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Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Copperhead Bites

     Copperhead snakes are a common North American snakes and are mostly found in forests, swamps, rocky areas, and rivers in the eastern states. They are also the most likely to bite! They bite more people in most years than any other US species of snake and unlike most poisonous snakes, they give no warning signs and strike almost immediately if they feel threatened. They are not aggressive and most bites occur if someone accidentally steps on one or gets too near. When touched, copperheads sometimes emit a musk that smells like cucumbers. The length of a copperhead's fangs is related to the length of the snake, the longer the snake, the longer the fangs. 
     Fortunately, copperhead venom is not very potent and their bite is painful but is very rarely (almost never) fatal to humans and the bite results in temporary tissue damage in the immediate area of bite. However, children, elderly and people with compromised immune systems may have strong reactions to the venom. Copperhead snake bites share symptoms with water moccasin snake bites and include: 

# immediate pain and symptoms 
# change in skin color 
# shock 
#low blood pressure 
# weakness 

     Copperheads are pit vipers like rattlesnakes and water moccasins. Pit vipers have heat-sensory pits between eye and nostril on each side of head which are able to detect minute differences in temperatures so that the snakes can accurately strike the source of heat, which is often potential prey. 
     Copperheads average between 2 and 3 feet in length and their bodies are distinctly patterned with a series of dark, chestnut-brown or reddish-brown crossbands, each shaped like an hourglass on a background of lighter brown, tan, salmon or pinkish color. Several other nonvenomous species of snakes have similar coloring and so are frequently confused for copperheads. However, copperheads are the only kind of snakes with hourglass-shaped markings. 
     In contrast to its patterned body, the snake's coppery-brown head lacks such a pattern but has a pair of tiny dark dots on top of the head. Their bellies are whitish, yellowish or a light brownish, stippled or mottled, with brown, gray or blackish, often large, paired dark spots or smudges along sides of its belly. Copperheads have muscular, thick bodies and ridged scales. Their heads are somewhat triangular and are distinct from the neck. Their pupils are vertical, like cats' eyes, and their irises are usually orange, tan or reddish-brown.
     Copperheads are not confined to the wilds because they can adapt and can survive well in suburban areas in wood and sawdust piles, abandoned farm buildings, junkyards and old construction areas and often seek shelter under boards, sheet metal, logs or large flat rocks.
     According to the Ohio Public Library Information Network, copperheads are usually out and about during the day in the spring and fall, but during the summer they become nocturnal. They especially like being out on humid, warm nights after rain. While they usually stay on the ground, sometimes they will climb into low bushes or trees in search of prey or to bask in the sun. 
     Copperheads eat mice and other small rodents, but also eat birds, lizards, other small snakes, frogs, salamanders and certain large insects like cicadas and large caterpillars. Mostly, they get their prey by waiting in ambush. They may eat only 10 or 12 meals per year, depending on the size of their prey. 
     The eggs incubate inside the mother's body and the babies are born live. Females will give birth to from two to 18 young in late summer or fall. After mating in the fall, the female will store sperm and defer fertilization for months, until she has finished hibernating. Baby copperheads are born with fangs and venom as potent as an adult's. 
     The American Museum of Natural History states scientists have found a chemical in copperhead venom may be helpful in stopping the growth of cancerous tumors. 

More reading: Timber rattlesnakes and Copperheads

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