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What venomous snakes should East Tennesseans watch out for?

WVLT News reached out to the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency Wildlife Manager Chris Ogle, who said there was a “perceived increase” in snake bites across the region.
TWRA says there is an increase in snakes across East Tennessee. Here's how to spot them.
Published: Jun. 20, 2022 at 8:48 PM EDT|Updated: Jun. 21, 2022 at 5:19 PM EDT
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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) - A man in Sweetwater was bit by a copperhead at his house in Sweetwater over the weekend, he told WVLT News. Earlier this month, a Morgan County family, who asked to remain anonymous, said their 3-year-old daughter was in recovery after also being bitten by a copperhead snake twice on her foot.

The man, Jeffery Wilkins, said he was in regular cut grass that he had just mowed earlier in the day when it bit him. He received antibiotics from the hospital and is still recovering, he said.

The toddler’s family told WVLT News they were walking home from a family member’s house and were also in recently cut grass when the toddler was bitten. The girl was wearing sandals, and the family said they didn’t see it slithering until it was too late.

She also received treatments at a hospital and was expected to recover fully.

WVLT News reached out to the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency Wildlife Manager Chris Ogle, who said there was a “perceived increase” in snake bites across the region. However, they said researchers would be interested in seeing a chart of bites over time compared to winter and fall.

In East Tennessee, TWRA officials said people should only have to worry about two types of venomous snakes: copperheads and timber rattlesnakes. But, how do you tell?

Ogle told WVLT News that venomous snakes have a more triangular head but that characteristics could be “deceiving sometimes.” Other ways to tell are learning patterns and recognizing the snake’s rattle.

“Our venomous snakes also have a heat pit between the nostril and eye and the pupil is elliptical [cat eye] shaped,” said Ogle. “But the best way is just to learn their pattern because there are just 2 in East TN and one has rattles.”

If bitten, officials said to immediately go straight to the hospital and call ahead. If possible, Ogle also encouraged those to get a picture or visual of the snake; however, he noted not to attempt to capture it.

Ogle previously told WVLT News the best way to keep snakes out of yards was to keep them de-cluttered.

“If you don’t want wildlife in your yard, have the manicured lawn. Weed eat, mow those kinds of things,” Ogle explained.

He also said people could find them in those areas since they are cold-blooded and they’re looking for warm places.

“If you’re trying to get rid of something, whatever the something is that you’re trying to get rid of, the best way to get rid of it is to get rid of its prey,” Ogle said. He said snakes like to eat mice and rats.

When outside, he recommended people wear closed-toed shoes while on the grass, especially if out at night.

Luckily, copperhead bites are rarely deadly, but Chief Medical Officer for East Tennessee Children’s Hospital, Dr. Joe Childs, said anti-venom could be given on a case-by-case basis because it can have serious side effects.

More information on copperheads can be found here and timber rattlesnakes here.

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