Two years ago I had my first run in with a venomous snake. I was walking down a 4-wheeling trail when I noticed something to my left. Slithering down the path towards me was a baby snake with a neon green tail. I immediately stopped walking and told my than 9 year old to stop walking as well. As soon as I stopped the snake slithered off the path and into the woods. At first glance, I thought it was a copperhead! With the worst part being my daughter walking ahead of me saying the snake had crossed either in front of her or between her legs!
I. was. terrified! So many what if's had gone through me head. What if she had been bitten? What if I had been bitten? Would she have known what to do? What kind of snake was this with a neon green tail?
We came back home. I was afraid to go back out again. I did not realize my fear was an issue until we were driving down the road and I saw a field of tall grasses and my first thought was oh my goodness, just think of all the snakes hiding in that field! It was time to face my fears, so I started researching snakes, and how to avoid bites. I joined a local online snake group that was tons of help! I now know what we saw was a juvenile cottonmouth and not a copperhead.
Can you find the cottonmouth we saw in the below picture?
Here is what I learned from my experience and what I could do to stay safe.
One of the most important things I learned was how to identify the venomous snakes in my area. Our two most common venomous snakes are copperheads and cottonmouths. Copperheads have a Hershey Kiss shape pattern while cottonmouths have a very pixilated pattern and often get darker in color as they age. I also learned that non-venomous snakes have black bars on their top and lower jaws (labial bars), which is the easiest identifiable feature from a distance, and easy enough for my kids to be able to identify as well. There are NO venomous snakes in the USA, with these bars.
Snake gaiters would be the best foot/leg protection, but finding a child sized pair was challenging. Our next best option was wearing close toes shoes, preferable taller boots, with a wide, loose long pant. We also carried a stick and tapped the ground in front of us so the snakes could feel us coming and hopefully get out of the way. We would also rustle the stick in any longer grass or bushes before walking through or reaching our hands in to grab berries. (yum!). However, it is best to not stick your hand anywhere you cannot see, so we made sure we were aware of what was around us before grabbing a berry and we never stuck our hand deep into a bush that we could not see.
When walking through the woods, look at the other sides of logs before stepping over a downed log. The nooks and crannies of fallen debris are a snakes favorite hiding place. This is one reason it is best to have debris and stick/leaf piles picked up in your yard, and the grass cut short. Above all, if you leave them alone, they should leave you alone! Never try to handle a venomous snake or a snake you cannot identify.
All snakes have a place and a purpose in our ecosystem. No snake, venomous or non-venomous, deserve to die. If you find a snake on your property that you would like removed, please contact a professional snake relocation company.
Here is a non-venomous common watersnake we found sun bathing near a pond. It's hard to see, but can you find the bars on the upper jaw?