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Will it be a big year for snakes in southern West Virginia?


Bluefield Daily Telegraph

BLUEFIELD, W.Va.  — Joseph Hodge Sr. has seen plenty of snakes in Bluefield over the years, but never before three copperheads within a two-day period.

The Northern Copperhead is a species of venomous snake in Eastern North America. According to West Virginia Division of Natural Resources Wildlife Biologist Jeff Hajenga, perception of good or bad years with copperheads, as well as other wildlife, has much to do with weather patterns and how it affects human behavior.
(Smithsonian photo)

Hodge, a resident of Norfolk Street, said he saw the copperheads near Nelson Street. He wants to raise awareness in the community so that kids are not harmed by the snakes.

“I found the first one in the yard,” Hodge said. “It was a baby. They have a little washhouse on Nelson Street, and a little baby copperhead was in there. I got him. Later, that afternoon, a big one, maybe about three and half foot long, was in the yard and I got him. The next day I went and bought turpentine, lime and moth balls, and everything to put out (to get rid of them). I figured it was going to be an epidemic.”
Hodge said he thinks more snakes are in the area because Bluefield did not have “a lot of bad weather this year.”

“So, two days later, I was coming out the gate (at a residence on Nelson Street) and there was a copperhead coming out of the light post, coming in,” Hodge said. “And I had on some big high ‘Duck Dynasty’ boots and one struck my boot. Thank God, I was able to get him. That was three in two days. That’s not normal. I’ve been there 30 years and haven’t had that problem, ever.”

Hodge said he’s seen other types of snakes around, but never that many copperheads in such a short amount of time.

“Black snake, garden snake, here and there,” Hodge said. “And then the mailman told me up on the top street is Madison Street, which runs across. He said he had a great big black snake and so forth. That tells me it’s going to be a bad year for snakes. We need to let somebody know where they can get conservation to see whether it’s a den or it’s just an epidemic. To me it was important. I don’t want to see anybody’s kids get bit and think it’s harmless.”

West Virginia Division of Natural Resources Wildlife Biologist Jeff Hajenga spoke with Hodge on Tuesday.

Hajenga said perception of good or bad years with copperheads, as well as other wildlife, has much to do with weather patterns and how it affects human behavior.

“If the winter is mild and the weather is good, people tend to spend more time outside and have a greater chance of encountering an animal. Also, with warmer springs, the habitat tends to green up sooner and occasionally gets thicker than preferred, which encourages animals to feel more secure near manmade structures.”

Hajenga said copperheads, and all wild animals, have four basic requirements to survive. “These requirements are food, water, shelter, and space,” Hajenga said. “If you want to discourage wild animals from being around your property, consider why they are there and what requirements your property fulfills. You can then adjust the conditions to make it less favorable for the species you want to discourage from being around.”

Hajenga said most nuisance animal problems are best addressed by eliminating cover objects or food supplies. “You need to ensure that you do not have cover for animals near your home, and structures are sealed up tight to prevent access,” Hajenga said. “If an animal cannot find cover, it will not stay around. The same is true for food sources. If you remove the food, the animals will leave.

“Copperheads, and many other snake species, feed mainly on small mammals. If you have cover near your home in the form of firewood piles, deep mulch, rock walls, or brush piles, you will probably have insects, mice, moles and chipmunks using that cover, which will in turn be a food supply for snakes. If there is no food available, the snakes, or other animals, will have no choice but to move on. You should consider moving sources of cover away from your homes and structures to discourage wildlife from ‘setting up home’ near you. If the cover is not easily moved, such as a rock wall, you can consider filling voids in the wall with pea gravel or other material.”

Hajenga said it is also useful to consider other sources of food near your home. “Bird feeders tend to be used by more than just birds, and can be a source of attraction for unwanted animals,” Hajenga said. “If you have bird feeders at your home, you are also providing food for mice, chipmunks and rats, which are food sources for snakes. Bird feeders can also attract skunks, raccoons, opossums and bears. If you start to have nuisance wildlife problems, consider taking the feeder down for a while and clean up all excess spilled seed. Remember that if you put out a bird feeder, you cannot always control the type of animal that uses it.”
Hajenga said trash can also be a food source for animals. “All trash should be kept indoors until the morning it is picked up, or kept in animal-proof containers,” Hajenga said. “Many nuisance wildlife problems are resolved by just securing your trash to eliminate access for wildlife. In nature, if there is something that can be eaten, something will find it — food is food. The best remedy for other nuisance animals is to remove the food you are providing and the problem will go away.”

Hajenga said typically, if you encounter a copperhead, it is best to leave it alone. “Even though you may not interact with the animal, in a way, it realizes that it is not ‘safe’ to remain in that area,” Hajenga said. “In nature, if something is larger than you, it will be perceived as a threat. A 1-inch-tall snake will get nervous when approached by a 6-foot-tall human. They rarely continue to stay in a location when encountered, unless there is a food supply or secure hiding place. The animals are not hanging out for fun; they are there for the cover and food.”

Hajenga said copperhead bites are uncommon. “The best way to not get bitten is to ensure that you do not put your hands or feet into a place that you cannot see,” Hajenga said. “Pay attention to your surroundings. Also, if you do encounter a copperhead, it will be impossible to get bitten if you do not approach the animal and put yourself within proximity of it. Copperheads will not bite unless they feel threatened. For a copperhead, their venom is a means of efficiently getting food. Using venom on a large animal is essentially a waste of effort and a last defense when they are being hurt or feel threatened.”

Hajenga said copperhead venom is mainly a hemolytic venom. “Meaning it ruptures blood cells and tissue,” Hajenga said. “Any animal bite can be a reason for concern. If you are unfortunate enough to be bitten by a copperhead, the best approach is to stay calm and seek medical attention right away. Your doctor will address any side effects resulting from the bite.”

Hajenga said online information about snakes can be found at

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