Article by Bob Dailey
It’s not a myth!
Do copperheads eat cicadas? On a warm and dark summer night, cicadas emerging from their year-long underground foraging run straight into the mouths of hungry copperheads. Yes, copperheads – one of the three most venomous snakes along the Gulf Coast.
Our local cicadas, having spent a year underground eating roots and just about everything else they could get their hands – I mean mandibles – on, are fat and full of proteins, making them even more desirable for copperheads. I suppose they’re sort of like a protein shake for snakes.
Copperheads, Cicadas, and Trees
Now, here along the Gulf Coast, we don’t have swarms of billion of cicadas emerging. That’s for the people further north to deal with. But we do have millions emerging. And where there are cicadas, copperheads won’t be far away.
When cicadas emerge from the ground, they climb the nearest vertical structure. In most cases, this is a tree. Copperheads’ favorite habitat is wooded areas. Thus, it makes sense that the cicada world and the copperhead world would meet.
Few Human Deaths from Copperheads
Now, copperheads are venomous, but not exceptionally so. Since 1790, if we can believe Wkikpedia, copperheads accounted for only five deaths in the U.S. and none since 2004. In contrast, there have been 70 rattlesnake-induced deaths and, interestingly, six deaths from cobra bites in this county in that same period. However, don’t become complacent. Copperheads bite almost 3.000 people a year in the U.S.
Now, with modern medicine and antivenin readily available, deaths from venomous snakes in the U.S. are almost non-existent. In fact, the fatality rate is about 0.01%, a remarkably low number.
That’s not to say that copperhead bites are not dangerous. Though copperheads are generally slow and shy, they will strike out if stepped on or if they feel threatened. Their bites are painful and not something to be shrugged off. And yes, if you do get bitten, go to a hospital immediately. Since copperhead bites are not as serious or life-threatening as water moccasin and rattlesnake bites, many physicians describe it as self-limiting, which means that the effects of the bite will disappear without antivenin, the Journal of Venomous Animals and Toxins, Including Tropical Diseases
Night Strolls through the Woods?
Do copperheads eat cicadas? And will copperheads gather around trees on a warm summer night? I think the message is clear. If you must stroll through a wooded area on a warm and dark summer night, wear boots or shoes made of sturdy materials. Shorts are also a no-no. Long pants, particularly ones made of nylon, canvas, heavy-duty denim, or leather, are good options. Or stay away from the trees.