The Copperhead: A Venomous American Pit Viper
I was living in a travel trailer on someone else's property in a place called Gray's Prairie, Texas; and this community is close to other small Kaufman County, Texas communities such as Styx, Peeltown, Scurry, and my hometown, Kaufman. I was earning some beer money that day, cleaning up some brush, and my taskmaster was a woman I call "the screamer." Literally, the woman preferred to scream than to talk, but she wasn't in the habit of screaming at me, and so I was as okay with it as I could be. She had me picking up and trimming dead limbs around the place, and followed me about in her wheelchair. Leading me to another evergreen tree of some kind or another, she asked me to trim a large, creeping rose bush that grew alongside it. I lifted a large limb, and headed close to the tree trunk, shears in hand. Then, before I knew what happened, I was at least six or seven feet back, my arm's undersides were raw, and or scrapped up, and I was laying on my back, scrambling to my feet, and my adrenaline level was at levels that I could describe as "Three Mile Island."
"What the hell happened?"
Breathless, and regaining my feet, I told her that there was a large Copperhead under the tree. Of course that particular snake lived about a minute longer, and then I returned with a shovel, which destroyed it, and then disposed of it. The family on the property had five young, and very active children. There is no need to take chances with venomous snakes close to a home with children, and the woman herself raised dogs, and had lots of pups that would have been at risk as well.
On another occasion, walking around dazed and confused, a crazy idea struck me on a November's day. I kicked a large decaying tree stump. The tree trunk, rotted to the core, shattered, and inside was a nest of very angry, hibernating Copperhead Vipers.
The killing of Copperhead snakes is very common, but is most often accidental - it happens when someone mows an overdue yard, or when one is "weed eating" along a fence. I once killed one with a garden hoe while up-ending a decrepit, and largely fruitless strawberry garden.
Agkistrodon contortrix - The Copperhead Pit Viper Snake
Agkistrodon contortrix is the Latin for the Genus and species for the North American Pit Viper snake which has come to be known as the Copperhead, and this snake is smaller, and is supposed to have a less deadly venom than it's cousin, the Water Moccasin does. The Copperhead is an ambush predator, which likes to find an opportunistic spot to wait for frogs and small rodents to happen into. For that reason alone, the snake is useful to have around - just so long as it is not too close to the homestead.
Four feet and six inches long is the length for the largest ever reported Copperhead, a full foot shorter in length than the longest Water Moccasin that I have killed myself. This snake, however, is one that is camouflaged to the max in regards to it's environment. One of these can be stepped on without knowing, unless of course, you suddenly feel a sharp pain followed by nausea, then you'll know, and hopefully you will have someone to carry you to a car, and drive you to a hospital for a bit of anti venom. Cell phones, what did we ever do without them?
It's important to know that these predatory reptiles don't have any desire to bite you or I, and they will leave the area given the opportunity, however, they tend to freeze, and remain totally still rather than slither away when approached by humans. This is surely the result of the common human reaction to seeing a snake, i.e., "kill it on sight." Copperheads have faith in their very good camo, but when physical contact is made, often a "dry bite," or bite without making a venomous injection is the result for the fortunate. Though all American Pit Viper snakes are capable of dry biting, the Copperhead is especially fond of this method of warning. I'm reasonably certain that dry bite or venomous bite, all snake bites should be checked out by a physician. I have issues, personally, with the cleanliness of any reptile's mouth. I think that you should have those same concerns.
One hundred milligrams of venom is the estimated lethal dose of Copperhead venom, and this is slightly less than the lethal dose of the Water Moccasin; the Water Moccasin, however, injects much more venom in a typical bite than does a Copperhead. In any case, a trip to an Emergency Room, and a dose of CroFab anti venom should make the experience of a Pit Viper's snake bite into a wonderful family story - a warning for the grandkids.
In a video on the web I had once viewed, a man said, "most adults recover from Copperhead bites with no medical treatment at all."
Look, a few weeks ago I cut a finger very badly while sharpening a fillet knife. I came close to hitting bone with the cut, but I didn't go get stitches. I don't have any money, and I don't have any medical insurance. But I swear to the entire world here and now that if I get bit by any snake, then somebody better RUSH me to the nearest emergency room. I'm not chancing anything with snakes. I think the guy should have followed his line up with, "but you should always see a doctor immediately after a snake bite!"
Master of Camouflage, The Copperhead Pit Viper Snake
You get a really good look at the snake in this video
There is a lot of needed talk in this modern world about conservation of both lands and species of critter. Lands are discussed in the manner of keeping them in the same ecological state as they were in when we found them. I have to agree that this is most often a good idea. So far as Biology is concerned, it's idiotic and harmful for all to totally eliminate, or make extinct any species of critter. . . .for most any reason. Personally, I hate red wasps, and stinging scorpions with a sense of passion - but were they all gone, then surely some other part of the whole would be disturbed into a state of domino effect ecological imbalance.
Copperhead snakes are out there, and living with them is something we have to do. I've killed a lot of them, but I've only ever killed a copperhead for it being too close to the home place. I've an obligation as an adult male to be responsible for those who're younger or older and weaker than I am; or really, I've an obligation to everyone who comes here to see to their safety insofar as I am able. I'd never kill a copperhead out in a field were I out fishing or hunting. I'd fear a plague of mice for killing snakes without cause. I'd deserve a plague of mice for it too.
Copperheads are in no danger so far as biodiversity goes, and are not an invasive species anywhere. I have in each of the last two years had a long time family friend get bit by a copperhead in early Spring. Cro-Fab anti-venom can be nearly as deadly as the snake bites, but nobody wants tissue necrosis for a snake bite, but the anti-venom could possibly destroy one of your kidneys. The only good news is a copperhead bite could be a dry bite, and its venom is not nearly as potent as other pit vipers. Look carefully, friends and readers, before sticking your hands in leaves or moving around a pile of wood, look carefully at the base of trees before getting too close, keep the copperhead in mind.
This guy says a few things imperfectly, but his message is very correct
Can You Find The Copperhead Pit Viper In This Photo? If Not, You Just Got Bit!
Questions & Answers
Do snake repellents work? If so, what type?
We raise chickens here where I live, and none of the ones I've tried have worked well at all. I can't say what brand, if any, does work well. What helps is if you can get some Greater Roadrunners to live near you - those birds feast on snakes.
© 2011 Wesman Todd Shaw