Bitten by a copperhead at Lowe's, what are the chances in South Mississippi?

Copperhead snake
Copperhead snake ASSOCIATED PRESS

Warm weather naturally means we see more reptiles, especially snakes, as the cold-blooded animals are more active in the spring and summer.

And that means the chance is greater you or someone you know will be bitten by one.

According to national news reports, a man was recently bitten by a copperhead while shopping in the garden department of a Lowe's Home Improvement store in North Carolina.

Herpetologist Matthew Chatfield said it should not send people into a fear-of-snakes panic.

The best thing you can do when you see a snake is to leave it alone," he said. "Being bitten by a venomous snake is not common -- you have a better chance of dying from a bee sting than being bitten by a venomous snake."

A study conducted by the University of Florida indicates 7,000 to 8,000 people are treated annually for venomous snakebites in the U.S. The chances of dying from a venomous snake bite are about 1 in 50 million.

There are 40 species of snakes along the Coast, but that doesn't mean you should start stockpiling anti-venom just yet.

"Of those 40 species, there are only six species that are venomous," said Chatfield, who teaches at Unity College in Maine and does outreach programs through the University of Southern Mississippi.

South Mississippi's six venomous snakes are cottonmouths, coral snakes, copperheads and three types of rattlesnakes -- the diamondback rattlesnake, timber rattlesnake and pygmy rattlesnake.

"The cottonmouth and copperhead are vipers and are closely related," he said.

Chatfield said the most common venomous snake found along the coast is the cottonmouth, also commonly known as a water moccasin.

"There's a misnomer about water moccasins as people think that it applies to any snake that lives in the water and here along the north Gulf Coast, we have six species of non-venomous water snakes as well as the cottonmouth, which lives in the water," he said.

North of Interstate 10, he said, the main venomous snake is the copperhead.

Although some people may think all snakes look the same, Chatfield said there are ways to identify poisonous snakes.

"We have two species of snakes that mimic the coral snake," he said. "When it comes to coral snakes, notice the color pattern -- 'red on black, friend of Jack; red on yellow, kill the fellow,'" he said.

The non-venomous species that resemble the coral snake are the king snake and the scarlet snake.

Another way to identify snakes is by the shape of their heads.

"If a snake has a triangle-shaped head, then it is probably a venomous snake," he said.

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