ROCKVILLE, MD -- The man who was bitten by a venomous Copperhead snake in a popular Montgomery County park said he fears the incident will inflame hysterical myths about snakes and result in people killing any species of snake on site.
"Don't kill them. Just leave them alone," said 22-year-old Jimmy Hemmig of Rockville, Md. as he recovered from being bitten by a Copperhead Monday evening at Lake Needwood.
Hemmig was bitten after he climbed out of a canoe after fishing. He said he stepped on the snake as it was crossing a path.
Hemmig said he sees snakes of many species all the time and considers them a valuable part of the environment.
"I've encountered them hundreds of times and never had a problem," Hemmig said. "This was just an unlucky encounter."
Hemmig is an EMT and volunteer firefighter who is also a nature lover who used to keep a non-venomous snake as a pet.
Hemmig pointed out there are only two species of venomous snakes in Maryland, while there are 25 others that may look scary, but are harmless and should be left unmolested.
"If you have a rodent problem around your house, snakes are really good," Hemmig said.
The two venomous species are:
- The Copperhead, which can be found in woodpiles, rocky areas and suburban gardens.
- The Timber Rattlesnake, which is much rarer and generally confined to remote rocky ridges in mountainous areas.
Among other common species are the Black Rat Snake, which can freak out suburbanites by turning up in garages, basements and attics as the animals hunt for rodents. Some are as big as six feet long.
"The presence of Black Rat Snakes means you have a rodent problem, not a snake problem," said naturalist Priscilla Taylor of the Brookside Nature Center at Wheaton Regional Park. "Don't kill them! They are not venomous and they are helping get rid of mice around your house."
Naturalists said people who encounter snakes of any species should simply leave them alone.