Agkistrodon contortrix laticinctus

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Geographic Range

The broad-banded copperhead is known to populate the region between 97 degrees and 99 degrees west longitude from central Texas north to the southern border of Kansas and Oklahoma. (Wright 1957).

Habitat

Agkistrodon contortix is often found in riparian or upland woods with sandy soil, near river bottoms and streambeds. In this area it will be found among dried leaves and pine needles. Other microhabitats include moist, rotten logs, piles of wood, rocky bluffs, ledges, accumulations of leaves and decaying plants (Kuntz 1986). The types of trees common to their habitat include live oak, post oak, cedar, and juniper. The snake is also most commonly found in the elevations between 100 and 1500 feet (Wright 1957). Due to the advancement of human population into the outskirts of cities, it is not uncommon to find the copperhead near homes. Bites to humans are very uncommon (Tennant 1998).

Physical Description

Despite its similarity to other copperheads in range and habitat, Agkistrodon contortix laticinctus is easily distinguishable from the other subspecies. The broad-banded copperhead is a light tan color with broad reddish-brown or copper bands with a very thin white boarder. The snake can have anywhere from 10 to 17 bands. A full grown adult will be 20 - 30 inches in length (Kuntz 1986). It has a large head to accommodate the large venom glands right before the neck region. Its fangs are hinged and come out when striking its prey or defending itself (Tennant 1998). Coloration and size are sexually monomorphic, but the young are usually much paler in pigmentation.

Reproduction

The broad-banded copperhead is viviparous and can have litters from three to ten. Once born, the snakes are on their own and are equiped to survive on their own with venom and fully developed senses. Adults may mate in spring or in fall, but the eggs are only fertilized in the spring. When females mate in the fall, they keep the male's sperm until it is to be used for fertilization in spring. This could lead to a litter being sired by two different males (Tennant 1998). The gestation period is from three to four months, and births have been recorded from late July to early October. The young are paler in pigment, and about seven to ten inches long. Females are not sexually mature until they are three years old. Broad-banded copperheads can have one litter every year (Kuntz 1986).

Lifespan/Longevity

Behavior

The broad-banded copperhead has an optimal body temperature of 74 - 84 degrees Fahrenheit (Tennant 1998). To maintain this, the snake spends the spring days basking in the sun where it will sit and wait for its prey. When it is not warming itself in the sun, it is most commonly under woodland debris. During the summer months, the snake is less active during the day and goes hunting during the night and dusk hours. At this time, the snake is actively hunting for its prey. The weather conditions are the biggest factors that determine the activity of the snake. these snakes are most active following summer rains. During the fall, the snake becomes less active. It is more likely to obtain its prey by ambushing it than by hunting for it at this time. The snake's color provides excellent camouflage, and juveniles in the same location will blend except for their tail, which is a brighter color. Juveniles are known to shake their tail and use it as a lure for animals that mistake it for a worm. In winter months, the snake will den and considerably slow its metabolism so that it will survive till it is able to go out again (Kuntz 1986). Copperheads are very sluggish in defense, and when disturbed don't strike unless provoked. Most commonly they shake their tail to rustle the leaves as a warning system. When disturbed copperheads will also emit a musk odor from their anal glands. When males encounter one another in the mating season they will fight for the right to mate with the female. The larger male usually wins and is given priority of access to potential mates (Schuett 1997). When breeding, the male approaches the female and attempts to touch her with his snout. If she does not run away then it is a sign to the male that she is willing to mate. Before the mating process, the female will empty her cloaca, flatten her body, and wave her tail. Once linked, the couple will remain in that position for several hours. A female is usually only mated with once during a season because males will not attempt to copulate with a female that has already been mated (Tennant 1998).

Food Habits

The broad-banded copperhead is a very well adapted predator, which allows the snake to live and feed in relatively small areas, as opposed to needing to travel extensively to find its prey. Excellent camouflage enables this snake to ambush its prey. A. contortix kills with a short striking jab with its hinged teeth and venom. The snake has developed excellent night vision, heat sensing facial pits, and venom (Tennant 1998). This results in a high success rate for the ambushing snake. The most common prey have been found to be small rodents, ground birds, lizards, large insects, cicadas, frogs, toads, and other small snakes. The juvenile feeds on large insects mostly and small vertebrates occasionally; it does have venom of the same strength as the adult (Kuntz 1986).

Conservation Status

The broad-banded copperhead is in no danger of extinction or of being endangered.

Contributors

John Saari (author), Southwestern University, Stephanie Fabritius (editor), Southwestern University.

Glossary

Nearctic

living in the Nearctic biogeographic province, the northern part of the New World. This includes Greenland, the Canadian Arctic islands, and all of the North American as far south as the highlands of central Mexico.

World Map

forest

forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.

References

Kuntz, R., T. Vermercsh. 1986. Snakes of South-Central Texas. Texas: Eakin Press.

Schuett, G. 1997. Body size and agonistic experience affect dominance and mating success in male copperheads. Animal Behaviour, 54, no. 1: 213-224.

Tennant, A. 1998. A Field Guide to Texas Snakes: Second Edition. Texas: Gulf Publishing Company.

Wright, A., A. Wright. 1957. Handbook of Snakes of the United States and Canada. New York: Comstock Publishing.