Snakes

Snakes

Identifying and Dealing with Copperheads and Other Snakes

copperhead

September may bring an influx in some areas.

copperhead2

Download (PDF)

 

As a certified Community Wildlife Habitat by the National Wildlife Federation (NWF), one of the first in the nation, Reston is well known for its abundance of wildlife and thriving ecosystems. Considering the rich diversity of the natural environment, Reston Association (RA) staff continually inform and educate residents about coexisting with wildlife in the community.

With some reported snake bites in Reston, apparently by Northern Copperheads (Agkistrodon contortrix mokasen), RA would like to provide residents with information about these and other local snakes, to assist with identification and to offer some precautions, when needed. The bites occurred in neighborhoods off Aldenham Lane, Thanlet Lane, and Woodbrook Lane.  Unusually high numbers of encounters can occur in September when snakes, like the copperhead, search for underrock dens where they can spend the winter.  

The copperhead is the only venomous snake in Reston. There are no wild cottonmouths or rattlesnakes in our community. The key to recognizing a copperhead is the pattern on the body.  The color on copperheads can vary and is not always reliable for identification. The copperhead has an hour-glass shape draped across its body. The thin middle of the hour-glass is on the middle of the snake's back. Copperheads also have a vertically slitted, elliptical pupil that resembles a cat’s eye. All baby copperheads have a bright, yellow tail. They are born live and no eggs are found in the nest. They seldom exceed three feet in length.

Often, copperheads are confused with other non-venomous species in our area which may display a blotched or banded appearance such as the Northern Water Snake (which does not spend all of its time in and around the water) and young Black Rat Snakes (which lack the bright yellow tails). These non-venomous species have round pupils.

In the wild, the copperhead is rarely seen due to its elusiveness and shyness. This non-aggressive snake usually strikes when stepped on or provoked by either people, pets or other animals. If you are bitten go to the hospital immediately; however, the bite is rarely, if ever, fatal to humans. In the state of Virginia, no recorded human deaths have occurred from a copperhead bite. Copperheads are considered the least venomous of the venomous snakes. It is important to remember to always keep a safe distance from an unidentified snake.

You can avoid inadvertently cornering a snake when you are out enjoying the woods, meadows, wetlands and stream valley habitats by following a few guidelines. Look before stepping over logs or sitting down for a rest on a suitable perch. Also do not reach into logs or holes without looking, just in case a snake is using that spot to rest or look for food.

The following techniques can be used to discourage and exclude snakes from your home and yard:

  • Do not leave pet foods and household garbage outside overnight—they attract rodents and the presence of rats and mice then attracts snakes.
  • Remove favored habitat in your yard: wood piles, high grass, heavy mulching.
  • Check outside around water pipes, electrical service entrances, doors and windows for small openings. A π inch hole is large enough for some small snakes to enter.
  • Seal openings with weather stripping, caulking, hardware cloth, sheet metal or mortar, depending on the type of building surface.
  • Fill in openings around foundations and under sidewalks or porches with gravel or mortar, depending on the type of building surface.
  • Check for cracks around concrete porches and sidewalks and storage sheds with space under the floor. Try to make sure snakes are gone before sealing entry points.

According to the American Red Cross, these steps should be taken if you are bitten by a snake:

  • Wash the bite with soap and water.
  • Immobilize the bitten area and keep it lower than the heart.
  • Get medical help.

Copperheads usually live under piles of rocks, wood piles or rotting logs. Modifying these types of habitats if they exist near your home or property may help to keep the copperheads from making a home there.  Other preventative measures include: close supervision of very young children in the outdoors, teaching family members to recognize and avoid copperheads, keeping cats indoors and keeping dogs on leash.

RA suggests the following as resources regarding the Northern Copperhead and other local snakes: http://fwie.fw.vt.edu/VHS/reptiles/snakes/snakes_of_virginia.htm

 

For more information, please contact Claudia Thompson-Deahl, Reston Association Environmental Resource Manager at 703-435-6547 or via email to claudia@reston.org.

Nature Resources