Sunday, August 8, 2010

Bushcraft - Central Texas Style - The Ambush Predator

One of the most colorful snakes in the United States is also one of the most dangerous. Knowing the habits of these superbly camouflaged creatures will help you to better understand them and reduce your risks of an unpleasant encounter. This most beautiful of snakes is the copperhead and it has a well-deserved reputation as an ambush predator.

Unlike many of its kind that seeks to avoid contact with humans by fleeing the area, the copperhead will wait silently and depend on its unique ability to blend in with its surroundings for protection. It is often referred to as an ambush predator. It will wait patiently for its victims to come within range before striking. It also depends upon its superb camouflage to hide its location when it feels threatened and many times its presence will go completely unnoticed.

The copperhead, which normally grows to sizes that range from two to three feet in length, is responsible for a great majority of poisonous snakebites in Texas. As a result of its shorter fangs and its venom being slightly less lethal than that of the rattlesnake, the majority of bites are not life-threatening. Unlike the bite of a rattlesnake which injects poisonous venom deep into muscle tissue, the copperhead with its shorter fangs will quite often deliver bites that only penetrate the upper skin levels which usually result in less tissue damage. The main danger posed by the copperhead is that many times it will make repeated strikes when it feels threatened and has assumed a defensive posture.

Copperheads prefer a temperature range of about 80 degrees and are most active during daylight hours in the spring and fall during mating season. Females usually remain within a two acre area for most of their adult life, while males will range over an area of ten to twenty acres most likely due to their search for a mate. The spring and fall is also a very active time for many people and may be a factor in the number of snakebites that occur as a result from copperheads. During the extreme temperatures of summer (100+ degrees), they will avoid these dangerously high temperatures by seeking out shaded areas and become active at dusk or during the early morning hours of dawn when temperatures are more moderate.

There are actually three types of copperheads in Texas. The broad-banded southern copperhead has a range that runs from an area around Dallas to areas as far south as Victoria and westward towards Abilene and Del Rio. The other main species is predominantly found in the piney woods of East Texas. The Trans-Pecos species of copperhead is less common and is usually found near water sources in desert areas of West Texas.

Be careful when gathering firewood and be aware of where you are placing your hands and feet. This will help you avoid a possible snakebite from these masters of camouflage that wait in ambush for the unwary.

Got ambush predator?

Staying above the water line!



MEB said...

I continue to be a devoted follower of your blog. It always right to the point and educational, without the fluff. Keep it going.

One Fly said...

I'm glad we don't have these fellows around here. It's hard enough as it is to see the other ones.

Jack said...

Riverwalker, came upon one many years ago when I worked for a golf course as a kid. As you mentioned they stay within a small territory. Turns out there were several of them near that very area, and it was always interesting as a kid keeping an eye out for them. At the edge of the course where we saw them (it was actually a driving range), we would beat the ground with sticks to try and scare them off before we ventured closer to the taller grass at the edge...

Not a fan of the copperhead just because it is a snake that will sit there and wait for you to come by.

riverwalker said...


Thanks for the great comment.

Simple basic facts are often easier to remember and more valuable to most people than a long discourse on how many I've almost grabbed or stepped on...

Thanks MEB.


riverwalker said...

To: One Fly

What? No copperheads! These are beautiful snakes and are normally so well camouflaged that you will literally step on them or pick one up when gathering firewood if you aren't extremely careful in my neck of the woods. Lived quite a spell in the piney woods of East Texas in my younger days and there were plenty of copperheads around there also.

Thanks One Fly.


riverwalker said...

To: Jack

They usually rely on their natural camouflage for protection and are usually reluctant to leave an area, especially if they've been "eating good in the neighborhood".

Depending upon available food sources, it is not unusual to find several copperheads in a small area if their prey is abundant...sort of like trying to run someone off from an "all-you-can-eat" buffet.

The skills of an ambush predator allow a unique conservation of energy. This is especially beneficial when hunting may be difficult due to the speed of their prey or terrain that does not facilitate a chase.

There may also be a shortage of prey which may limit available food sources. This is just another example of a natural survival skill that many creatures in nature employ to their benefit.

Ambush predators, like copperheads, capture their prey by stealth or cunning and not necessarily by speed or strength. Hiding motionless and waiting for their prey to come within striking distance is not a sign of laziness but is a more efficient use of their skills. They are often very well camouflaged and are usually solitary creatures. The copperhead qualifies in both categories.

After hearing your story, I realized there must be some reason why I don't play golf...LOL

Thanks Jack.


Anonymous said...

I'm not 100% certain, but years ago, I remember seeing a snake that greatly resembled a copperhead near our ranch house. The head appeared to be a pit viper (triangular shaped head), but was definitely not a rattlesnake. There WAS water nearby, the stock tank that was there. Way down in deep south Texas, about 30 miles as the crow flies from Rio Grande, near Falcon Lake. No idea if that is the case, but I know what my eyes told me.

I had no idea that many snakebites in Texas are attributed to copperheads - nasty little buggers! I'll keep my eyes peeled even more - Thanks Riverwalker.

riverwalker said...

To: anonymous 5:21

It may well have been a copperhead that you saw and they are usually best avoided.

They are definitely well camouflaged in their natural surroundings and are hard to detect even when you are looking carefully.

One of my wife's younger sisters was bitten by a copperhead. Other than a small scar that is several inches long where the doctors stripped a vein from her arm, she recovered quickly without any other major side affects than a healthy respect for copperheads.

Thanks anon.


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