka/Shutterstock.com

Copperhead venom is called "blood poison". Blood poisonous venom is characterized by tissue damage, swelling, necrosis, and circulatory damage. While this may seem scary, it's all relatively local. As painful as it can be, a copperhead bite is only a mild danger to most people. Copperhead snake venom is actually the least toxic of all rattlesnakes, killing only 0.01% of the 2,920 people bitten by copperheads each year. For reference, eastern diamondbacks injected as much as 1,000 mg per bite have a 20-40% mortality rate without treatment.

offensive and defensive

While most people think that all snakes are "trying to catch them," that's actually far from the truth. Most snakes want to avoid humans, especially copperheads. In fact, most copperheads will deliver a warning bite to an intruding human. These warning bites do not inject venom, are called "dry bites," and do not require antivenom injections.

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Because copperheads are reluctant to bite, and if they do bite, they may bite dry, and their venom is relatively mild, these snakes are among the least dangerous venomous snakes in the United States.

What to do if bitten by a copperhead snake?

Copperhead Snake Bites: How Deadly Are They?
Copperhead bites are usually dry, but emergency services should always be contacted if a reaction occurs.

© iStock.com/Mark Kostic

If you happen to see a copperhead, your best bet is to leave it alone. They usually try to stay undetected and don't want to interact with a big, scary person. Still, accidents do happen, and most human bites happen when the human is not seeing the snake and is moving or reaching into the snake's space.

If you are bitten by a copperhead snake, the first thing you should do is seek medical attention. Although the bite may be dry, it's still wise to seek help in the event of a reaction. If the wound is not swollen or painful like a standard puncture wound, it is likely dry.

In rare cases, some people may be allergic to copperhead venom. Similar to bee allergies, these reactions can be fatal, and quick treatment is crucial.

After calling emergency services, follow these steps:

  1. Pay attention to the timing of the bite
  2. Remove watch and ring (to prevent swelling)
  3. wash the area with soap and water
  4. keep the wound below the heart
  5. Do not try to "suck the venom" and do not use a tourniquet

In most cases, people who are bitten by a copperhead will recover within 2-4 weeks.

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featured image

Copperhead Bite - Copperhead showing mouth and fangs

© IrinaK/Shutterstock.com


about the author

Colby Maxwell


Colby is a freelance writer from Charlotte, North Carolina. When he's not distracted by the backyard bird feeder, you can find him camping, exploring, and telling everyone around him what he's learned recently. There's a whole world to learn, and Colby is content to spend his life learning as much of it as he can!

FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)

In which states are copperhead bites most common?

The state with the most reported copperhead bites per capita is North Carolina. After North Carolina, they are most common in West Virginia, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Virginia and Texas. North Carolina has more than three times the rate of copperhead bites compared to Virginia or Texas.

How many types of copperhead snakes are there?

There has been a debate in the scientific community over the copperhead species. Previously, there were five recognized subspecies. However, recent genetic analysis has revealed that there are two distinct copperhead species: the eastern copperhead and the broad copperhead. Broad copperheads are found in Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Mexico, while eastern copperheads are found along the eastern seaboard.

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