No Copperheads in the Pines?

uuglypher

Explorer
Jun 8, 2005
377
14
18
Estelline, SD
There has been much discussion about many of the species of snakes that occur in the pine barrens, Now, how about some speculation on WHY NO COPPERHEADS ???

Here's a pit viper that has a range from Massachusets to southern Illinois and most of Missouri, down to west-central Texas and every bit of land south and east of those limits ...EXCEPT for southern NJ. As a young amateur herpetologist who spent a lot of time herping in the pines I simply assumed they weren't there because they just didn't like that sort of habitat. Now I'm not going to dispute that assumption, but I have subsequently found copperheads in habitats ostensibly identical to or at least very much like that of the pine barrens (sandy to sandy loam substrate and a mixed pine, oak, cedar forest with cedar / cypress swamps) all along the south-east coastal plain "pine barrens - like pine-oak forests from Virginia to Florida as well as in similar habitats in much of east Texas. Indeed, the acreage I bought in Texas was like a bit of the NJPB's, and copperheads were common - without particularly looking for them we'd find 5 to 10 a year with in 50 feet of the house. My woodpile of split cedar, pine, and pecan was a favored incidental hibernation site for one or two of them each winter (or at least such a "winter" as occurs in that climatically deprived sorry place...) And when we'd be out hiking it would be the PB-like habitats where we'd most often encounter copperheads.

So, I'm wondering what I'm missing that makes the New Jersey Pine Barrens such a distinctly and discretely UNSUITABLE environment for the otherwise amazingly adaptable copperhead. I've given the topic more than a little thought and cannot come up with any good reason why they should not be there. Neither from the point of view of any unique predators or of absence of requisite food items do the NJPB's seem unsuitable for Copperheads. But some factor or factors are clearly operant to discretely and effectively exclude that species from the NJPB's.

One possibility has occurred to me, but really seems quite a bit of a stretch. The NJPB's do have a slightly greater variety of avidly ophiophagic snakes - king snakes (Lampropeltis getulus), several subspp. of milk snakes (L. triangulum subspp.), and the black racer (Coluber constrictor) - than do the immediately adjacent regions of north Jersey, Pennsylvania, or nearby Delaware - but in the pine barrens further south these and more snake-eating snakes coexist with heartily viable copperhead populations.

I ask this not so much out of saddness at the absence of copperheads, but to try to discover and understand yet one more clearly unique feature of an already unique and fascinating biome - the New Jersey Pine Barrens.

Maybe something to be found in the geolgic features and history of southern NJ?

Any ideas or suggestions ?

Dave
 

woodjin

Piney
Nov 8, 2004
4,274
244
1,043
Near Mt. Misery
Hmmmm, great question Dave. Not even being an amatuer herpetologist I'm not even close to being qualified to speculate. Having a casual interest in snakes, it does seem odd. I wonder how copperheads would do in the pinebarrens if they were ever introduced (god forbid). One possibility I could through out that would probably have no merit what so ever is this... Is it possible that the areas to the north and west of the pine barrens are just so much better an environment for them that they just have no reason to migrate to the barrens. I know you mentioned areas in Texas and Fl that are similar to the barrens, but I suspect that those areas are many miles away from more preferred terrian for the snakes. The pine barrens lie relatively close to the dramatic change (mountains/rocks) of the north and west.

Or how about this...the pine barrens are very isolated. You have the Delaware river to the south and west and a great deal of developement and urbanization to the north. Maybe the pine barrens are an island of sorts that the copperheads have never breached. I know this theory doesn't account for pre-urbanization migrations, not to mention, if bears can do it...

Jeff
 
  • Like
Reactions: manumuskin

swwit

Explorer
Apr 14, 2005
168
1
18
Here's a few idea's that may be a factor.

- Northern copperheads in N.J. seem to like rocky slopes with water close by. Most likely because one of their prey items are frogs. Yes there are plenty of frogs in the barrens but the water quality is much different. The water in the mountains tends to be more like spring water as it is somewhat filtered when it runs over rock and moss. Where in the pine barrens it is more acid and can be stagnant. Southern copperheads live with many snake eating species of snake so the fact that kingsnakes and racers live in the barrens are probably not a factor.
 

NJSnakeMan

Explorer
Jun 3, 2004
332
0
16
29
Atlantic County
Maybe it's because the northern ssp prefers a more rockier habitat? But then again, why wouldn't the southern ssp be in south jersey then??????? This one has me really thinking now. Like woodjin said, maybe the deleware river???
 

