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The snakes beneath our feet
TRR photo by Kimberly M. Weyandt
One of the two venomous snakes in the Upper Delaware region, the timber rattle snake is active from late April to mid-October.(Click for larger version)

By KIMBERLY M. WEYANDT

UPPER DELAWARE REGION — During an unseasonably warm fall, hunters know that deer won’t be moving as much and mothers know that their children will be more willing to play outdoors. This means a lot more tromping through the woods. This also means an increased risk of stumbling upon a snake.

There are 14 species of native snakes in the Upper Delaware region. Although they usually hibernate from mid-October until late April, during a warm fall season they can often be found soaking up the sun as they digest their last meal.

Snakes in the Upper Delaware region can be found in fields and forests, ponds, lakes and streams, rocky hillsides, farmlands, and our own backyards. Although none of them are considered aggressive, they will defend themselves. Two are venomous.

The northern copperhead and timber rattlesnake are both considered pit vipers. A pit viper has two heat-sensitive pits, resembling nostrils, that are used to detect potential food sources. The pits, along with the snake’s triangular-shaped head, make it easy to identify.

The northern copperhead reaches an average length of 30 inches. It has a reddish-brown and coppery body with darker, hourglass-shaped bands and an unmarked head. Copperheads are most often found in semi-aquatic habitats, rocky hillsides and wetlands. They live up to 18 years. A social snake, the copperhead is often found with other copperheads or other species of snakes. Copperheads hibernate in a communal den and return to the same den every year. The fangs on a copperhead can be .3 inches in length, depending on the size of the snake.

Similar in color and size, milk snakes, water snakes and hognose snakes are often mistaken for copperheads but they are all non-venomous.

The timber rattlesnake can reach an impressive 4.5 feet and is the most venomous snake in New York. It has two phases, a yellow phase, which has dark bands on a lighter background, and a black phase, which has dark bands on a dark background. On the end of its tail this snake has a rattle.

Timber rattlesnakes are often found in forests and rocky ledges. They migrate a maximum of 4.5 miles from their dens each summer.

Although our area boasts of only two snakes with venomous bites, all snakes may bite if provoked or scared.

So what should you do if you come across a snake in the wild?

“If you can, change your direction to avoid them,” said snake expert Kathy Michell.

“If you find that you have stepped next to one, pick up your foot and slowly move it away,” said Michell, explaining that a snake may perceive a fast movement as an attack or prey.

If bitten by a snake that you believe to be venomous; seek medical attention promptly. To slow down the path of the venom, loosely tie a cloth above and below the wound. The cloth should be loose enough that you can fit two fingers into the tie without difficulty.

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