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Friday, April 19, 2002


Copperhead snake

* Japanese Name: Nihon mamushi
* Scientific name: Agkistrodon blomhoffii
* Description: Copperheads are reddish-brown, coppery colored snakes of the viper family. They have thick bodies, 40-70 cm long, with chestnut-brown rings.
* Where to find them: In forests and surrounding farmland, from Hokkaido to Kyushu. During winter, copperheads may nest together communally or with other species of snakes.
* Food: Mainly frogs, rats and mice, but also small birds and lizards. A prey animal is typically ambushed, bitten once and released. The snake's venom is hemolytic, which means that it dissolves red blood cells. The snake will track the poisoned animal until it dies. Young copperheads feed on insects, especially caterpillars, biting them and holding them in the mouth until they die. When a female is carrying young, she won't eat much because most of the space in her body is filled with developing eggs. However, females don't lay eggs, as most reptiles do -- they give birth to 5-6 live baby snakes about 20 cm long. And then abandon them.
* Special features: Animals that hunt at night need a way to locate their prey. Owls have good night vision, bats have a radar. Copperhead snakes have temperature-sensitive pit organs on each side of the head, between the eye and nostril. This enables the snake to detect heat sources -- like a mouse -- and to strike and bite with accuracy, even in the dark. Copperheads have hollow fangs which they use to inject their venom. The copperhead's poison is stronger than that of the feared habu of Okinawa, but the volume injected is less. They do bite humans, usually if they are accidently trodden on (they are often well camouflaged). Though painful, copperhead bites are rarely fatal -- although immediate medical attention is necessary.

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