Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Copperhead Bite

Copperhead after a swim
Copperheads are the most common source of venomous snake bites in the United States.  This is due to their numbers from successful breeding and their choice of habitat.  Like their cousin, the water moccasin (both are in the Agkistrodon genus) they generally prefer moist environments along water ways.  They also tend to be closer to human habitation, setting up home under sheds and woodpiles.  It is not often that you can see a video like we have below of someone being bitten.

As a rule, venomous snakes are not out looking to bite humans.  We are too big for them to waste their precious venom on but we do have a tendency to get in their territory frequently.  Copperheads respond to threats by freezing in place.  They consider being stepped on or picked up a hostile act and will respond appropriately.  Herein lies the tale.

Three friends were fishing and swimming in Bull Creek this June.  They watched a midland water snake cruising their fishing hole daily.  The last day of their visit a snake came swimming across the hole and one of them decided to catch it.  Lesson one: Most snakes can swim.

The midland water snake has dark bands around its body.  It tends to swim with just its head above water and frequently disappears under water in search of aquatic prey.  They are tan with brown even bands.  This one had bands that spread out down its sides- Hershey Kisses of a copperheadLesson Two:  Identify snakes carefully.


Our friend picked up the snake carefully by the tail.  He held it for a full minute, the snake  crawling near his bare ankles without biting.  When he tried to grab it behind its head he was bitten.   Lesson Three:  Copperheads aren't anxious to bite 190 pound bipeds unless threatened.

One to two hundred copperhead bites are reported every year in Missouri although there has never been a fatality.  I suspect there is under reporting as virtually every group I speak with knows at least one person who has been bitten in the past.  The weekend our friend was bitten two other copperhead bite patients were admitted to Cox Medical Center.  He is now back to normal after a day in the ICU with severe pain and swelling, 10 days off work, and $25,000 of antivenon.

Snakes are a part of our natural environment.  Copperheads pay their dues by eating rats and other vermin.  When they are around our houses, pets and children they are a safety hazard.  On the other hand, when they are out in the wild, respect their territory and leave them alone.

Incidentally, a copperhead bite led to the invention of the Weed Eater.*  In our case, the only good news was that his friends made a video of the event which serves as a cautionary tail- don't grab a copperhead by it unless you want to get bit.  Now if you are ready, go to this site.

 * George Ballas created the weed eater with a popcorn can and some wires attached to a lawn edger.  He was inspired by a gardener who was bitten by a copperhead while hand trimming around a garden.

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