Tennessee Man Runs Over Venomous Copperhead Inches Shy of Largest Ever Recorded: 'The Biggest Snake I've Ever Seen'

A Tennessee man ran over and killed a huge, venomous copperhead snake just a few inches short of the largest ever recorded. Bub Stevens was driving along Old Highway 64 near Bolivar in Hardeman County, when he hit the snake.

"It darted out straight out in front of me, and I hit it," Stevens told WREG. "I thought, 'That looked like a snake.' So I backed up and got out, and sure enough it was a big copperhead."

"By that time it was dead. So I just got some gloves I had in my truck and picked it up and threw it in the back of my truck," he said. "I thought, 'Man, that's the biggest snake I've ever seen.'"

After loading the dead snake into his truck, Stevens called his friend Anthony Landreth, a well-known outdoorsman in the local area, who inspected the snake—which turned out to measure 49.5 inches long.

"When I looked over in the back of his truck, and I saw that snake, I knew it was something special about it," Landreth told WREG. "Because I've seen lots of copperheads and lots of cottonmouths; never seen a copperhead like that. Never. I'm 59 years old; I have never seen any copperhead, alive or dead, that even comes close to that."

The copperhead is one of four venomous snakes found in Tennessee, according to the state's Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA.)

North American copperheads are split up into five subspecies, two of which are found in Tennessee—the Southern copperhead and the Northern copperhead. The former occurs across in the extreme west of Tennessee, while the latter inhabits the rest of the state, although their ranges do overlap across a broad area.

Usually southern copperheads only grow to between 24 and 36 inches (2 to 3 feet) long, however, the largest specimen ever recorded was 52 inches (4 feet, 4 inches) long, according to the University of Georgia Extension.

Meanwhile, most northern copperheads grow to between 26 and 34 inches long, with the longest ever specimen reported to be 53 inches (4 feet, 5 inches.)

The snake that Stevens came across has now been donated to the TWRA. The agency is planning to send the specimen to a taxidermist so that it can be put on display for educational purposes, although the body is damaged from being run over.

southern copperhead snake
Photograph showing a close-up, profile view of the brown and tan patterned head and eye of a juvenile, venomous, Southern copperhead snake. Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images

"I've seen a lot of snakes; we've all seen a lot of snakes," Amy Spencer, a TWRA spokesperson, told WREG. "We've never seen a copperhead this big."

Copperheads are widespread across the the eastern half of North America, according to the University of Texas at Arlington's Amphibian and Reptile Diversity Research Center. While they are venomous, the snakes are not generally aggressive. Nevertheless, their bite can be painful and should be treated as serious, although they are rarely fatal.

Even though attacks on humans are relatively rare, Spencer says at this time of year, precautions should be taken when walking in certain areas to avoid bites.

"This time of year you do need to pay attention in the woods," she said. "Snakes are on the move. It's getting colder. Snakes are going to 'den' up, so be careful where you're stepping. But just be smart if you see a snake. Stop, back up, let it goes its own way. You go your way."

However, if you do come across a copperhead, be sure to remember that killing one is illegal in many states in most circumstances, according to the University of Tennessee's Institute of Agriculture.

"Many people kill snakes as soon as they are encountered," a university publication read. "Snakes are protected wildlife species and indiscriminate killing is illegal. However, if a venomous snake poses a genuine threat, it is legal to kill the snake."

North American copperheads belong to the genus (or group of species) Agkistrodon. This group consists solely of two species: copperheads (Agkistrodon contortrix) and cottonmouths (Agkistrodon piscivorus)—which are split up into five and three subspecies respectively.

These species all belong to the larger "pit viper" family—snakes which have special heat-sensing organs in a cavity located between the eye and the nostril used to detect prey.

Aside from Agkistrodon contortrix, the term "copperhead" is also used to refer to other unrelated snakes around the world, all of which have a reddish head color, such as the Australian copperhead (Denisonia superba)—which is a type of cobra—and the Indian copperhead (Elaphe radiata,) a kind of rat snake.