It’s prime snake season, be prepared

Published 9:58 am Friday, July 1, 2022

Having stepped within a foot of a venomous copperhead snake one night this week, it seemed a good time to remind everyone to be alert and don’t panic if you see a snake.

This columnist nearly stepped on a copperhead (Photo by Larry McDermott).

Snakes not only are a vital part of our ecosystem but also their venom is being used extensively in pharmaceuticals. You don’t even want to imagine a world overrun by rodents, a key element of the snake diet.

When I told a friend about my near misstep and showed him the picture I took, his reaction was lightning fast. “Did you kill it?” he said in a way that made it more of a statement than a question.

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No. The snake wasn’t bothering me. I moved along and so did it. Well, I moved along a lot faster than it did. No harm, no foul.

Bear in mind that in our area there are only two venomous snakes–the copperhead and the timber rattler, the latter being protected by law in the state of North Carolina. Contrary to popular, but misguided belief, we do not have water moccasins, aka cottonmouths.

Your chances of being bitten are very small. Using the highest estimate by the Center for Disease Control, there are only about 8,000 snake bites each year in the U.S. Your chances of being killed by a bolt of lightning are far greater.

But if you are unlucky and are bitten, there are a few things you should do to make certain you live to tell your friends about it.

First, there are a few important things you should NOT do:

Don’t pull out a knife, cut an X on the bite and try to suck out the venom. That’s a myth going back to old wild west movies. Besides, the most likely place you would be bitten is around the ankle or hand and I don’t know about you but I can’t bend over far enough to put my lips on my ankle.

Don’t ice it or place a tourniquet on the extremity.

Don’t use NSAIDs such as aspirin or ibuprofen. Also, no Benadryl, corticosteroids or antibiotics.

Don’t try to kill the snake for transporting it to the ER. The severed head is capable of injecting venom for hours, so you might be bitten a second time. The ER doesn’t need the snake since the antivenom is the same for both copperheads and rattlers. If you are able to get a picture with your cell phone, that might be helpful, but no selfies.

More important are the steps you should take if bitten.

Remain calm. If possible, it’s better to have someone drive you to the hospital emergency room immediately.

Keep the bitten part of your body elevated above heart level.

Find out in advance whether your local hospital has antivenom on hand. Not all hospitals do. If your pet is bitten, you should be aware that not all veterinarians or vet clinics keep a supply of antivenom. It’s best to know in advance.

None of this is meant to unduly alarm anyone. Snake bites are rare even though people generally believe otherwise. You should be more worried about being killed or injured by a driver who doesn’t stay in his lane.

Larry McDermott is a retired local farmer/journalist. Reach him at