Alpine Copperhead Austrelaps ramsayi

Snakes of Victoria series

Identification

The Alpine (or Highland) Copperhead, Austrelaps ramsayi, is variable in colour and pattern, ranging from pale brown to black, always with prominent white edging on the scales of the upper lip. It has 15 mid-body scale rows, a single anal scale and single subcaudal scales. Adults grow to about 1m long.

Photo of Alpine Copperhead (black form)

Alpine Copperhead (black form)
Photographer: Peter Robertson / Source: Wildlife Profiles Pty Ltd

Distribution and habitat

This snake prefers reasonably damp habitats, near streams or swampy areas. It is common in the higher altitudes throughout eastern Victoria.

Biology and bite

This snake is active both day and night and feeds on small vertebrates, including frogs, lizards and small mammals. Females give birth to up to 30 live young in mid to late summer.

Alpine Copperheads are extremely dangerous and capable of inflicting fatal bites, but they are not usually aggressive and bites are uncommon.

If bitten on a limb, apply a pressure bandage, immobilise the limb and seek medical advice immediately. If bitten elsewhere, apply continuous direct pressure to the bite site. Do not wash the wound, as the venom on the skin can be used to identify the appropriate antivenom.

Photo of Alpine Copperhead (brown form)

Alpine Copperhead (brown form)
Photographer: Peter Robertson / Source: Wildlife Profiles Pty Ltd

Further Reading

Coventry, A. J. and Robertson, P. 1991. The Snakes of Victoria – A Guide to their Identification. Department of Conservation & Environment/Museum of Victoria.

Cogger, H. 2000. Reptiles and Amphibians of Australia. Reed Books.

Wilson, S. & Swan, G. 2003. Reptiles of Australia. Princeton University Press.

Comments (17)

sort by
newest
oldest
Ray 6 January, 2011 23:24
The family and I just got back from camping in Bucklands in the Alpine National Park. We came into contact with a an approximate 1 metre long snake which I researched as soon as I got home. I'm suspecting that it was a copperhead. I know that we were in it's territory but with young children playing in a river where it feeds, it's still a vey scary experience. The snake didn't attack. It slid by casually as we stood in shock. My paternal instinct was to kill it. Is that wrong? Is it even legal? ...I don't know...
reply
Steve M 25 September, 2012 08:33
Hi Ray. I am a licensed snake catcher in the northern outskirts of Melbourne. No, it is not legal to kill a snake in Victoria. It is illegal, highly dangerous, and very unnecessary. Statistics show that the majority of snakebites occur when the "victim" has attempted to catch or kill a snake. Many of our state's venomous snakes are very shy, and will avoid humans where possible. Our two most confident snakes, the Eastern Brown and the Tiger, will try to avoid close contact with humans also. The best advice I can give you for snake encounters, is to stand still, and let it pass. If you do find one in or around your home, call DSE on 136 186 or your council for a local licensed snake catcher.
Rish 27 February, 2011 10:31
it is illegal to kill a snake in Victoria. i have been working in the bush in eastern victoria for many years, and have had a lot of encounters with snakes, iv'e heard many other stories from work colleagues. from people standing on them to snakes slithering over them whilst on a lunch break. no one that i've heard of has ever been bitten. there have been a few close calls, and it has always been from tiger snakes. 99.9% of encounters will be someone seeing a snake slithering off into the bushes. We always wear gaiters just to be on the safe side.
reply
Sam 6 May, 2011 21:47
I was also camping up at the Buckland valley at Easter. We came across an Alpine Copperhead basking in the sun on the road - quite late for snakes up there at this time of year - must have been the lovely sunny weather. They are a beautiful snake - quite small comparatively - but can understand your concern having young kids. These snakes are not aggressive - best advice is to stand as still as possible and educate the kids on what they need to do if they see a snake. Killing native animals is is illegal. A most beautiful part of the world!
reply
Pradeep 30 December, 2011 23:38
This was the first time I have seen a snake in Victoria. I did see this reptile when I went for a drive to upper yarra valley region. When I saw I do not know what kind of snake was it. When I googled it, I found it was Ramsayi. I was not aggressive and it was bit slow. When we saw, it was looking at us and was not moving anywhere. Could be ready for defence fr us. But we did not disturb it, we left that place. When we came back after sometime . We noticed it again few meters away from the same place. Might be searching for some food. It wasn't troubling us...
reply
Lara 6 January, 2012 08:11
On the Kosciuszko summit hike from Thredbo we saw an alpine copperhead right next to the path. That path is raised so we felt a bit secure and a lot of people were stopping to look at it. I didn't know what it was at the time and I was surprised it didn't move at all.
reply
Leroy 31 December, 2012 15:04
Lara, I think we might just have seen the same one this morning! I'm unsure if they are territorial, but we just spotted one right alongside the Kosciuszko path, about 500m from the top of the chairlift. Didn't seem too worried about us, but we made sure we gave it plenty of room. I must've done that walk at least thirty times, and it was the biggest snake I've ever seen above the tree line.
James 20 January, 2012 12:49
My workplace in the Kosciuszko National Park has it's fair share of Alpine Copperheads; one less of late as my workmates witnessed a large specimen catch, subdue and eat a smaller one, all within metres of the busy office. We encounter them quite regularly and they never seem worried about our presence, but I always give them a wide berth where possible; it's a long way to the hospital....
close this reply
Write your reply to James's comment All fields are required

