In July 19 issue, Russell County NewsCourtesy lakecumberland.comABOVE: A live copperhead snake rests near the feet of audience members during an exhibition and seminar conducted Tuesday night, July 15, at the Wolf Creek National Fish Hatchery’s Visitor Center and Environmental Education Center. The snake had just struck the boot of presenter Jeff Hohman, a biologist with East Kentucky Power, after he finally annoyed it enough to prompt a bite from the dangerous animal. Copperheads bites aren’t fatal, but a bite from the other venomous snake that can be found in the region, the timber rattlesnake, can be fatal.
Let’s make one thing clear from the start: there are no poisonous snakes.
No poisonous spiders, either. The word is venomous. Like spiders, snakes inject a chemical venom into their victims.
Knowing the proper term may not ease that tang of caution, however, when there’s a live and somewhat annoyed two-foot copperhead coiled on the floor about a yard from your feet when you are being told this.
Nor does the just-imparted knowledge that no one in Kentucky has ever died from a copperhead bite. The slide show photos of the effects on body of the Lexington man who recently spent a week in the hospital recovering from an injection of venom into his hand makes it pretty certain that you’d rather avoid getting bit.
It is a bit comforting to know just how continuously stupid the Lexington man had to be in order to get bit, however.
Jeff Hohman, a biologist with East Kentucky Power who specializes in Kentucky snakes, was telling the story. He used it to illustrate just how much venomous snakes prefer to not bite.
It seems the man had pulled the snake out from under something in his house, had first stuffed it into a small container, then pulled it from the first and put it into a larger jug. Finally, the copperhead had enough and nipped him in the hand.
Hohman, along with Joe Settles, often tell snake stories as they travel Kentucky to give seminars and classroom demonstrations.
The pair were at the Wolf Creek National Fish Hatchery’s new Visitor and Environmental Education Center this past Tuesday night, presenting a seminar on venomous snakes in Kentucky, and particularly the Lake Cumberland region.
The room was nearly filled with curious folk, and all of them went home both educated and highly entertained.
Hohman has a presentation style that wouldn’t be out of place on the Blue Collar Comedy Tour.
His snake tales, and tales of other folks’ snake tales, had everyone constantly giggling or laughing out loud.
It’s a great teaching style. Everyone went home with an expanded knowledge of snakes, and all now can tell a venomous copperhead from a similarly colored non-venomous water snake on sight.
Here are some of the basics. You may or may not already know it, but there are only three venomous snake types in Kentucky. These are the copperhead, the timber rattlesnake and cottonmouth moccasin.
(Okay, there’s really four, but it deserves an asterisk. The pygmy rattlesnake is located only in western Kentucky at Land Between the Lakes. And it is rattlesnake, so it seems okay to consider it along with its big cousin in the rattler category.)
And only two of those venomous snakes are found in the Lake Cumberland area in this part of Kentucky, the copperhead and the rattlesnake.
No matter what people argue – and there are a number of people who will argue it – there are no native populations of cottonmouth moccasins in this part of the state. Take the word of the experts with 40 years of serious snake experience.
They’re willing to look into it, however. Hohman and Settles enjoy being told about snakes. They don’t deny that some snakes that don’t belong here can’t show up by, say, getting a ride on a delivery truck or maybe even being brought and released or escaping from someone.
Hohman wanted to get one point across. Snakes are good to have around. They control the populations of rodents and other critters than can get out of hand if snakes aren’t there to feed on them.
Snakes won’t chase you either, even the venomous ones. They just want to be left alone. Some snakes, mostly the non-venomous ones, can have bad attitudes and will bite at you if you annoy them by being too close or backing them into a corner.
The venomous ones would rather you never see them, and when you do will try their best to avoid you, and if you still push too hard will give you warnings before they do anything.
Hohman noted that, even though many people have told him tales over the years of being chased by snakes, the reality is the snake is trying to get away.
“It may be that they’re just running in the same direction as you are,” he said, and his audience laughed at the thought.
When it came to live demonstration time, Hohman and Settles unbagged a collection of a dozen or so varities of snakes.
One was the copperhead mentioned above. After putting it on the floor of the room, loose and only a few feet from some folks, Hohman showed how much the snake didn’t want to mess with him.
Putting on boots – and he recommends boots when you go for a walk where snakes may be, because that’s where you could get bit if you accidentally step on one hidden in the growth – Hohman kept putting his foot all around the copperhead.
Finally, he just about had to step on its head to get it to strike, but it finally bit the boot and left some venom on it.
While they passed the other snakes around the room for folks to handle, hold, or touch, the copperhead remained coiled on the floor, not bothering anyone. It was a demonstration of just how non-aggressive the copperhead is.
The humorous presentation and demonstration appeared to calm the nerves of those edgy about all types of snakes, and by the end nearly everyone had at least touched one of the coily critters, with many holding and handling them.
A very good web site on recognizing varities of Kentucky snakes can be found on the aptly named internet web site located at http://kentuckysnakes.org