Bobbleton

Explorer
Mar 12, 2004
464
41
28
NJ
Lemme have a stab

Over the past (what? 100 years or so?) every inch of the pine barrens has been abused. Its either burned or been cut for lumber, changed and molded for cranberry, blueberry, and other agricultural purposes. Nomatter how much like "wilderness" some parts of the pines may seem . . . people have run rampant and screwed the land at some time or other in the recent past. Not to mention humankind's tendency toward snakes (cut it in half cause you hate them or steal it out of the wild cause you love them).
In my opinion, the reason we see no copperheads is exactly like the reason we see no (i dunno . . . pick a species . . . ) cougars. And the same as the reason why we'll never see another timber rattlesnake in the pines in the next . . . 5 . . 10 years? How long will it take? Its simply a short matter of time.
So why didn't the incredibly resiliant copperhead come back and flourish? Maybe because of our water isolation . . . maybe because it hasn't been long enough . . . or because the northern populations in the state are fast becoming as nonexistant as the south . . . . or just because any douche who saw a copperhead cross their path made sure it swiftly made friends with the business end of a shovel.

Sorry if i'm a bit overly dramatic on the subject . . . it just touches on a culmination of how sickened i've become with NJ.

-Bob
 

swwit

Explorer
Apr 14, 2005
168
1
18
Bobbleton said:
So why didn't the incredibly resiliant copperhead come back and flourish? Maybe because of our water isolation . . . maybe because it hasn't been long enough . . . or because the northern populations in the state are fast becoming as nonexistant as the south .
Sorry if i'm a bit overly dramatic on the subject . . . it just touches on a culmination of how sickened i've become with NJ.

-Bob

Northern population are actually doing very well. But as I said the reason for them being non-existant may be for the reasons I've listed. Plus, many people consider certain snakes as uncommon, but in my experience the same ones are actually very, very common.
 

NJSnakeMan

Explorer
Jun 3, 2004
332
0
16
29
Atlantic County
"There is no region I know that holds so much and yields so little as the Barrens, yet repeateded failure here serves only to strengthen determination. The true Pine Barrens addict never gives in to discouragement or frustration. He is like a gambler who, after repeated losses, still continues to play, with the external hope of "striking it rich." One day the discouraged hunter finds a Pine Snake and his joy is boundless. This is the "shot in the arm" he needs to carry him through another five or six months of fruitless search" -Carl Kauffeld
 

dragoncjo

Piney
Aug 12, 2005
1,362
96
1,028
38
camden county
I couldn't agree with Bobbleton more. I too have become completely frustrated with NJ. I use to herp alot more when I was young and always got so frustrated how there was always garbage around, dirts bikes, tracks of woods broken up by obscene mcmanisons. Its unfortunate NJ has been treated so poorly and in effect the species which inhabit its woods. Up until recently I wouldn't head out to the pines anymore, but I decided to give it another try after stumbling along this website. As of recently I have been doing all my herping in Central PA, where I find tons of wood turtles, copperheads,timbers, queen snakes, ringnecks, the list goes on. And I think to myself I guess this is how NJ was at one time. Unfortunate.
 

Bobbleton

Explorer
Mar 12, 2004
464
41
28
NJ
swwit said:
Northern population are actually doing very well. But as I said the reason for them being non-existant may be for the reasons I've listed. Plus, many people consider certain snakes as uncommon, but in my experience the same ones are actually very, very common.
Now i'll openly admit I have very limited first-hand experience with copperheads . . . I've in fact only found one ever--it was this spring on the central coastal plain of north carolina. Now--anyone on this site who's been through that area knows how insanely similar it is to the barrens. Its a huge, flat, pine-dominated, low pH, sandy-soiled ecosystem. It harbors almost all the same species as the pine barrens and a few extra to boot. For the record i was (at the time) only about a 20 or 30 minute drive from a known population of pine barrens treefrogs . . . but that place and ONLY there have i ever in my life (only the last 6 or 7 years seriously herping) seen a copperhead. I know the techniques . . . i know their habitat preferences and can tell the sound of a snake moving in leaf litter without a second's thought.
To top it off . . . i spend ALOT of time in the mountains of northern NJ . . . probably about an equal amount of time herping there as in the pine barrens (where i LIVE). Last year I made over 20 trips to the water gap in the warm season . . . each has been at least a 12 hour hike . . . some were several day camping trips. This year I've been there 12 times (sunday---tuesday night will make 13) but not once have i seen a northern copperhead. Now granted . . . i stick generally to the same 2 or 3 mountains on long trips . . they always seem to yeild better luck than other areas . . . and lets not forget that i've also tromped every non-private piece of land in north jersey from pequest to stokes to high point to jenny jump to wawayanda. In those mountains i've found rat snakes, racers, watersnakes, ringnecks, garters, a milksnake (that was a good day . . ) and several rattlesnakes . . . but never have i ever seen a northern copperhead in NJ. Even if I were a complete dipshit at finding snakes (which for all you know I am) I would at least stumble across one of these very very common snakes by sheer virtue of miles in distance covered and week of field-time clocked, right??
Its not that I don't believe you . . . I certainly do. My question to you, however:

Where the hell are you going??? cause that's where I want to be!


