Snakes evoke our primal fears

Jun. 01, 2013 @ 12:41 PM

In Genesis 3:15 God said to the serpent, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will strike at your head, while you strike at his heel.”

Snakes have been a part of story telling from Genesis to You Tube, stories often embellished to play on the fear of snakes.

Last week, a workman at our home related how he and his wife had recently encountered four copperheads within a matter of minutes.

Being one who has perhaps an inordinate fear of snakes, especially the poisonous varieties, I phoned Bill Smith, Urban Forester with Union County Cooperative Extension Service, to ask if there had been an increase in copperhead sightings in Union County this year.

Bill said that while copperheads may be more prevalent in some locations – they tend to be found in rocky areas and at the edges of fields - he hadn’t seen any evidence that there are more copperheads in the county as a whole.   

During my research to learn more, I obtained the following information from the NC Cooperative Extension Service.

Approximately 37 species of snakes are found in North Carolina, six of which are venomous.  Three venomous snakes live in Union County – copperheads, rattlesnakes and cottonmouths. 

In most years, more people are bitten by copperheads than by any other U.S. species.  Copperheads tend to strike immediately when threatened while rattlesnakes vibrate their tails and cottonmouths sit with mouths open when humans come near.

A copperhead’s first strike is typically a warning and, if the fangs penetrate the skin, the snake injects little venom with the initial strike.

However, even these bites should receive medical treatment and can be extremely painful.

Of the nearly 8,000 Americans receiving venomous snakebites each year – North Carolina has the most - only about nine to 15 die, and most of them receive no medical attention or first aid.  More people die from wasp and bee stings than from snakebites.

A number of years ago, a small copperhead crawled into the garage of our then neighbors, Ebie and Marilyn Vaughn, and slithered behind some boxes.

Our wives were instructed to keep their distance - lest the little rascal sneak out from behind a box to attack them - while Ebie and I developed a strategy to find the intruder.

I armed myself with a shovel.  Then, Ebie began the process of gingerly moving boxes while I nervously stood by with my shovel at the ready.

After several boxes were carefully moved, our prey was spotted.  Ebie and I jumped – high, nearly out of our shoes.  I struck at the snake’s head with the shovel until the copperhead succumbed.  Our enemy was vanquished!

When we see one another, Ebie and I laugh about the incident.  I can’t help but think about how comedic we must have looked as we searched for the serpent and triumphantly carried it out of his garage on a shovel. 

While it isn’t Genesis, it is a story we’ll remember.

* Marvin Enderle is the publisher of The Enquirer-Journal.