Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Copperhead Cuisine

The 4th graders from Northside Baptist Church School had a treat today. They observed a Southern Copperhead (Agkistrodon contortrix) dining on some hapless prey. Unfortunately, we were not able to see the prey until it was nearly consumed, but it appears to be a large caterpillar from the family Nymphalidae based on the light-green spines and numerous setae (hair-like projections). The orange area may be the head of the caterpillar. Large insects, especially cicadas, are part of the Copperhead's diet as are mice, small birds, lizards, snakes and amphibians. Feel free to email us if you can identify the Copperhead cuisine.

The last two images show the Copperhead's incredible camouflage. The head is obvious as the snake chokes down its hairy, dry meal, but the remainder of the snake disappears into the leaf litter. Copperheads are pit vipers and use the heat-sensing pits in front of their eyes to locate potential meals. The snakes are venomous (not poisonous) using fangs that fold up against the roof of their mouths to inject venom into their prey. Younger Copperheads, like Cottonmouths, have a yellow-green tail that they wiggle as a lure to bring their next meal within striking distance.


CarolinaDreamz said...

This is so fascinating. Great photos!

Swampy said...

Bill Hilton, Jr. of Hilton Pond Center of Piedmont Natural History noted:

Here's my speculation on the Copperhead photo.

--I think the unusual whitish-green objects are indeed the knobs from am Imperial Moth, which gets up to 4" or so. Snakes do eat such things.

--I think the hair is mammalian, not bird feathers.

--I have no idea what the two orange-brown objects are; they look almost like two halves of an acorn.

--Everything looks pretty jumbled up and very wet to me, and the snake's neck is very distended.

--The scenario I imagine is that the snake has been stuffing itself and eating everything it comes across and is having trouble getting/keeping everything down. In fact, it may be in the photo that the snake is responding to being disturbed by regurgitating and is, in fact, not swallowing but throwing up.

--It's also possible the Copperhead swallowed several items, had to regurgitate, and is re-swallowing--snakes do this sometimes--which would explain the jumble and the wetness. (Stuff may even be partly digested in the photo, which could distort original colors.)