Virginia’s (friendly) venomous snakes

It’s Indiana Jones’s worst nightmare.

If you’re bitten by a snake, don’t: apply pressure to the bite, put ice on the bite, cut the bite, or suck fluid from the bite. Some think these acts are necessary to stymie the flow of venom. In reality, they only make matters worse, says Laurence Paul, Curator of Reptiles at the Metro Richmond Zoo.

“A bite should be taken seriously, but it’s something that is very, very treatable,” Paul said. He encourages anyone who is bitten to simply call Poison Control or 911.

Of the three venomous snakes that slither across Virginia, Paul said the Timber Rattlesnake is the “only one really considered lethal.” Even then, anti-venom is “stocked by the majority of hospitals in Virginia,” he said.

There are roughly 35 snake species in Virginia. The three venomous ones–Eastern Cottonmouth, Northern Copperhead, and the Timber Rattlesnake–are currently represented in a venomous snakes exhibit at the Maymont Nature Center.

A trip to the exhibit might be the only time certain Richmonders ever see a venomous snake up close. Timber Rattlesnakes are typically found in the western part of the state,1 Eastern Cottonmouths are usually seen in Tidewater. Paul said that only the Northern Copperhead, which is found state-wide, would ever be seen in the Richmond region.

Paul said that 80 percent of snake bites occur when people attempt to capture or kill snakes. Young men are the ones typically bitten. “Very often alcohol is involved,” Paul said.

He advises that people simply leave snakes alone. “No one has been bitten by a snake by turning and walking away from it,” he said. Snakes aren’t aggressive and “their nature is to try and get away.”

Identifying snakes is often difficult, especially for a novice. For example, while visiting Maymont’s new exhibit, Paul overheard someone talk of finding a copperhead egg nest, but Virginia’s venomous snakes are all viviparous–meaning their births are live. “None of them lay eggs,” Paul said. “Never.”

If you encounter a snake in the wild, and are curious as to whether it’s venomous, or simply want to learn more about it, Paul recommends you “take a photograph from a safe distance” and upload it to the Facebook wall of the Virginia Herpetological Society, where it’ll be identified.

“The reality is, the vast majority of snakes are completely harmless,” Paul said. “They’re the victim of exaggeration and fear-mongering” and “not half as scary” as believed to be.

The venomous snakes exhibit at Maymont is included in Nature Center admission ($3 for ages 13-59; $2 for 4-12 and seniors 60+, FREE for Maymont members and kids under 4).

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  1. Canebrakes, a kind of Timber, are located in the southeast portion of Virginia. 

photo by Charles Barilleaux

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Nathan Cushing

Nathan Cushing is a writer, journalist, and RVANews Editor.

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