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SNAKE SEASON: Copperheads, rattlesnakes common this time of year

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Kenneth and Pam Carty sent in this photo of a copperhead and four baby copperheads found near their home. They told the Independent they have killed 30 copperheads at their house on Corb Reed Road in the past week.

MAGOFFIN – Last week the Independent shared recent venomous snake sightings near homes in Magoffin County and reached out to Kentucky Fish and Wildlife for more information about the reported sudden increase in snake sightings and what people need to know about the often-feared reptiles.

For this region, the copperhead and the timber rattlesnake are the only two venomous snakes common in eastern Kentucky.

Herpetologist John MacGregor explained to the Independent that the good thing about both of those types of snakes is neither are aggressive.

Contributing to the uptick in copperhead sightings, MacGregor said that from July through August in wooded areas (i.e. pretty much all of eastern Kentucky) the cicada nymphs emerge from underground, crawl across the grass and climb into trees to finish shedding their nymph exoskeletons, turning into adult cicadas. Copperheads know about this part of the cicada life cycle since this is some of their favorite food, tending to congregate in yards near trees, picking up on the scent trails and snacking on these insect treats, sometimes even climbing into the tree, if need be.

As for the timber rattlesnakes, MacGregor explained that this is breeding season for them.

“The males leave their home range and take off in one direction until they pick up on a female’s scent trail,” MacGregor said. “This is why a lot of male snakes are killed on the roads or in yards this time of year. They have pretty complicated social lives, really. You may find them curled up in the heat of the day, but they usually will not stick around long unless they find something to eat.”

In general, however, he explained most snake bites occur when people are trying to catch or kill the reptiles or when people accidentally step on them.

“Neither are aggressive,” MacGregor said. “They kind of rely on camo and are really no immediate danger, so you usually can let them go on their way.”

He said if people have children playing in a yard where a rattlesnake is found curled up, he understands if people have to take matters into their own hands, but said in most cases they will not stick around more than a day and generally only bite when they’re provoked.

MacGregor also explained that he has researched the medical side of snake bites and that in Kentucky there has never been a copperhead bite death recorded and there have been only six deaths from rattlesnake bites in the state, noting that all of those were in snake-handling churches where they presumably did not receive medical attention.

“Rattlesnake bites are almost never fatal if people get medical treatment and copperhead bites are painful, but not really life-threatening,” MacGregor said.

MacGregor also shared an article recently printed in the Wall Street Journal, titled,” Snakebites Hit Record Highs in Southern States as Suburbs Expand,” which highlights rapid urbanization and heavy rainfall as contributors to an increase of snakebites in North Carolina, Georgia and Texas. Within that article, a herpetologist quoted told the WSJ people can avoid being bitten by snakes by clearing away piles of leaves, wearing shoes outdoors and using a flashlight when outside at night.

Since rattlesnakes and copperheads tend to like hilly, wooded areas, MacGregor said they are pretty common in eastern Kentucky.

“It’s just the price you pay for living in paradise.”

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