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Snakes come out as weather warms
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Marty McGraw of Bassett took this photo of a copperhead Sunday at Jack Dalton Park.

Thursday, May 20, 2010


Marty McGraw was walking with his dog in Jack Dalton Park over the weekend when they ran into something unexpected: a copperhead.

"My yellow lab, Mango, came nose to nose with the snake and jumped backwards," McGraw wrote in an e-mail to the Bulletin. "She was not bitten, but I could tell that something startled her. I could hear the snake vibrating its tail in the dry leaves - this is when I knew it was a copperhead."�

McGraw walks in the park, which is off Kings Mountain Road, several times a week but said he had never seen a copperhead there before. He got Mango away and went back to the edge of the woods at the park's east end, where the snake was curled in the grass, to take its picture from a distance of about 6 feet.

"The snake was not aggressive," he wrote. "It was just fulfilling its natural role in the food chain. There was no one in the immediate area to notify, so I left the snake alone."�

McGraw was right to leave the snake alone, according to Brian Williams, education and outreach education coordinator with the Dan River Basin Association. Williams said snake sightings are common this time of year because snakes start to venture out with warmer weather.

Copperheads are one of three venomous snakes found in Virginia, Williams said. The others are the eastern cottonmouth - which is not found in this area - and the timber rattlesnake.

"Snakes are part of the environment," Williams said. "This is their home. They were here before us. They help out and perform a vital function in our environment."�

People who see snakes of any type - there are 30 species in Virginia - should not be alarmed, he said. The snakes are coming out of hibernation to look for food and mates.

Williams warned residents not to leave trash and large woodpiles out if they want to avoid snakes on their property.

Most snakes in the area are not poisonous, and even the poisonous ones will not attack unless they are provoked, Williams said. The most common times people are bitten by snakes is either when they are trying to kill a snake or if they are trying to scare someone else with a snake.

Snakes are helpful because they eat rodents, Williams said.

"Unless you absolutely adore mice that live around your home, destroy crops and defecate in your house, leave the snake alone - he'll take care of your mouse problem," he said.

Although there are many copperheads in the area, many other snakes often are confused with copperheads, Williams said.

Williams said to avoid the possibility of being bitten when hiking in the woods, stay on the trail, do not attempt to capture snakes, and watch where you place your hands and feet and where you sit down. None of Virginia's venomous snakes is considered to be highly lethal, but medical attention should be considered for any venomous snake bite.

"It is not necessary for medical professionals to know whether or not the bite was from a copperhead or rattlesnake; both are pit vipers with similar types of venom and are both treated with the same type anti-venom," he said.

Venomous snakes can have triangle-shaped heads, but "so will a rat snake or a water snake in a defensive posture," said Williams. He added that most snakes "rattle" their tails when threatened, and most snakes emit a pungent oder as a defense mechanism.

Therefore, anyone outside this time of year should keep a look out for snakes, but do not attempt to kill or catch them, Williams said. The best way to avoid a snake bite or injury is to walk away and avoid any contact with the snake, he said.


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