Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Limb Loppers 1, Copperhead 0

First, some fun facts about Copperheads.

• The copperhead (Agkistrodon contortrix), which has five subspecies, is one of the most widespread venomous snakes in the United States. Its venom is relatively mild, however. A person bitten by a copperhead may not even be treated with antivenin, which carries risks of its own. (In the United States, snakebite fatalities are rare. Each year, about 8,000 Americans are bitten by venomous snakes; only about a dozen die. It's wise to keep a distance from venomous snakes, however, as even dead ones have been known to bite reflexively.) I don't know about you, but the prospect of a having a festering goose egg size wound any where on my body for months on end is enough incentive to keep away from these things!

• Like the rattlesnake and the cottonmouth, the copperhead is a pit viper. In front of each eye, these snakes have a small, deep depression, or facial pit—a heat-sensing organ used to locate warm-blooded prey. Of some 20 venomous snakes in the United States, all but coral snakes are pit vipers. As a pit viper, the copperhead has hollow fangs that stay folded along its upper jaw most of the time. When the snake strikes, the fangs spring forward and inject venom.

• The copperhead is normally non-aggressive but will strike vigorously if provoked. When alarmed, it often vibrates its tail. The tail doesn't actually have a "rattle," but may produce a rattling sound as it brushes surrounding vegetation.

• A copperhead can "hear" a person approach through sensory perception. Its body transmits the vibrations of human footsteps through the jawbone to the columella, a bone that, in turn, conducts low, ground-borne frequencies to the snake's inner ear.
The one in my tale below must have either been "deaf" or I'm alot quicker than I thought I was in my old age.

• In winter, copperheads hibernate and often retreat to dens or rocky recesses that they share with other snake species.

• Copperheads prey on small rodents, young birds, frogs, and insects.

Ok, so it was just another early evening here today. Me and the younguns were out in the backyard. It had just quit raining and I was lugging a sack of hen scratch from the car to the wellhouse. My youngest, feeling a dab perkier from her illness was feeding her cat.
I had just shut the wellhouse door when from somewhere in the middle of the yard my eldest got to shreiking at the top of her lungs and with a noticible bit of panic in her voice.
"Mom! Copperhead! COPPERHEAD!!! Oh GodohGodOhGod....MOM!!!!!
We both just about slammed into one another as we both met at the corner of the wellhouse.
"Where?!" I barked at her, "Are you sure?"
I had taught mine at a young age not to fear snakes and both knew what the more common, harmless snakes around here looked like.But copperheads had only been seen in photos and Conservation Dept. displays.
"Mom, I'm sure! Go look!"
She pointed out the general area where she had just about stepped on it. It took me a minute or 2 but then I could clearly see it's little evil reddish tan noggin raised above a small patch of clover in the middle of the yard. It was coiled slightly and just motionless, like it was waiting for the coast to clear.

Now normally, I have my little 'snakekiller', a .22 pistol nearby if we're gonna be in the backyard. But not this time. Besides, he wasn't a big snake. Chances are if I did try to pop him, I'd miss because of a small target. Nope, we'd have to wing it.
No axe handy...no shovel...no rake close.
"OK, sis, go in the wellhouse and on the right there on the workbench are the limb loppers...get 'em, will ya?" I didn't want to move, lest it spook him or I lost sight of him in the clover. My eldest did as she was told and handed me the loppers.

The snake was gazing upwards to the east. I crept around and slowly approached from the west. I got a good look at him now. He was about 18 inches or so maybe 16-smallish for our copperheads. Must have been a young one. The weird transparent orangey tan markings stood out against his khaki drab body. Still he stared off, not moving. I got within 5 feet of him and paused. Still he acted like he didn't know I was there. I croached down some and spread the handles on the lopper apart. Now I inched, as slowly as I could towards him. I didn't want this peckerhead to suddenly whip around and strike at me. Yeah, I was abit nervous!

Out of the corner of my eye I could see my younguns standing off to my right, both scared and oh shit...here came the chickens! Drawn by the comotion, figuring it was grain can time they come a running...dammit!
"Sis, go get a can of scratch and give it to the chickens...gotta keep them away from here."
Once again she did as she was told and the chickens got busy. But now I had a new problem.
My youngests' cat was strolling over to see what was going on. My youngest panicked at the thought of the cat getting in the way and getting bit and began shouting at the cat.
"Get the cat food bag outta the wellhouse and give it a shake! She'll run to you." I told her. She did and the cat did.
"Now hang onto that stupid thing will ya?"

During all this that snake never once moved. I got closer.
3 feet now. I poised the open loppers just about behind it's head. They hovered there about a foot or so above him, still no indication that he knew what was up. I took a breath and

Copper...Head. Past Tense.

The loppers ain't as sharp as they used to be, so it wasn't a clean beheading. A strip of skin still remained. The severed head bared it's fangs. I held up the closed loppers with the snake and it's head both dangling from it. The girls were grossed out and yet at the same time impressed.

"EWWWWWWWWWwwwwwwwww!" they both squealed in unison, this segued right into a "Cooool!!"
"Mom! Is it dead?" " Can I touch it?" "Ohh neat...look you can see it's teeth and everything!" "Wow, that was so cool Mom! You rock!"

(Why yes...yes I do...sometimes.)

That's only the second time in 20 years here that I've had to dispatch a copperhead.

I gave my eldest a high 5 for good looking out and id-ing the snake. The freaky squealiness I could have done without but she is a little girl, afterall. I'm proud of her. She did good. They both did. Did as they were told and didn't get in the way.
And now they have a cool story to tell at school.


Blogger Cookie..... said...

Good Read Liz!..I enjoyed that very much.....and...as your girls say..."You Rock".

Fortunately fer us folks in upstate NY...the only poisonous snake we got in these here parts is the Missasaugua Rattlesnack.(Small rattler) Its native ONLY to central NY...Cicero Swamp Area. Environmentally protected it is.

When I was yougin...wurkin on a farm...had one hit my boot when I picked up a bale a hay...luckily it didn't penetrate the skin.

As I said...that was a good story...glad everyone (and everything...chickens..cats et al) are OK.....Cookie

5/10/2006 9:51 AM  
Blogger Patrick Joubert Conlon said...

Ah - life in the fast lane on a farm. Fortunately we don't have any poisonous snakes along the Oregon coast. Great story.

5/10/2006 2:06 PM  
Blogger Kathy said...

Awesome story!

5/10/2006 5:06 PM  

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