We've seen a couple of pictures circulating on Facebook in the past few days purporting to be copperheads, both of which were harmless non-venomous snakes, so when we came upon this copperhead, Agkistrodon contortrix, crossing an area road just before noon today, we decided to stop for a few pictures.
A copperhead generally has dark hourglass or dumbbell shaped bands (narrow in the middle of the back, widening on either side) against a lighter background color. The bands typically have bold outlines but lighter interiors. The background coloration on this individual is lighter than some, but the hourglass banding pattern is an excellent example of the typical copperhead pattern.
The common name, copperhead, refers to the coppery coloration on top and to the rear of the snake's head, which is more triangular and angular than most non-venomous lookalikes.
The copperhead also has a narrow, vertically-oriented pupil, which may become more elliptical or even almost round in very low lighting, and a distinctive "pit" or extra opening between the nostril and the eye. This feature is common to all the venomous "pit vipers" in North Carolina, including the eastern cottonmouth and three species of rattlesnake.
Photo session complete, we assisted this healthy 28 inch specimen across the blacktop and into the dense woods on the other side of the road, and we resumed our respective journeys. Perhaps this brief refresher will be helpful for those who are interested in better understanding all wild creatures in hopes of maintaining a healthy ecosystem.