Saturday, March 24, 2012

what I learned about copperheads

Copperheads are the least toxic of the venomous snakes and their bites are rarely fatal.  

Copperhead venom is not a neurotoxin but a hemotoxin which attacks the red blood cells and breaks them down to prevent clotting.

The anti-venom is extremely dangerous (which is why they would have had to put me in intensive care to administer it).

Unlike other snakes that display a body posture as a warning, a copperhead's warning is to strike.

Unless they are hunting, they control the amount of venom injected.   A copperhead has no intention of wasting valuable venom if it can scare away the menace with a minor bite.  (Lucky for me since even that small amount caused my entire leg to swell up about double normal and has been very painful.)

Effects of  a copperhead bite include intense pain, swelling, nausea, thirst, discoloration of the skin, weakness, low blood pressure, destruction of tissue. (I experienced most all of those except the low blood pressure and, I hope, the destruction of tissue.)

For a healthy human adult it takes about 10 - 14 days to fully recover from a copperhead bite.

Their main source of food is small rodents but they will eat other reptiles and amphibians.

Copperheads shed their skin 1 - 3 times a year.

Females reach sexual maturity after about 4 years and give live birth to 3 - 10 babies.  Young snakes are 8 - 10", adults are 20 - 40".  (My best estimate of the one that bit me is about 20".)

They winter over in dens sometimes with other snakes and are most aggressive in spring during mating season.

Copperheads and the common rat snake are very hard to tell apart by their coloring and markings.  The pupils of their eyes, however, are very different.  A copperhead has a slotted pupil like a cat.  A rat snake has a round pupil like a human.  Also, rat snakes don't have fangs, their bite is more like a human bite (so that sort of clinches it since the snake that bit me definitely had fangs).


  1. i'm sure hoping we can avoid a run in with them this year (both human and canine...)


  2. Yikes!

    Where I live in southern Ontario, there's only one species of poisonous snake and its range is far from my stomping grounds. Thank goodness.

    I hope you're feeling much better by the day.

  3. I'd say I am a very practical person except when it comes to bugs, spiders and snakes. I know most won't hurt you, but for some reason they scare the crap out of me.

    So, I admire people like you who have common sense about our little friends in the fields. I hope your foot and leg are getting back to normal.

  4. I guess the words "least venomous" works in your favor. And you were calm - b/c I would've freaked out. Although it is a 2 week recovery time I am glad that you are on the mend. Swelly leg is scary leg and d*mn that was swollen.

    So are you still getting rides on the office chair? [ingenious btw] I know you want to be up and about but please try to take it easy until you are good and healed [easier said than done, I know.] We like you around.

    And Ellen? No more snakes darling. That is quite enough excitement for one year tyvm. :D

    Take care and big hugs!

  5. A friend does reptile rescue and friends think she is nuts, many are with fangs.

  6. So it's mating season, and this snake is still out there? And sometime there will be a nest of them? Oh gosh.

  7. That looks very nasty, snake bites are not something we hear of hear in the normal run of things, it must have been quite scary. Thank goodness you're going to be okay.

  8. Please continue resting. this sure was scary!!

  9. I'd hate any experience with snakes. I got bitten by a tiny spider a while back that caused my whole arm to swell up. Not pretty.

  10. Ellen, I'm glad you are recuperating. You've been through quite an ordeal. Take care & thanks for the lesson on copperheads!

  11. Yikes, heavens above girl, I can't turn my back on you for ONE minute, can I? Sheesh, okay, I'm off to scroll down to find out what on earth has been going on..

  12. Well I guess mostly I feel reassured that all will be well, but if this is mild - I don't want to meet NOT mild!

  13. Bloody Hell!

    Are you going to wear shoes when you go into the yard in future?

    Or maybe just look where you're going?

    I'm glad things have worked out for you but that leg didn't look very pretty.

  14. Copperheads are pit vipers and have a distinct diamond shaped head like a rattlesnake and moccasin. Not many people are going to get close enough to see their pupils, except maybe for those who get bit! Wow, what bad luck. I've come so close so many times it's amazing I can't speak from first hand bite experience. Hope for a speedy recovery. Found your blog from Friko.

  15. The entire time I was reading this I was fully expecting to read that you had found one in your garden, or even worse, living in your laundary basket with its babies...phew.

  16. Much interest here, I know a rattlesnake will "dry bite". I was hoping that copperheads did the same. Rest and get better... and for the love of God! wear shoes!


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