My husband and I were living in a ranger cabin in the middle of a national forest, doing biological research. One day he caught a copperhead snake. We promptly put it in the tall garbage can, with no lid, because, as everyone knows, poisonous snakes don’t have strong muscles. This is because poisonous snakes use their poison to stun prey (for example: rattlesnakes, copperheads, water moccasins). In contrast, non-poisonous snakes often constrict their prey to stun them, with strong muscles for this purpose (for example: boa constrictors, pythons, king snakes). So we knew this poisonous copperhead snake would not have the strong muscles to be able to crawl out of the tall garbage can.
Then, for some stupid reason I don’t remember, we put the garbage can next to the head of our bed. We obviously weren’t thinking clearly.
In the middle of the night, I heard rustling in the papers we left on the headboard. Did I think about the copperhead we left in the garbage can less than a foot away from our heads? NO! I immediately jumped to the conclusion it was a palmetto bug (basically huge flying roaches in Florida, and very common). So at various times during the night, when I heard the rustling, I would swat at the supposed palmetto bug amid the papers on our headboard. I even smelled a musky smell after I swatted … Palmetto bugs smell when swatted at.
As part of the research, my husband always woke before dawn to go out and note the different wildlife species he saw. So I was alone when I awoke much later during daylight. I once again heard the rustling, so I got up on hands and knees in the bed to take accurate aim at the headboard and finally swat the palmetto bug. Oh My Gosh! The rustling was not a palmetto bug — it was the shaking of the annoyed copperhead’s tail! The snake had raised it’s head and was glaring at my face a bare 4 inches away!!! Instantly awake and alert, I froze! Then, heart pounding, I VERY slowly started crawling backward on the bed. It was a miracle I made it without getting bitten.
We were VERY fortunate our being idiots didn’t kill or maim us. Poisonous snakes don’t have strong enough muscles, right? WRONG !!! Biologists are always smart, right? WRONG !!!!
LESSON LEARNED: Try not to be an idiot
LESSON LEARNED: Don’t keep poisonous snakes in the house.
LESSON LEARNED: Think, and think again, about safety in the home.
LESSON LEARNED: Beware of what “everyone knows.” Even a moment’s thought should have been enough to realize maybe a poisonous snake’s muscles could be strong enough to escape a tall garbage can.
Ahhh, different people, different memories. My former husband read my copperhead post and told me he had a different memory of the incident. You might enjoy reading how he he remembers it:
From my former husband:
“Yes I caught a copperhead.
The copperhead turned out to be the largest southern copperhead ever caught. (A few years later I donated it to a grad student who was doing his Ph. D. on copperheads and he verified that it was the largest southern copperhead ever caught up to that time).
Yes, I put it in a large garbage can, but as I remember it, I had a piece of hardware cloth that I put on top of the garbage and sort of crimped the edges of it. NO, I didn’t weight the top down. I never thought nor said that pit vipers didn’t have strong muscles, they do. But it’s true I never thought that copperhead could get out of that garbage can. And yes the garbage can was rather close to the bed.
Then DURING the night we were both swatting at something (I thought it was a large moth) so I got up and turned on the light and said something like Holy SHIT! I couldn’t believe the copperhead was up there!
So I got my snake hook and hooked it out of there and put it back into the garbage can and put the hardware cloth back on top and then piled any books or heavy objects on it that we could. And then we went back to sleep.
So it made for interesting reading that you discovered the copperhead the next morning when it was daylight and you were so lucky to be able to back away from it without it biting you. Each of us remembers things the way we remember them.”
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