By Eugenia Jones
Recently, McCreary County EMS received an increase in the number of calls concerning snake bites. According to EMS Director Jimmy Barnett, EMS personnel responded to three snake bite calls from three different locations within the County in less than a week. Barnett said all of the bites caused swelling which is an indication of a venomous bite. He noted the bites appeared to have been made by copperheads rather than life-threatening rattlesnakes. All three snake bite victims were transported to the hospital by EMS with one of the victim’s symptoms becoming so severe he was eventually hospitalized in the intensive care unit.
According to the herpetologist for Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife, John MacGregor, the two venomous species of Eastern Kentucky, Northern Copperheads and Timber Rattlesnakes, along with non-venomous Rat Snakes and Racers are especially active this time of year and do much of their hunting from late spring on through summer.
MacGregor noted Copperheads are very common and frequently show up in yards, campgrounds, and picnic areas, particularly at dusk and after dark. Feeding heavily on large insects, especially cicada nymphs, katydids, and juicy caterpillars, Copperheads track insects along the ground and even up into small trees and shrubs to get a tasty meal. He cautioned people to always wear sturdy shoes and carry a flashlight when they are out walking at night-even in the back yard. A single bite from a Copperhead is typically not life-threatening but does need medical attention as it can cause much pain and extreme swelling that can affect a person for several days. The bite from a Copperhead can also severely affect those with chronic health conditions such as diabetes, and in these cases, may require anti-venom treatment. Timber Rattlesnakes, although not as common as Copperheads, produce a more venomous bite that can be deadly if medical attention and anti-venom treatment are not sought.
Raymond Little, local snake expert and law enforcement officer with the National Park Service, contributed the recent spurt of snake sightings and bites with people getting outside more due to nicer weather and the lush grass and heavy vegetation resulting from this year’s heavy rains.
“Grass and other vegetation have been growing quickly and can provide cover for snakes and their prey,” Little noted. “This can also bring snakes closer to people’s homes if homeowners aren’t keeping up with yard maintenance.”
Little offered some safety advice for those wishing to avoid an unhappy encounter with a snake.
“As far as safety, never place your hands or feet where you can’t see,” he warned. “While in the outdoors, be alert and aware of your surroundings. Always protect your feet by not wearing sandals and flip flops. Before stepping over logs or rocks, look on the other side, and if hiking at night, always use a flashlight.”
Little cautioned those who see a snake while hiking to stop and observe the snake and be on the lookout for unseen snakes. He warned hikers (and others) to not attempt capturing or killing a snake as this is when most bites occur. Instead, it is best to walk around the snake giving it plenty of space and go on as normal. He also noted it is illegal to catch or kill snakes in the Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area.
Little said snakes typically want nothing to do with people and only bite when they are being injured (stepped on, grabbed, etc.) or when they feel threatened and scared.
“Everyone should enjoy their time outdoors,” Little commented. “People need to remember that injury is much more likely to occur as a result of car accidents, lightning strikes, or dog bites than as a result of venomous snake bites. Venomous bites are rare. Snakes should be admired as a part of nature because they serve a very important role.”