“We are destroying their habitat”: snakes move in the region | Local News

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People may have seen more copperheads this spring and summer, but that doesn’t necessarily mean there are more snakes in the Fredericksburg area.

More likely, things that slide are on the move – and come into contact with people and pets – because of all the construction going on around them.

“It’s not like a summer where they have billions of babies. Instead, it comes down to more loss of habitat and food availability,” said Sgt. Peter O’Brien, animal control officer at the Spotsylvania Sheriff’s Office. “Because of all the subdivisions and land being built, it drove them away.”

Mike Arrington is owner of Fredericksburg-based VA Wildlife Removal and estimates he’s received up to 10% more calls this year from distraught people who saw copperheads in backyards or on porches back and who want to get them out of there. He said he turns down more jobs than he takes because of so many requests.

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“I tell everyone DC is coming to Fredericksburg, there’s more building and building,” Arrington said. “We are destroying their habitat and they are moving into housing estates.”

He said he’s been getting more calls than usual this season about all the snakes, but “more copperheads”. They are the most common venomous snake in this part of Virginia, though O’Brien said people often misidentify them.

According to the Live Science website, Copperheads tend to have thick, muscular bodies and ridged scales. Their heads have a triangular arrow shape distinct from the neck, and their bodies typically sport patterns of reddish-brown crossbands that sometimes resemble hourglasses or dumbbells.

Juveniles are grayer than adults and have bright yellow tails, O’Brien said. This color usually fades after about a year.

Local people and animal hospital officials said they were not seeing more snakebites than usual, although Free Lance-Star photographer Pete Cihelka heard the opposite last week. His son, Shane, and his dog, Levi, were walking past the front porch of their home in Woodbridge when Shane saw a snake. It was dusk, and the snake was heading for a rock garden beside the steps.

The dog, an 8-year-old cockapoo, did not yelp or react in any way when he walked past the snake, but soon after “the whole right side of his face swelled up and he continued to hide under furniture to avoid us,” Cihelka said.

While waiting at an emergency clinic about an hour later, Cihelka noticed two puncture wounds above Levi’s right eye. Vets who treated Levi at the clinic and during a follow-up visit said his bite was typical of a poisonous snake wound and they had seen more snakebites than usual this summer. in Northern Virginia.

At Confederate Ridge Animal Hospital in Fredericksburg, receptionist Dorothy McKeithan has no scheduled appointments this year for pets with similar encounters. But she lives in an apartment complex and has been warned about what is happening outside.

“My neighbor said there were baby copperheads in the tall grass, so be careful,” McKeithan said. “She said to be careful because where there’s one, there’s more.”

It’s true, Arrington said. He trains his teams not to stop when they find a snake, but to keep looking because there are likely to be more. Copperheads give birth to live young and typically have eight to 10 babies a year, but can carry up to 18 young, he said.

It’s babysitting season “so people really have to be careful, especially one night, late in the evening,” Arrington said. “When the sun goes down, they are like us, they seek to cool off from the daily heat and they crawl on the concrete walkways and steps.”

If they’ve been moved by construction, they may also be attracted to homes with exterior lights, O’Brien said. The lights attract moths and other insects which attract toads which in turn attract snakes.

Copperheads tend to feed at dusk, and if they’re going to bite a pet, it’s likely to be a dog.

“Don’t offend the dogs,” said Dr. Madelyn Gonzalez, medical director of St. Francis Animal Hospital in Spotsylvania, “but cats tend to be a bit smarter,” at least when it comes to snakes. “They don’t stick their muzzle to a Copperhead’s safe zone.”

Plus, “the dogs can’t leave them alone,” McKeithan said. “They think they are a toy.”

If pet owners don’t see the bite happening, it can be difficult to tell if a dog has been bitten by a snake or stung by some kind of insect. However, there’s usually stained blood somewhere and a laceration or small wound, often with fang marks, Gonzalez said.

Keri Webb, the practice manager at St. Francis, witnessed her dog, Fisher, being bitten twice in July 2020, both by brass heads. The black Labrador was a puppy then, playing in the yard when he was bitten.

“That’s usually how it goes,” said Gonzalez, who treated Fisher. “A Copperhead isn’t one to give warning when he’s going to strike, he just sits and feeds.”

The vet usually treats canine snakebite victims with painkillers, antibiotics because “snakes’ mouths are quite gnarly and have a lot of bacteria”, an antihistamine to ward off an allergic reaction, and laser therapy which increases blood flow. blood to the area and helps cells regenerate.

Even with Fisher’s prompt treatment, he ended up with scars on the side of his face from dead tissue caused by the bite. The encounters also changed his personality, Webb said.

“He was an outgoing, spunky pup, and now he’s riddled with a little more anxiety and stress,” she said. “He has times when he’s nervous in the garden and doesn’t want to go out unless we’re with him.”

The Webbs live in Lee’s Hill South with woods and a golf course behind them. After the snakebites, Keri Webb said the family removed all the brush along the fence and replaced it with gravel. They cut down the thick honeysuckle growing there and got rid of a trampoline. One of the snakes was nearby and Webb suspects it was looking for a shady spot.

“They like places where they can take shelter and be protected,” said Dr. Chris Holstege, director of UVA Health’s Blue Ridge Poison Center at the University of Virginia. He was featured in a June article on UVAToday about Copperhead’s season.

“They like woodpiles because the temperature is quite stable and it’s easy for them to get into them,” he said in the June article. “I treated many bites after people pulled wood from a woodpile.”

Holstege said Thursday he reviewed the data and was “pleased to report” that Virginia is not seeing an increase in poisonous snakebites this season compared to the past five years. In 2021, the state treated 167 bites and the center treated 22 poisonous snakebites, most from copperheads, according to the U.Va. story.

He suggests people be careful where they put their hands and feet this time of year.

“The snakes came out,” he said, adding that it probably wasn’t a good idea to go out barefoot while taking the dog for an evening walk. “I even had a guy whose dog was barking at the bushes and he put his hand out to part the bushes and got bitten by the snake.”

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