Alpine Copperhead Austrelaps ramsayi

Snakes of Victoria series


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 (30)

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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...
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.
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!
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...
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.
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....
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!
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!
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.,...
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.
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.
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.
kirsten Edwards 27 February, 2017 08:26
i hope you callled your local snake catcher!
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.
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
Ken and Janis 22 September, 2014 12:17
Not 2 copperheads but 3 are now sunning just outsid our flat at Guthega
Rod Collman 8 November, 2014 09:25
Yesterday I climbed to Mt Twynam with a Friend in the Kosciusko Southern Alps We were coming back down from Twynam and We spotted a Snake lying on top of the tussocks. it looked very much to us like a yellow belly Black snake it was over a metre in length I new we had copperheads through the main range and I was surprised to see this snake so high up. perhaps it is a copperhead over the years I have seen some quite large ones . i live at Nimmitabel and we are sub alpine elevation and see copperhead snakes often
Brad Grikis 13 November, 2014 22:59
My mate and I were camping/fly fishing on the Howqua River at Tobacco Flat, not far past Sheepyard Flat out of Mansfield and we had a 1m alpine copperhead come straight through our campsite around 12 noon. It had the tell tale white stripes behind its head and was quite happy coming through even though humans were around. We watched from a distance as it continued on its way further into the scrub alongside the river.
Kate 28 November, 2014 20:41
I saw what I believe was an alpine copperhead in our chook paddock in Ashbourne (Macedon Ranges, VIC) this evening at about 6pm. Very shy and quite small, black with a pale belly. It gave me a bit of a start given it was a lovely sunny day but not super warm.
Hamish 12 December, 2014 18:52
Coming down from Eagles Nest at Thredbo on the Merrit Nature Walk spotted what must have been the Alpine Copperhead, also noted its light black appearance and wide flat head. On steep step, docile and slithered off after we observed it for 10 seconds.
Stefan 10 March, 2015 08:01
Saw three over the weekend, Davies Plain and along the Indi River, beautiful markings on the black. All three snakes not aggressive, great to see. Very informative page and easy to Google, thanks
Rosemary Parker 29 March, 2015 16:50
My husband I saw a very long fat alpine copperhead snake near Mt Kosciuszko in January 2013. It was beside the raised track and was in the process of devouring a largish lizard. Because it was busy eating it didn't pay any attention to us or try to move away and I was able to take some great close up photos.
josh 28 July, 2015 11:48
I love snakes even when they bite you
Peter Chappell 30 November, 2015 10:21
Just spent 2 days fishing the Buenba Nth East of Benambra. Tussocky swampy areas about the stream. Signs of Brumbies and wild dogs all around. Plenty of snakes too. Particularly late morning when the sun was giving off good heat. Walked over 2 before I saw them and saw 2 more. All in first half hour fishing. They are known to sit up on tussocks too. All the same species of snake. Thought they may have been dark young Tigers. Researched at home on my return. Definitely Alpine Copperheads. I found them quite passive. They didn't move much. Just watched me. I fished near by and we just gave each other a wide birth. I was wary but never scared. I admired their beauty and loved being in such wonderful country.
Julie 18 December, 2015 12:12
I had one in my front garden in Emerald (Dandenong Ranges) yesterday afternoon, just as the kids and I got home from school. It was just stretched out on my front step. We are very close to town, on a made road so I was very surprised to see it.
Alison 28 March, 2016 11:19
Saw a thick black alpine copperhead at Fainter Falls, Falls Creek - not sunning itself but just chilling on a rock. It was very sluggish and non-aggressive, phew!
Jake Hansen 14 May, 2016 10:22
I just love the different colour variations of the Alpine Copperhead. Here's a few photos of different ones I've seen over the years
Peter 19 October, 2016 09:49
My friends and I encountered one at big river, near lake eildon, we mistaked it for something else until I did some research and found out what it was, it Was only small but gave us no attention and we were within two meters off it
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