copperhead hunting a cicada

Copperhead Hunting a Cicada

The photo shows a copperhead stretching for cicada that is just out of its reach.

During July and August each year copperheads (Agkistrodon contortrix) flock to our yard to harvest emerging cicadas and June bugs. Both of these insects live underground for a year to several years as grubs. When they are ready to eclose as adults they approach the surface at dusk. The cicadas climb up trees, rocks, fences, etc. to complete eclosing. June bugs complete eclosing while underground and burst through the soil’s surface to avoid predators. Our yard is prime territory for both cicadas and June bugs since we water during droughts. As a result, our yard teems with these insects. Our copperheads converge on our yard during June and July to feast on the insects.

Beginning about a half hour before dark, the copperheads position themselves at the bases of trees or near other cover by coiling up and waiting. At dark they begin to slowly cruise in straight lines searching for the emerging bugs. They swing their heads back and forth as they cruise, evidently to catch the scent of their prey.

This particular evening Susie (wife), Carl and Kathy (son and daughter-in-law), and I were sitting on our porch when I saw movement over my shoulder. The copperhead had scaled the lower screening, which was reinforced with chicken wire to prevent the dogs from creating ad-hoc doors, and was crawling along the lathe trying to find a way up to a cicada. We’d seen the cicada earlier in the evening eclosing about three feet up the screening. At the point in time of the photo, the cicada had emerged from its exoskeleton and was stretching and drying its new wings. Fortunately for the cicada it had picked a safe place to do so.

The copperhead knew the cicada was up there and tried various times to crawl up the screen to seize its meal. After a few futile attempts the copperhead dropped to the ground to find more accessible prey.

For more information about copperheads, here’s a link to an earlier blog: