By Hayley M. Cook
WILLIAMSON – Twenty-two types of snakes currently are recognized in West Virginia, comprising a total of 20 species.
In spite of this, the state is home to only two different types of venomous snakes; the timber rattlesnake and the northern copperhead.
Adult timber rattlesnakes are usually three to five feet or more in length, and can be yellowish-green, brown, gray or black. They have black cross-banding on their back. Some have a brown stripe down their back and their underbellies are usually yellowish or greenish-white in color. They have keeled scales and their most popular identifier is the rattle at the end of their tail.
Adult northern copperheads are typically two to three feet in length and are tan, with rust-red colored bow-tie banding and an orange head. Their underbellies are black and white checkered and juveniles will have a bright green or yellow colored tip on their tail.
Commonly mistaken for copperheads and rattlers are northern eastern water and milk snakes, which appear similar.
According to www.wvsnakes.com, a website which specifically focuses on species of snakes found in West Virginia, one should never attempt to pick up a wild snake without being able to properly identify it with 100 percent certainty.
If a meeting with a snake occurs, an individual should carefully observe their surroundings before making any sudden movements. This gives the snake a chance to relax and increases the chance of getting away from the snake safely. It is also possible, particularly in areas of wilderness, that there are other snakes close by. Being slow and careful in movements assures nearby snakes will not attack.
If a dead snake is found, one should never attempt to pick up the snake. A snake’s nervous system can remain active for hours after its death, and even the decapitated head of a snake will react to stimuli for a period of time, potentially resulting in a serious bite.
Other tips include taking a friend along while hiking (an extra pair of eyes makes spotting danger that much easier), avoiding tall grass and brush, being aware of where you are placing your hands and feet, and wearing extremely protective clothing in places where tall grass and brush is present. Keeping a flashlight while going outside after dark is another way to stay safe.
According to the website, snakes always act out of fear and because they see humans as predatory or threatening. The website urges people to leave non-venomous snakes alone since unprovoked attacks could result in a bite.
Some people have chosen to keep rattlesnakes and copperheads as pets, a practice which is extremely dangerous and has resulted in many unnecessary deaths.
If bitten by a venomous snake, one should remain as calm as possible and try to refrain from overexertion. If alone at the time of the bite, there is usually no other choice than to walk and search for help, if possible.
Usually the symptoms of a venomous bite begin with localized pain at the site of injury, swelling, unusual taste, numbness of the mouth and sweating. These symptoms increase fairly rapidly and soon the victim will experience nausea, vomiting, blood loss, weakness, confusion, muscle cramps, difficulty breathing and seizures.
One should remove any jewelry or restrictive clothing that would further restrict blood flow due to swelling that occurs after being bitten.
Ice should not be applied, as this actually increases the spread of snake venom and its effects. The wound should never be cut open either, as this exposes blood vessels and promotes acceleration of venom absorption.
If possible, the arm or leg bitten should be placed in a splint to restrict movement and slow down the spreading of venom throughout the body. This splint should not be too tight, as to restrict blood flow, but should be tight enough to restrict movement of the affected limb. The affected area should be kept at heart level to slow swelling.
Although bites from rattlesnakes and copperheads are extremely dangerous and potentially fatal, they are not immediate death sentences. If bitten, it can be hours or days before death occurs, and any victim should do whatever possible to ensure that they get help as soon as they can. Allergic reactions are usually the biggest reason sudden death occurs in some people.
It should be noted that non-venomous snake bites should also be treated appropriately with antibacterial soap and antiseptic.
For home safety, it is important to keep a well-groomed yard, stay away from nearby abandoned buildings or sheds (or tear them down completely, if possible), limit landscaping and decorative items like birdbaths and garden ponds and limit items that can attract rodents, which snakes eat.