Friday, May 27, 2011

Copperhead: Don't Tread on Me

Yesterday, at the start of a walk in the woods, I tripped on a root and fell, twisting my ankle. For the rest of the walk, I was more cautious than usual, keeping my eyes on the path. That was fortunate. 
I saw the copperhead before I stepped on it. 

The copperhead slithered from the path in front of me and lay motionless in the dead leaves under an oak sapling, with its head about an inch from the path. I am not all that afraid of snakes. Although I wasn't eager to test the copperhead by continuing on the path, I didn't want to turn back. 

My first impulse was to photograph it, from what I thought was a safe distance of three feet away. 

I have wondered lately if photography is becoming an obsession. This was confirmed when I caught myself wishing the copperhead had not chosen to conceal itself in such difficult light conditions (it gets an A+ for camouflage, though).  And when I wished that I had the courage to move directly in front of the copperhead so that I could capture its entire body in the frame. 

Later, safe at home, I learned the following:
  • Copperheads are large snakes, tan to brown in color, with distinctive dark brown markings in an hourglass shape and a triangular copper-colored head. They are usually 24 to 40 inches long.
  • Copperheads are found throughout most of the eastern United States. They prefer deciduous open woodlands and locations near water, but also can be found in suburban areas in some cities.
  • The snakes freeze when they sense a threat. They rarely attack people unless provoked. Many bites occur when people inadvertently step on them.  
  • Copperhead bites are almost never fatal, but are extremely painful and have long-lasting effects. Herpetologists advise that the best way to avoid a copperhead bite is to leave them alone.
  • They are pit vipers, which means they detect prey through infrared sensors located in pits on their head. The snakes dine on rodents (including voles!), lizards, amphibians, birds, and insects.
For more information on copperheads, click here.

If you liked this post, you may want to check out Southern Meadows' recent post on snakes.


Karin / Southern Meadows said...

Yes, I think your are officially obsessed, LOL! I would have done the exact same thing. I hope your ankle feels better and thanks so much for the shout out! xx!

Sheila said...

I suspected I was not the only one ... Yes, it's better now.

Anonymous said...

I have done the same thing - run across a copperhead on a hike and photographed it, so I completely understand...although in my case I was pretty thoroughly convinced that it was dead (it was about 20 feet ahead in the middle of the trail and not moving, even when I rolled a few pebbles past it and eventually right into it.) Sounds like a dead snake, right? Wrong. I got closer and snapped a few pictures and then decided to put my foot in the photo, you know - for scale. Through the viewfinder of my camera, I saw the snake move and I leapt backwards like I'd been shot out of a cannon.

It was not a well snake, but the poor thing was still a live, and my heart nearly stopped right there. I learned my lesson, that's for sure.

I'm sorry you twisted your ankle but I'm glad it focused your attention on walking and on the path in front of you so that saw this snake in time - wow-ee! That was one well-timed fall.

Sheila Read said...

Aimee, We think alike - I threw a rock near the copperhead to see if it would move (I wanted a better angle for photography) but it stayed frozen. It's odd to consider that copperheads consider ME a threat!

You're braver than I putting your foot near the copperhead, though I admit I spent a few minutes debating moving closer. I read something online about a study in which a researcher wearing boots stood next to different venomous snakes to see what they would do. The copperhead was the only one that attacked. You had a close call!

I think the whole episode was kind of cool. It's not going to stop me from walking in the woods there, but I will be more cautious from now on!