I’m scared of snakes and I just heard today that it’s illegal to kill a snake in Virginia. This can’t be true, can it?




Dear Ophi,

I’m scared of snakes too and quite frankly, I think a healthy fear of these reptiles is a good thing. To answer your question, it depends. You can legally kill a snake if the safety of you or your animals is being threatened. Now granted, that leaves a wide area for interpretation. Different people have different levels of tolerance before they feel threatened, so there you go. You could make the case you were threatened and still be judged that you were not. The penalty for illegally killing a snake could be six months in jail and a $1,000 fine, although I couldn’t find a case where someone spent a night in jail for killing a snake.

I did however, find some interesting statistics now that we are approaching “snake season.” There have been about 100 deaths reported in the entire history of the civilized United States due to a snakebite and almost half of them can be attributed to people keeping them as pets, using them for entertainiment or religious purposes, or trying to play with them, pick them up, or kill them.

Of the 100 deaths in the United States, 5 of them were in Virginia or neighboring North Carolina:

  • William Perrin was killed by a rattlesnake in Augusta County in 1859.
  • 12-year-old Mary Bull died after being bitten by a rattlesnake in Shenandoah County in 1907.
  • 10-year-old Mahel Coffey was picking berries near her home in Lenoir, North Carolina in 1941 when she was bitten by a rattlesnake and died.
  • Here in Henry County, June Engle of Ridgeway was in her yard tending to a flower garden almost 11 years ago to the day when she was bitten, presumably by a snake and died two days later.
  • The last death in our 2 states occurred on October 2, 2012, when 70-year-old Jack Redmond was killed in his home in Chesterfield, Virginia most likely by one or more of the 24 poisonous snakes he kept as pets.

There are 30 to 40 different kinds of snakes in our region, but only 3 of them are poisinous in our local area; copperheads, timber or canebrake rattlesnakes, and cottonmouths or water moccasins. Toward the eastern part of North Carolina you’ll have to add the eastern diamonback rattlesnake and the pigmy rattlesnake.

Remember, a snake, poisonous or not, is as afraid of you as you are of it. It does not want to interact with you and will gladly prefer to slip away given the opportunity.