We love receiving comments, but can’t always respond.

scott 1 March, 2012 17:26
Encountered approx 1m Alpine Copperhead just near Harrietville earier this week. School group of about 80 kids doing a hike from Harrietville on the Razorback walk. It was only 30cm from the side of the very thin path and about 50 people walked past before anyone even noticed. Dark grey/brown in colour with the light scales along the side. We watched it for about an hour whilst the kids hiked up and back. Very docile and only moved its head a few times during this time. Phew!
reply
Pete 24 March, 2012 18:54
I've fished the Buckland River for the last 5 years and come across 3 snakes in that time. I always thought they were black snakes because they were so dark but I now think they may have been Alpine Copperheads. I had a real good look at a beautiful specimen that was in the middle of a small track once. It was a stunning animal. It's flattened head convinced me it was very wary of me and perhaps ready to strike. I backtracked and walked out through the river!
reply
John Doh 20 March, 2013 19:46
Hi All, Just back from a trip including an impromptu trip from Merimbula to Charlotte Pass on Monday 18 March 2013 - halfway up the track from the car park to Mt Stirling came across what believe (following research) was an alpine copperhead. About 60cm long, sitting on the edge of the narrow track. Not aggressive, but prompted the usual 'gotta get them snake gaiters for sure' comment...once again. Funny, been walking this long, hot summer, almost every weekend in various parts of Victoria and very careful about snakes, and in many situations where could not see the track under foot due to side growth etc, but not seen one all summer down here - first one I see is up in the Alpine on a 9 degree day. Go figure.,...
reply
SR 8 January, 2014 12:00
Mt Feather Top federation walking trail, saw 1 black copper head, and 1 brown copper head 15 meters apart from each other along the walking trail. Seen at altitude where the snow-line begins (seen in summer). Was at the point of the track where the last water spring flows over the trail. Could've been a mating pair possibly? Or just two at the same point on the trail looking for food. Both around 1 meter. First time snake encounter on this track, have walked the trail 10 times or so. Non aggressive.
reply
Rod 19 January, 2014 23:51
Saw one of these on the main road at Thredbo today, between Friday Flat and the village. It was cruising across the road slowly. Went into the car park and then on towards the river. Nice looking snake and seemed oblivious to the people around.
reply
Roz 14 February, 2014 12:58
We have a snake hanging around our backyard in Kalorama (mt dandenong) and after research believe it most resembles the Alpine Copperhead. Is this likely in this location? He seems longer than others reported here..about 1.5m.
reply
Steve 20 September, 2014 22:51
Beautiful alpine copperhead lives in a hole under a fencing stay about 50 metres from my farm shed near Oberon NSW. Has been there for 4 years, have never seen him (her?) more than 30m from this spot.
reply
Ken and Janis 22 September, 2014 11:50
We are fortunate enough to spend our Winter at Guthega, This morning we were fortunate enough to observe two copper head snakes basking in the beautiful Spring sun just outsid our flat window in the Guthega Nordic Building
reply
Ken and Janis 22 September, 2014 12:17
Not 2 copperheads but 3 are now sunning just outsid our flat at Guthega
reply