Venomous Snakes of Virginia
By, Lily Light
Virginia is home to three types of venomous snakes: the Northern Copperhead, Northern Cottonmouth and the Timber Rattlesnake. All three are pit vipers, which are unique due to the presence of a heat sensing pit organ located between their eyes. This organ aids them in hunting warm blooded prey, especially at night.
The Copperhead, a common type of viper, can be found throughout Virginia. Although people frequently mistake other snakes for copperheads, the latter have distinctive markings that make them easy to identify. They often give a warning bite, which contains only a small amount of venom, or a dry bite, which contains no venom. Copperheads’ venom is the lowest of all pit vipers, and their bites are rarely fatal, though you should always seek medical attention if you are bitten.
The Eastern Cottonmouth, also known as the water moccasin, is the world’s only semi-aquatic viper. The Cottonmouth is found in the Tidewater region of Virginia in and around slow-moving freshwater, such as creeks, ponds, swamps and shallow lakes. Their venom is more toxic than the Copperhead , however their bites rarely result in fatalities. Eastern Cottonmouth bites should be taken seriously because their tissue destroying venom may require an amputation.
The Timber Rattlesnake, of Gadsden flag fame, is one of North America’s most dangerous snakes. They are easily identified by the rattle at the end of their tail, which they will shake loudly in warning. They are found in forests and fields in the western part of Virginia, as well as a small population in the southeastern tip of the state. Timber Rattlesnake bites are the third most venomous snake in the United states, preceded by it's relatives, the Eastern and Western Diamondback Rattlesnake.
Herpetologists advise that if you encounter a snake that you leave it alone. Generally speaking, snakes would rather flee from a perceived threat rather than attack. In the rare event that you are bitten, seek medical attention immediately. Luckily, anti-venom is stocked in most hospitals in Virginia. When enjoying the great outdoors, be conscious of your surroundings and always look where you walk!