The Copperhead is primarily a carnivore, as an adult eating mostly mice but also small birds, lizards, small snakes, amphibians and insects-especially cicadas (Conant and Collins 1998). The snakes are capable of swallowing prey that is several times larger than their own diameter. This is possible because they have a very flexible jaw and it has digestive juices that allow it to digest both bones and fur. Copperheads have fangs that inject its prey with a hemolytic venom (causes the breakdown of red blood cells) which subdues its prey, making it easy for the snake to swallow it. The copperhead seeks out its prey using its heat sensitive pits to detect objects that are warmer then its environment. This also enables them to find nocturnal mammalian prey (Ohio DNR 1999). Adult copperheads are primarily ambushers. When attacking large prey, the copperhead bites then releases immediately to allow the venom to take its effect then later tracks its prey. Whereas the smaller prey is held in its mouth until it dies (Ernst 1989). When the copperhead eats depends on the time of the year. They are most active April through late October, diurnal in the spring and fall, and nocturnal during the summer months (Ohio DNR 1999). When carrying young, some females will not eat at all because the embryos occupy so much of the body cavity. It has been found that some copperheads consume only eight meals in a single growing season. The only possible explanations for this could be due to a slow metabolism and/or difficulty finding prey ( Tyning 1990).
Young copperheads eat mostly insects, especially caterpillars, and use their yellow tipped tails to function as a worm-like lure to attract prey (Georgia Wildlife Federation 1999).