New York State is home to 17 species of snakes. While most of New York’s snakes are harmless, three species are known to be venomous to humans. Luckily, these venomous snakes are rarely encountered, as their range is very limited. Copperheads are the most common of the three venomous snake species in New York. Their bites can cause severe injuries and in rare cases, can result in death. Whether you’re a New Yorker or you’re planning to visit New York soon, you need to know where they live and how often they bite, in order to reduce the likelihood of encountering them or falling victim to their dangerous venom.
How to Identify Copperheads in New York
The northern copperhead is easily identified by its copper-red diamond-shaped head and a light body covered with crossbands. The body is patterned with a striking green or reddish-brown pattern that looks like dark hourglass blotches. These crossbands on its body are wider along the sides of the snake than along the back. Copperheads are thick, medium-sized snakes, with adult individuals growing up to 2 to 3 feet in length. Females are longer than males. They are often mistaken for the eastern milk snakes, which are a nonvenomous species found in upstate New York. You can easily distinguish copperheads from the nonvenomous milk snake by the copperhead’s characteristic broad head and slit pupils. The juvenile snakes have a yellow tip on their tails; used as a lure to entice prey.
Where Do Copperhead Snakes Live in New York?
In New York, copperheads are most commonly found in the lower Hudson Valley and are less common in the upper regions of the valley. You can also encounter them, though less commonly, in the Capital Region and Adirondacks. Its range is limited to the southeast part of the state of New York (up to the Catskills) but is almost rare in the western half of the state. They are more predominant in rural areas of the Lower Hudson Valley, but interestingly, they tend to avoid towns and cities.
You’ll most likely find this species living in rocky and wooded areas, where they easily blend in with the forest because of their unique color pattern. They are also found in wood and sawdust piles, logs, abandoned farm buildings, old construction areas, junkyards, and under surface covers such as large flat rocks and logs.
How Often Do Copperheads Bite?
Copperheads are generally quiet, preferring to lie motionless or to make a slow retreat when encountered. So unless they’re directly provoked or disturbed, they are known to be particularly non-aggressive to humans and even prefer to be left alone. When sufficiently agitated, however, they can strike vigorously and may be seen vibrating their tails rapidly. Several studies have shown that copperheads have bitten more people than any other snakes in the United States. Annually in the United States, about 2,920 people are bitten by copperheads, according to the American Copperhead Association. The incidence of bites by copperheads is 16.4 per million population per year. In decreasing order, the states with the highest bite rates per million population per year in the U.S are North Carolina, West Virginia, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Virginia, and Texas.
When are Copperheads Most Active?
Copperheads are usually most active during the day in the spring and fall, but during the summer they become nocturnal. They’re not restricted to staying on the ground. Copperheads will sometimes climb into low bushes or trees in search of prey or to bask in the sun. They are sometimes spotted lying on road pavement on warm, wet nights after rain.
How Painful is a Copperhead Bite?
As we mentioned earlier, copperheads are the most common source of venomous snake bites in the United States. Luckily, these snakes are the least venomous of the pit vipers and their bite is usually not fatal to kill a healthy adult. Deaths from copperhead bites are rare. However, the snake’s bite is painful and should be considered dangerous. When a person gets bitten, it doesn’t start to hurt immediately. Victims often experience intense burning pain at the site of injury within 15 to 30 minutes after a bite. This may progress to swelling and bruising at the wound site, and even further up the extremities.
Some other symptoms include; weakness, nausea, labored breathing, and some people report feeling an odd taste in the mouth. In some cases, a venomous snake can give a “dry bite”, which is characterized by a lack of venom – this only causes irritation in the bite area. Bites from a copperhead can be much more serious, leading to an allergic reaction or a secondary infection.
What to do if a Copperhead Bites You?
If you suspect that you’ve been bitten by a copperhead, it’s best to seek medical attention immediately. Mayo Clinic recommends that you call 911 if the bitten area changes color, begins to swell, or is painful. It’s important to try to stay calm to help slow the spread of the venom. In the midst of all these, DO NOT use tourniquets or ice on the area, or attempt to siphon the venom, because this can lead to other complications. However, you can clean the wound with soap and water and cover it with a clean, dry dressing to ease swelling and discomfort while waiting for medical help.
How to Control Copperhead Population in Your Area
If you’re a homeowner in the Hudson Valley, then you should keep an eye out for these slithering creatures. First, you need to be mindful of reducing the likelihood of encountering a copperhead in your area. You also want to avoid any factor that may invite these animals into your surroundings. Because copperheads feed on rodents, try to keep the rodent population in your home down as much as you can. You should also clear your yard of branches, brush, and leaves, and restrict the use of wood-based mulch, as this provides a hunting ground for copperheads. Also, seal off any gaps or holes in the walls or floor that these snakes can use as hibernation chambers.
Most importantly, the best way to prevent snake bites is to leave all snakes alone; whether you can identify them as venomous or not. Snakes generally go their own way and will not cause any harm if they’re not disturbed. It also helps to keep your hands and feet out of areas you can’t see, especially in snake-prone areas.
Other Venomous snakes in New York
There are three venomous snake species native to New York. They are – the northern copperhead, timber rattlesnake, and eastern massasauga. Of these, the copperhead is the most common in New York, though all three species are relatively rare.
The photo featured at the top of this post is © Creeping Things/Shutterstock.com
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