As the weather gets warmer and locals take advantage of the mountains, lakes and trails in and around the Blue Ridge, the chance of snake bites increase.
The good news: Virginia’s snakes can bite, they can even be venomous, but they likely won’t kill you.
“It’s really a rare occurrence,” Christopher Holstege, director of the Blue Ridge Poison Center, told The Daily Progress Friday. “Hiking in Shenandoah National Park, you’d have a bigger risk of getting into a car accident than you would getting bitten by a snake.”
Of the 30 kinds of snakes in Virginia, only three are venomous: copperheads, rattlesnakes and cottonmouths. And of those, only copperheads and rattlesnakes are likely to be found in Central Virginia.
Still, snake bites do occur, and so far the Blue Ridge Poison Center has treated this year 24 people bitten specifically by copperheads. In a single year, that number is usually upwards of 100, with as many as 136 a year, Holstege said.
According to Holstege, the center most often treats people for copperhead bites, which can cause swelling, bruising and blood blisters.
Holstege said those who are bitten by a snake should not try to suck out the venom, cut out the area or put on a tourniquet.
“All those things you see in movies, please don’t do those things,” Holstege said. “Instead, people should seek medical attention, where they will be treated with anti-venom.”
It should be noted that killing a snake is illegal in Virginia.
“Never kill a snake,” says the Wildlife Center of Virginia’s website. “Killing a snake doesn’t help keep more snakes away, and even though you may be uneasy around snakes, they are important members of our ecosystem.”
Killing a snake in Virginia is only allowed by law if there is an imminent threat to someone’s health or safety.
“Don’t attempt to handle venomous snakes. If you don’t approach the venomous snake to handle, remove, or kill the snake, you’ll eliminate any chance of being bitten,” the Wildlife Center says. “Call a professional if you need to remove a venomous snake from a high-traffic area with children and pets.”
Snake season lasts from mid-May until around October, when snakes come out of hibernation during the warmer months of the year.
Snake bites often happen in the dark, when people can’t see snakes hunting at night. That can happen for stargazers, night hikers or residents checking their backyard to see what has startled the dogs.
In fact, Holstege said his dog was bitten by a venomous snake Thursday night, and was treated at the vet not long after.
“I’m glad to say my dog is doing well,” Holstege said. “Still a bit swollen, but almost back to normal.”