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Australian Copperhead (Austrelaps superbus)

By: C.M.Shorter

Australian Copperheads are highly venomous Poisonous Snakes native to the temperate territories of southern and eastern Australia. Well adapted to cooler climates, they are the only Australian snake found above the snowline. These snakes prefer fertile wetland and swamp habitat and are known to congregate in large numbers when conditions are optimal. Excellent swimmers, Australian Copperheads are very much at home in river, swamp and marshland habitats. They tend to gather where prey is plentiful and a major part of their diet is frogs and tadpoles. As generalized carnivorous hunters and they will eat any suitable sized prey - including one another and even their own young!

Australian Lowland Copperhead

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Australian Copperheads are a medium body snake solidly built with small heads averaging lengths between 1.2 to 1.8 meters (4 to 6 feet) in length. Color variations are many with skin tones ranging from a coppery brown color to light reddish brown, grey and dark brown with lighter abdomens. Some specimens, particularly in the Queensland area, have black scale coloring. Many Australian Copperhead snakes have the copper head coloring giving the snake its common name but, unlike the American Copperhead, this is not always a highly visible distinguishing feature.

TigerHomes White Tiger
(Using Boulders as means of Thermoregulation

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Diurnal throughout most of the year, the Australian Copperhead becomes a nocturnal hunter during hot weather. Snakes are cold blooded, and referred to as ectotherms like amphibians, arachnids, fish, insects, & reptiles they have no internal metabolic structure to regulate body temperature. Cold-blooded creatures take on the temperature of their surroundings and are dependent on external sources of heat such as solar radiation. Many of you will see our Sanctuary's White Tigers, Tundra & Loki who are endothermic or warm-blooded using their habitat boulders as giant thermal regulators.

Australian Copperheads are members of the Elapidae Family (Pit Viper) of snakes. Pit Vipers are snakes with highly evolved "pit" sensory organ capable of picking up even the slightest temperature variance. Elapids have hollow fangs located in the front of their mouth but these fangs cannot be erected like a true Viper, such as the Gaboon Viper, belonging to the Viperidae Family. The main difference is Elapids must actually bite their prey instead of stabbing it like a true Pit Viper. Like all Elapids, Australian Copperheads have Fixed Fangs mounted at the front of their jaw. Australian Copperheads are known to be shy and not overly aggressive, however when the do strike they deliver a substantial quantity of Snake venom which can be deadly if left untreated. Australian Copperheads are dangerous poisonous snakes with Neurotoxic venom classified in the Proteroglypha group having permanently erect fangs. There is no specific Australian Copperhead Antivenom, but Tiger Snake or polyvalent antivenom is used and effective in the event an antivenom is administered to the snake bite victim.

Common Name: Australian Copperhead
Scientific Name: Austrelaps superbus
Snake Family: Elapidae
Genus: Austrelaps
Description: Color variations are many with skin tones ranging from a coppery brown color to light reddish brown, grey and dark brown. Black species are known in Queensland territory. Some display copper colored heads but this is not always a prominent distinguishing feature.
Characteristics: Not known to be aggressive but will defend themselves when threatened.
Reproduction: Copperheads are viviparous (bearing live young) and breed from spring giving birth to as many as 14 young in late summer.
Length: 1.2 to 1.8 meters (4 to 6 feet) in length
Habitat Distribution: South Australia - New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, Kangaroo Island & Tasmania
Subspecies:
Lowlands Copperhead (Austrelaps superbus)
Highlands Copperhead (Austrelaps ramsayi)
Pygmy Copperhead (Austrelaps labialis)
The genus Austrelaps includes 3 closely related species not defined until the later part of the 20th century.

See also:
How to Avoid Snake Bites
| Poisonous Snake Bites Effects | Snake Venom | Snake Fangs
Other Snakes:
Diamondback Rattlesnake
| King Cobra | Spitting Cobra | Kingsnakes & Milk Snakes

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