-Bob
 

snakesoldiers22

New Member
Oct 8, 2005
7
0
1
31
scavengers

ive seen it on tv on documentaries and stuff so correct me if im wrong but dont copperheads scavenge off of other animals,EX. fish, or ive even heard roadkill, so wouldnt the theory about not enough food not apply to almost anywhere?
 

swwit

Explorer
Apr 14, 2005
168
1
18
Bobbleton said:
Where the hell are you going??? cause that's where I want to be!


I've seen them in Allamuchy ( look for rocky mountainsides that have water running down them with water at the base ) and tons of them mixed in with equal amount of water snakes near the water company in Morristown. Unfortunately the water company is private property and the only reason I had the privilage of being there was because my company was doing some work there. The water company has video camera's all around the property and we were able to actually zoom in on the snakes as they were sunning themselves in spring to identify them. It was pretty neat.
 

uuglypher

Explorer
Jun 8, 2005
377
14
18
Estelline, SD
snakesoldiers22 said:
ive seen it on tv on documentaries and stuff so correct me if im wrong but dont copperheads scavenge off of other animals,EX. fish, or ive even heard roadkill, so wouldnt the theory about not enough food not apply to almost anywhere?
Certainly, watersnakes and cottonmouths are known to eat fish landed by fishermen ( if the fish are not too large to be swallowed) so I suppose this could be called "scavenging". However, a copperhead, or any other species of snake, feeding off a road-kill carcass? Ophidian dentition has evolved to pull a food item from the realms of the outer world into the sequestered snuggness of the esophagus - IN ONE PIECE ! Snakes lack the means to "rend a carcass" in the manner of a 'possum, vulture, or other creature that delights in the culinary wonders of the rotted cadaver. If such was described as the behavior of copperheads - or some other snake - in a T.V. documentary, then it is merely pointed comment upon the opinion of those that produce such so-called documentaries (to wit: that those who uncritically accept as credible anything that appears in a boob-tube "documentary" are "fair game" for exposure to their commercial advertisers).

Gotta admit; this is one I hadn't heard before!
Dave
 

Jjeff

New Member
Aug 8, 2016
2
0
1
80
Holmdel
Hmmmm, great question Dave. Not even being an amatuer herpetologist I'm not even close to being qualified to speculate. Having a casual interest in snakes, it does seem odd. I wonder how copperheads would do in the pinebarrens if they were ever introduced (god forbid). One possibility I could through out that would probably have no merit what so ever is this... Is it possible that the areas to the north and west of the pine barrens are just so much better an environment for them that they just have no reason to migrate to the barrens. I know you mentioned areas in Texas and Fl that are similar to the barrens, but I suspect that those areas are many miles away from more preferred terrian for the snakes. The pine barrens lie relatively close to the dramatic change (mountains/rocks) of the north and west.

Or how about this...the pine barrens are very isolated. You have the Delaware river to the south and west and a great deal of developement and urbanization to the north. Maybe the pine barrens are an island of sorts that the copperheads have never breached. I know this theory doesn't account for pre-urbanization migrations, not to mention, if bears can do it...

Jeff
Thing of it is - there are no reports of Copperheads in the pine barrens, yet the barrens are habitat to their fellow pit viper, the Timber Rattler?. Why have Timber Rattlers survived in the Barrens, while the copperhead apparently didn't?
 

manumuskin

Piney
Jul 20, 2003
7,747
1,710
1,093
56
millville nj
www.youtube.com
My uncle who was into herps from a young age and knew his snakes got a call from a friend in Vineland once.The guy lived on landis ave. in town.He told my Uncle that he had a copperhead under a pallet in his back yard.My uncle said there are no copperheads in south jersey.The guy said Clayte,this is a copperheaD. My uncle headed over and flipped the pallet and there was a copperhead.It was in downtown Vineland.He said it must have been a captive escapee,probably was but there is one report of a Copperhead in south jersey.I believe this took place in the 60's
 
  • Like
Reactions: joc and Boyd

92 Blazer Jeff

Explorer
Aug 24, 2015
259
100
43
GLASSBORO,NJ
Thing of it is - there are no reports of Copperheads in the pine barrens, yet the barrens are habitat to their fellow pit viper, the Timber Rattler?. Why have Timber Rattlers survived in the Barrens, while the copperhead apparently didn't?
Maybe the Rattlers killed off the copperheads in a turf war.
 

Alan

New Member
Aug 11, 2016
1
0
1
27
Staten Island
Well I found this article dating back to 1884 about copperheads being on Staten Island. Southern Staten Island has very similar terrain to the Pine Barrens so I would assume they were once there.

[Moderator Edit - removed article for potential copyright issues] - BR
 
Last edited by a moderator: