MOUNT SAVAGE — Charles Robertson was asked by a family member to help clear a copperhead, one of only two venomous snakes native to Maryland, from a yard.

He didn’t know it’s illegal to kill a snake — any snake — in the state without a permit from the Department of Natural Resources.

“Holy mackerel,” exclaimed the veteran snake handler of Mount Savage.

Robertson said a friend of his told him it wasn’t lawful to kill a snake. Robertson said he didn’t believe it.

“I said I never heard such a thing,” Robertson recounted. “I said, if I’m out in the yard and I run into one, I’m gonna kill it. I think anybody would.”

All native snakes in Maryland are protected by the Nongame and Endangered Species Conservation Act, according to the DNR Web site at wildlife/snakeinfo.asp.

A large number of people have a natural fear of snakes. Two University of Virginia researchers released a study in 2008 that concluded people are genetically predisposed to fear snakes, yet ancient Greeks thought snakes had mythical healing powers.

Mountain Maryland has two types of venomous serpents — the northern copperhead and the timber rattlesnake. Allegany and Garrett counties have both. Copperheads grow to about 3 feet long with bright copper-colored head and a pink belly. Their habitats include remote rocky, wooded areas.

Rattlesnakes can have brown or black V-shaped markings on a yellow background down their backs. Some rattlers can be entirely black. Like the copperhead, they prefer remote, rocky mountainous sections of the state.

Robertson, who lives on the outskirts of town, said many believe the demolition of a row of buildings on Main Street last year caused an increase in snake sightings.

“I guess they had a nest or something underneath those old buildings,” Robertson said.

He said garter and copperhead snakes are common in the area but he’s yet to see a rattlesnake in the wild. He believes rattlers stay atop Piney Mountain.

While certain snakes can be dangerous, few people in Maryland are seriously hurt from a snake bite.

According to information on the DNR Web site, the Maryland Poison Control Center states that between two and six people report venomous snake bites in Maryland annually and that people rarely die from snake bites, even without medical treatment. Venomous snake bites are more serious in children, since the ability of a body to absorb venom without fatal results varies with the person’s weight or volume.

Robertson said he leaves garter snakes alone mostly because they’re harmless. It’s not the only snake he’ll avoid killing.

“I will not kill a black snake,” Robertson said, “because they eat rodents. A farmer will give you heck for killin’ a black snake. They keep the mice population down and the rats.”

Questions can be directed to the DNR Nuisance Animal Hotline at (877) 463-6497.

Contact Kevin Spradlin at

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