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Lowland copperhead, Austrelaps superbus


The lowland copperhead prefers to live in swampy or marshy areas where it feeds on frogs, lizards and smaller snakes. It has a relatively smaller head than the tiger snake.


The lowland copperhead usually has a bright iris and a narrow, somewhat pointed head which is scarcely distinct from the neck. The colour ranges from slate grey or black to coppery red-brown through to deep brick-red on the upper surface. It is usually yellow-white underneath. Most adult copperheads have a prominent orange/red to brown streak running along the lower sides of the body. This has led some people to the mistaken belief that they have seen a red-bellied black snake, a species which does not occur in Tasmania. Juvenile copperheads are often paler, being a reddish-brown colour, sometimes with a grey head and an indistinct dark band across the nape of the neck. The ventral scales often have dark margins. Adults reach 1 m to 1.5 m in length.


Lowland copperheads are usually found in open areas with low vegetation associated with streams, dams, lagoons or drainage ditches up to an altitude of 1000 m. Occasionally small specimens shelter in holes made by burrowing crayfish. Lowland copperheads have also been recorded utilizing shearwater burrows on The Nut at Stanley and on islands. Copperheads eat a variety of prey, typically feeding on lizards and frogs. The species is well known for eating smaller snakes and is cannibalistic. Lowland copperheads are also known to eat grasshoppers, and occasionally, carrion. This species is an active, alert hunter that is very shy with humans. With the increase in housing encroaching on the Copperheads preferred habitat, contact with people is more likely to occur. Copperheads are generally inoffensive and retiring, preferring to retreat when disturbed. However, like most snakes they will defend themselves if they feel they are unable to escape. Lowland copperheads overwinter in animal burrows close to water.


In late summer and early autumn male copperheads become sexually active and move about in search of females. While looking for mates male snakes do not eat and are known to fight with one another, which has lead to male lowland copperheads growing to a larger size than females. They mate in late summer and sperm is stored in the oviducts over winter. Ovulation occurs in the following spring and young are born in late summer. The females breed once they have a head and body length over 620 mm. Typically about 10-15 young are born, depending upon the size of the female, although litters can range from 6-26 young. At birth the baby copperheads are 180 - 200 mm in total length.


Generally found in the drier parts of the State, lowland copperheads have also been recorded from south-west Tasmania. On mainland Australia lowland copperheads occur in the far south-eastern corner of South Australia and over much of southern Victoria.


Appears secure although some populations have crashed severely in recent times.


Habitat destruction, including draining swamps and marshes, overgrazing and any activities that impact frog populations could severely threaten local populations of this inoffensive species. The establishment of the yabby in some parts of Tasmania may be linked to population crashes.


Fangs and poison

A dangerously venomous snake with neurotoxic venom, capable of killing an adult human if correct first aid is not applied. The fangs of a copperhead are relatively short so thick socks, strong shoes or gumboots will provide some protection. Information on first aid for snakebite can be found at our Living with Wildlifeweb pages.