Don’t let the cold weather fool you; copperhead snakes are still out and about


ROANOKE, Va. (WFXR) — We’ve been seeing cooler temperatures in the Roanoke Valley, and there are those who believe colder weather means snakes go into hibernation.

That may be true, to an extent.

Female copperhead snakes give birth in the late summer and early fall, leading to a rise in juvenile copperheads this time of year. According to experts at Mill Mountain Zoo, copperheads are born this time of year because there is more prey for them to eat.

“Specifically around here, it’s the molting cicadas,” said Kontessa St. Clair with Mill Mountain Zoo. “That’s a good meal for the juveniles.”

St. Clair also dispels some myths that cold weather deters reptiles.

“Because we have high body temperature, it does feel cool to us,” she said. “To them, you know, sixty degrees can bring out a reptile.”

“It’s really sunny during the day, so snakes are out getting that warmth from the sun,” Dr. Maureen Noftsinger, CEO of Emergency Veterinary in Roanoke, added.

Experts warned the search for warmth or simple curiosity could drive copperhead juveniles into homes, something Rocky Mount resident Lauren Smyk said she knows from experience.

“We were watching football and just sitting on the couch,” she recalled. “I got up to get a drink and this thing starts moving in the corner.”

It was a copperhead snake that came through a small hole in Smyk’s screen door.

“Right where (…) I have my son’s little play mat on the floor, so it was literally crawling right towards that,” Smyk described with a cringe. “Thank God he wasn’t on it, but he could have been.”

Noftsinger said copperheads can be found anywhere in our area, from the wilderness to a greenway. Pet bites more common in the late summer/early fall than any other time of the year.

Bites from juvenile snake can vary in intensity, Noftsinger said.

“They can’t really control their venom, so sometimes they will have a dry bite,” she said. “Sometimes they’ll have an excessive amount of venom.”

Copperheads are a protected species in Virginia unless they pose an immediate danger. St. Clair says that only happens if a person makes physical contact with the snake.

“They don’t want to use that venom on something that’s not their prey,” St. Clair said. “They don’t want to bite you, so if you leave them alone they leave you alone.”

Copperhead bites are not lethal to most people, but humans have a greater sensitivity to copperhead venom than animals.

Noftsinger mentioned that another snake people should be on the lookout for in the Roanoke Valley, for the time being, with a more potent venom . . . rattlesnakes.

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