Last week a visitor to Sam A. Baker State Park apparently picked up a copperhead and was bitten two or three times. He died some time later. I heard the Missouri Department of Conservation news release saying it was only the third death from a copperhead bite in Missouri … which they had record of.
That last part should be emphasized. Anyone who thinks a copperhead is not capable of delivering a deadly dose of venom is silly. I can’t imagine that man, who was apparently in good health, picking up a copperhead. He was from St. Charles, and perhaps he didn’t know what kind of snake it was.
There have been plenty of cases of snakebite death amongst early people in Missouri, back before any state agencies thought to keep records. I would bet that between 1850 and 1950, there were hundreds of deaths, some from cottonmouths, some from rattlesnakes, but many from copperheads. I say that because I talked to many people in the Ozarks, especially in north Arkansas, who knew of someone who died from the bite of a copperhead. Many were children, because they ran around those hills barefoot.
My uncle Norten came very close to death in 1929, when he was bitten on the foot by a copperhead. Of course he was barefoot, outside their cabin, and the copperhead was a big one. In describing to me what he went through, with the high fever and hallucinations and unconsciousness, plus the swelling and breaking of the skin, you realize he was fortunate to live through it.
Old timers thought the only hope was cutting into the bite and sucking out the venom, but they also killed chickens and put a bloody chicken breast on the bite, or rags soaked in coal oil. Many snakebite victims did not survive, and if you hear someone telling anyone that a copperhead bite is not to be worried about, they are misleading you. Sure, the MDC has only three records of copperhead bite fatalities, but there is so much they do not know about.
They are trying to keep people from killing copperheads, or any other snakes, because few of them have actually grown up in the country. That’s why they tout the law that makes it illegal for you to kill a copperhead around your place, or a blacksnake or whatever. It is against the law to float a river and kill a cottonmouth as well. A cottonmouth is a little bit more aggressive than a copperhead, and anyone who ridicules that hasn’t spent enough time on the river. They are very dangerous in the right situation. Much of a snake’s demeanor depends on the temperature, and the time of summer.
A cottonmouth that is in the molting stage is a bad character. We are coming into the time of summer when snakes are the most dangerous, that molting period, and the highest temperatures of the year, followed by the cooling night temperatures of September which causes them to be on the move. If you live in the country, you likely already know that. And remember too that a wasp or yellow jacket becomes much more likely to sting you in August and September than it would in June. Thankfully, the MDC allows us to kill wasps and yellow jackets.
If I see a copperhead around my place anywhere, I intend to kill it. In the 20 years we have lived here on this wooded ridge top miles outside of town, I have killed at least 40. I am not going to allow them to live around my Labradors or my grandkids…. Or me! I have had two come into my basement. I have also killed a few blacksnakes, those climbing trees in the back yard trying to eat eggs or baby birds in the nest.
Now if I had a dairy barn where mice and rats were finding stored feed, I would welcome a blacksnake to keep the numbers of vermin down. It is nothing more than a matter of common sense. Many times when I was working for the Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission, studying and reporting on the states most remote wild areas in the Ozarks, I came across cottonmouths, copperheads and timber rattlesnakes, which I left alone.
I never killed any of them; because it was their land, and they were so far from people I didn’t consider them any great threat. Again, it is a matter of common sense. In a campground on the Buffalo River, when I was a park naturalist there, I killed several poisonous snakes, and captured and moved some others. You couldn’t let copperheads live under benches in the amphitheatre or around washrooms or in a campsite. Common sense.
With the new people coming into outdoor jobs without an outdoor background, you can see why they lack that common sense. They do not know nature as it actually is. That’s why we have a law protecting snakes and no laws protecting red wasps, spiders, moles, field mice, wood rats or groundhogs. What sense does that make?
I will say that if you want to protect copperheads around your place, as the law requires, you should kill king snakes. The king snake kills and eats copperheads and other snakes as well! A king snake can actually eat a copperhead bigger than he is… I have seen it happen. It might take him all day to do it. Despite the law, I do not think you will ever, ever see anyone prosecuted for killing a copperhead.
We saw a bird last winter that I have never seen in the Ozarks. It was little tiny brown-headed nuthatch that I first thought was a mouse going up the side of a tree. There was no doubt what it was, I saw it clearly, either a pygmy nuthatch or a brown-headed nuthatch, one of the two. Neither are suppose to be in southern Missouri. I just saw it one day and then it was gone.
Now I think I have found something else that isn’t suppose to be in southern Missouri at all, a grey shrew. And this time we have a really good photo. It is the color of ashes, living under one of my storage sheds, a night-dweller which is nearly blind in the light of day. You can see it on my website and decide for yourself. The common shrew found here is the short-tailed shrew, which actually is a little larger than the one I found and my daughter photographed. I have seen many of them over the years but none this light colored or small.
Shrews are vicious little creatures, like a miniature weasel. They are amongst the tiniest of predatory mammals, and they eat anything they can catch and kill. A shrew can tackle a field mouse twice its size, kill it and eat most of it. If shrews grew to the size of a Labrador retriever, none of us would be safe.
As I go through my daily life I make up short poems for the situation. I stopped in a café the other morning to have breakfast, and I gave the waitress my order. Then I added in good humor, “If my bacon is all floppy, it won’t make me very hoppy, and if my eggs are soft and runny, you won’t get any money.” She just looked at me as if bored, and walked away with my order. Later when I got ready to leave her a quarter for a tip, I asked her what she thought of my poetry. Without even smiling she answered in prose… “Men look really weird, when they have egg yolk in their beard!”
The website is www.larrydablemontoutdoors.blogspot.com write to me at Box 22, Bolivar, Mo. 65613 or email me at email@example.com.