The Daily Tar Heel

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Tuesday September 21st

Watch out for coyotes and copperheads this spring

<p>Coyote hunting in a field in Cades Cove. Photo courtesy of Missy McGaw.</p>
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Coyote hunting in a field in Cades Cove. Photo courtesy of Missy McGaw.

As the weather warms up and spring inches closer, there might be increased sightings of copperheads and coyotes, but this is nothing to be alarmed about — it’s only natural. 

Jessie Birckhead, a biologist at the NC Wildlife Resources Commission, studies animals that people normally come into contact with in urban areas. Coyotes can be found in all 100 counties of North Carolina and are often seen in urban areas, she said.

“I don’t think people are seeing an increase in the population; what we do see are an increase in sightings during different parts of the year,” Birckhead said. “This time of year it’s common for us to see an increase in sightings, because coyotes are in their breeding season right now.”

According to Birckhead, this results in more sightings because the males are out patrolling their territories and making their presence known. She said she also predicts that sightings will rise again in the summer, when their pups are born and the parents are out searching for food. 

Coyotes very rarely bite or attack people, since they are "opportunistic carnivores," said Bob Marotto, director of Orange County Animal Services. People are rarely in harm’s way — but outdoor cats and other small pets might be, he said. 

“Often, when there’s problems with them, that’s because they’ve lost their natural fear of people,” Marotto said.

Since people generally don't threaten coyotes, they are losing their natural fear of humans. This has led coyotes to become more attracted to urban areas where there is unsecured garbage and other incentives.

“We want people to frighten coyotes whenever they see them,” Moratto said. “That way they’ll keep their natural fear of people.” 

Orange County Animal Services advise people to haze coyotes by walking in large groups, carrying noise-makers or standing tall and yelling until it goes away.

Copperheads, which are also commonly found in North Carolina, are best left alone and should not be bothered in any way. Birckhead said that copperheads are fairly docile, unaggressive snakes that only bite when frightened or startled. 

“Copperheads have that really remarkable pattern as camouflage, because their first instinct is to get away or hide from you.” Birckhead said. 

To avoid copperhead bites, be aware that copperheads like rocks and pavement on warm days, Birckhead said. Don’t move closer to them, and don’t try to touch, catch or otherwise bother them. 

“Copperhead bites are generally not life threatening,” said Eugenia Quackenbush, a clinical assistant professor at UNC-Chapel Hill.

Quackenbush has participated in clinical studies involving copperhead bites and using antivenom for treatment. 

“(Copperhead bites) primarily cause local tissue damage, resulting in prolonged pain and swelling in the bitten extremity. Some bites can be serious, causing tissue necrosis,” she said. “We found that antivenom helps patients return to normal limb function more quickly than non-treated patients.”

Quackenbush advises going to the hospital if bitten and to describe the snake that bit you to doctors.

For more information about coyotes, copperheads or any other kind of animal that might wander into urban areas, contact the NC Wildlife Resources Commission. To report coyotes, contact Orange County Animal Services.


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