Copperheads ‘on a mission’ — and other reader feedback about close encounters with venomous snakes

Editor’s note: Were we ever surprised when our May 18 Rappahannock News story, “Copperhead season: what NOT to do if bitten,” generated more than 200,000 pageviews on the website

Suffice to say, people from Rappahannock to Rotterdam (where a bite from the asp viper could prove fatal if left untreated) are quite intrigued if not downright scared to death of venomous snakes.

Not only has the story — offering snakebite advice from the nearby Blue Ridge Poison Center — received a tremendously large number of page views, this newspaper to this day is inundated with letters to the editor — people all around the world weighing in on copperheads, plus assorted other scary (or for many writers not so scary) snakes. The majority of these responses we’ve published online for lack of space in the print editions.

Here’s just a sample of the reader dialogue:

Leisa: My sister was bit by a water moccasin. The hospital gave her Benadryl. They said the antivenom can be worse than the snake bite, it affects your organs.

Craig: I got bit on the finger trying to catch a Copperhead in Hilton Head, S.C., and I went directly to the hospital and they could NOT give me any antivenom without the snake, they said, so they just gave me a tetanus shot and pain medication and told me to keep it elevated until the swelling went down (like two months later) so it could be filtered out through my lymph nodes.

Andrew to Craig: That hospital was literally retarded. I work in EMS and all training we have received says they do not need, not want the snake.

Old Sailor: My mom’s boyfriend got bit by a rattler back in the mid-’60s. He went in, got his .22 and shot the snake before driving himself several miles to the hospital. The hospital wouldn’t treat him without the snake. His cousin had to go back out to his house, kill the snake and bring it to the ER before the doctors would treat him.

John: I used to live on ten acres of California mountainside. Rattlesnakes everywhere including the very nastily venomed Mojave Green rattlesnake (it has three different venoms, one of which eats flesh, and one attacks the nervous system). I have read in many places that a positive identification is necessary with these snake bites, I think because it does require a specialized, expensive, antivenom. Anyhow, my rule was, if it is well off in the bush, leave it alone, keep well away. For snakes near my livestock or house, (I found one in my garage once, another in the dog kennel) I kept a .38 stubby loaded with shotshells. I was also plagued by ground squirrels. I bought a large “you can enter but not leave” wire trap and placed it between my garage door and my workshop door. Three hours later, there were 15 squirrels and a 5′ diamondback inside it. I guess he thought I had left out a larder full of tasty food, but he got the lead shot treatment instead.

Meg to John: You don’t have diamondbacks in Southern California . . . at least where the Mojave Green is located. Southern Pacific rattlesnake would be more likely. The reason you had snakes it because you had 15 squirrels on the property . . . you killed a valuable part of the ecosystem and now you can live with the 40 or 50 bubonic plague ridden squirrels that will now live because you felt the need to destroy something you could have just moved to another area.”

MTZ: Rule for the day! Don’t take safe selfies with venomous snakes! Especially if you’re going to stick you tongue out in the direction of its fangs! ER nurse here, I had a patient who did this! The patient’s dad brought the snake in the ER. And WE don’t want them for identification! Now that was quite the day! Poor snake, it’s last day was being decapitated on a helipad!

Randy: Living in Alabama, both snakes are common plus the water moccasin. I was weed-eating my electric fence line one hot July day and just happened to look down, as I was on a hilly wooded area, and noticed the leaves moving in front of me. That would have been my next step — it was a copperhead, crawling, the leaves were not moving, but it was his coloring that I saw. Scared the crap out of me. Those dudes were just like the VC were in Vietnam.

JWade: They bite me, I die! I see them, they die! That is a little deal we have had for 70 years. Doesn’t matter what kind!!

Tommy: Ok, you’re in the backcountry hiking. You’re bitten by a poisonous snake. Medical help is days away. What do you do to lessen your chances to die? Oh, call the poison-control center isn’t going to happen. I’ll stick to my military training thank you.

Elizabeth to Tommy: What did your military training tell you?

Fred to Elizabeth: Don’t get bit

Sharel: I use mothballs to keep snakes out of my yard

Bonnie to Sharel: As a professional snake handler/remover, I can assure you that this [mothballs] does ZERO good. If it did, I’d be doing it constantly for people. In fact, there is NO substance you can use to deter snakes. Not the snake-away crap, not mothballs. The naphthalene in these products has been shown to do little, if anything for snakes. It does repel bugs, and people.

Jinny to Sharel: Mint absolutely does work. Only thing that does.

Becky: My cats drag in snakes to the house about once a week. They kill both non-venomous and venomous snakes alike. Not sure how they keep from being bit themselves, but so far so good. No problems. I do like that they are the first defense against snakes. I stay out of areas where there are likely to be snakes, but see plenty of them in my mowed yard and driveway! I once started my van and had a six foot long black snake slither out from under the front seat and through a hole where the gas pedal is. Surprised me more than scared me. I’m not afraid of snakes at all, but do respect them — having been bit when I reached under a park bench to retrieve my backpack and found a snake had claimed it first. I see no reason to let Copperheads and Rattlesnakes live in area where there are children, or anyone who might be at risk from a bite.

Bonnie to Becky: The reasons include things like rodent control and tick control. What’s that you said? Rodents are a primary source of the Lyme disease that ticks then carry and pass on. A single rattlesnake eats enough mice in a week to also eat/prevent 300-400 ticks from being part of that ecosystem. Now, which are you MORE likely to get bitten by, and sick from?

Jojoba: I was bitten while mowing my yard. Darn snake was in a Japanese cherry tree and hit me on my upper left bicep. At first it felt like I had been cut with a razor, then I thought maybe a bee sting. After seeing it still in the striking position, I went inside to get my glock. After returning it was gone. Canvassed the area with negative results. Had a few drinks and felt better.

Kirk: One of the most beautiful snake we have in Virginia. IT is easy to stay safe. When in nature, in places where they live, don’t act like you are in your living room. Don’t put your feet or hands in places where you cannot see. Look first. Don’t try to handle, harm or kill them. Those activities account for the overwhelming majority of bites. If you want to shoot them, do it with a camera. They are beautiful, amazing creatures, and important components of their ecosystems. Have no fear of them “coming after you.” They will not. If you do not harass them, they will do one of two things: they will stay still, depending on camouflage, so as to be overlooked, or they will flee. Timber rattlesnakes (Crotalus horridus) will do the same, only they are even more docile. However, you are much less likely to see one. Their ranges are much more constrained than copperheads.

Jim to Kirk: Not entirely true. I have many snakes on my property and have had one recently that did in fact come straight for me on a mission. I had previously tried to remove this snake and apparently they have recollection.

Eileen: I love the country, except for snakes.

Rappahannock History: Advice to residents/visitors/guests: Wear tall boots. Leave the wildlife alone . . . or move back to the city. And yes, water moccasins — Agkistrodon piscivorus — are aggressive and venomous. Leave them alone . . . or move back to the city. If your local medical provider doesn’t know this . . . move back to the city . . . Or just move back to the city.

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