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Ciara O'Rourke
By Ciara O'Rourke April 29, 2022

If Your Time is short

  • Copperheads release a defensive odor, but it doesn't necessarily smell like cucumbers. 
 

The arrival of spring has come with a warning in some parts of the United States: Look out for copperhead snakes. 

But nestled among some helpful internet advice — like go to a hospital if you’ve been bit — are some exaggerations. You’ll find a few in a recent Facebook post that shares a list of tips that've been online for at least several years. 

This post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)

Let’s take the advice one by one. 

1. "If an adult bites you, it’s possible you’d only get a dry bite. But go to the hospital as soon as possible anyway."

This is mostly accurate.

A venomous snake can bite without injecting venom, and these dry bites can result in relatively mild symptoms such as swelling, redness and irritation. But a copperhead bite that injects venom can cause severe injuries and, in rare cases, death. And the odds probably aren’t in your favor: Estimates show that only 20-25% of all bites from pit vipers, including copperheads, are dry bites, according to the University of Florida’s Department of Wildlife Ecology and Conservation. 

If a venomous snake, including a copperhead, bites you, call 911 immediately. 

2. "If you smell cucumber for no reason, you are within striking distance of a copperhead and you have already disturbed him."

This is not exact.

Copperheads and most other kinds of snakes release a defensive odor. To some people, it could smell like cucumbers, but others have never experienced it. 

"To me it just smells terrible," Sean Foley, director of herpetology at the Riverbanks Zoo & Garden in Columbia, S.C., told The State newspaper. 

3. "Juveniles often have a yellow tip on the tail and they ALWAYS DUMP ALL THEIR VENOM."

This is partially accurate.

Young copperheads have "sulfur yellow tails," according to the Missouri Department of Conservation, and in some cases, they can’t control the amount of venom they release, North Carolina herpetologist Fred Boyce has said

But they aren’t more dangerous than adult snakes. 

"Adult snakes are as dangerous, or more dangerous, than a young snake," David Steen, a snake researcher at Auburn University, told Live Science. "Adult snakes can have more venom than juveniles."

4. "Possums eat all snakes they find including copperheads, so leave the possums alone."

This is mostly accurate.

Opossums are known to eat at least 12 species of snakes, among other things, according to the University of Florida, and they prey on copperheads. There are more than 3,000 snake species worldwide. 

5. "Other snakes such as rat snakes compete with copperheads for food and have been seen eating juvenile snakes just like kingsnakes eat copperheads, so don’t kill other snakes. They are harmless, leave them be."

This is mostly accurate.

Occasionally rat snakes will eat other snakes, including copperheads, according to the University of Kentucky. They also eat mice, rats, bats, birds, salamanders, frogs and lizards.

Rat snakes aren’t venomous and they don’t pose a danger to people or pets, though they will defend themselves if provoked. Kingsnakes are also unvenomous, known copperhead predators, and they’re popular pets themselves.

Of course, plenty of other snakes are venomous, and can harm humans, but these two species aren’t among them. 

 

 
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Our Sources

Facebook post, April 28, 2022

NBC DFW, Taking Bluebonnet Photos, Keep an Eye Out for Snakes, April 23, 2022

University of Kentucky, Black Rat Snake, visited April 28, 2022

Live Science, Fact or Fiction? Test Your Knowledge About Snakes, April 23, 2015

The State, Do angry copperheads smell like cucumber? Expert lays out facts about venomous snakes, March 25, 2021

Missouri Department of Conservation, Missouri Copperheads, May 2, 1999

National Geographic, Snakes, visited April 28, 2022

University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, Why should I care about Virginia Opossums?, June 2, 2022

University of Florida, Which Local Creatures Eat Venomous Snakes?, April 12, 2018

National Wildlife Federation, Opossums: Unsung Heroes in the Fight Against Ticks and Lyme Disease, Dec. 16, 2021

Mayo Clinic, Snakebites: First aid, visited April 28, 2022

Cleveland Clinic, Snake Bites, visited April 28, 2022

WYMT, Wildlife officials warn people of baby copperhead snake season, Aug. 27, 2020

Newsweek, Kingsnake Eats Copperhead in Shocking Video Shot in Alabama Yard, July 1, 2021

Live Science, Kingsnake Facts, Feb. 29, 2016

Florida Museum, Eastern Ratsnake, visited April 29, 2022

University of Florida, Frequently Asked Questions About Venomous Snakes, visited April 29, 2022

 

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Do copperheads smell like cucumbers? Looking at some spring snake tips