Missouri teen discovers copperhead snake inside washing machine while doing laundry
Editor's note: A previous version of this story had the incorrect date the snake was discovered.
Doing laundry can be a mundane household chore, but one Greene County teen discovered a slithery surprise when she went to put her wet clothes into the dryer.
A copperhead was in the freshly washed load the evening of July 2, said Jessica Bruner, the 15-year-old’s mother.
“When she pulled a pair of shorts out, the copperhead came out of it,” Bruner told the News-Leader Monday. “It was sitting on top of the clothes, trying to strike.”
The working theory Bruner has is that the snake somehow crawled into the basket while it was placed on the ground.
After taking a quick photograph, Brunner attempted to get the reptile with a grabber tool.
“At waist height, it was a little hard because it was trying to strike,” she said.
Having no luck finding a reptile rescue through online searches or calls to the Missouri Department of Conservation Department going unanswered due to the late hour, Bruner searched on Facebook and found TRL Reptiles.
“I called (Jake Whitehead), he rushed right over and hooked it with one of those snake hooks and put it in a container,” Bruner said.
As far as how Bruner’s daughter is doing?
“Not laundry, that’s for sure,” she joked. “She’ll definitely be looking for these things before she sticks her hand into places, and we’re really luck she didn’t get bit. She was quick enough to get her hand out of there before it striked (sic) because it was mad.”
The Bruner family lives in a wooded area outside of Fair Grove and are no strangers to critters ― “about every type of snake you can think of, squirrels and a raccoon” ― getting into the walk-in basement and garage area, especially during a drought, Bruner said.
“It makes you feel a little insecure when you have a snake in somewhere and you don’t know how it got there, but we just keep pushing forward,” Bruner said. “This is part of living in the country that people don’t tell you about until you get there.”
This copperhead was not only a first for the Bruners, but also for Jake Whitehead, with TRL Reptiles.
When Whitehead gets calls about snakes, it’s usually because “they needed somebody there before they found it,” he said.
“I try to keep everything I might need in my truck ready to go, so all I have to do is hop in,” Whitehead said. “A copperhead in a washing machine is not something somebody wants to wait on.”
Using a snake hook and leather gloves, Whitehead was able to get the snake without a fight before setting it in a bin. He also checked the rest of the washer and behind to make sure it was clear of snakes.
“We live out in the sticks, so I released it where we’re at,” Whitehead said.
Wrangling snakes is a side hustle for Whitehead, but this was the first call he got about a snake this year so far. Normally, Whitehead deals with black snakes.
“They’re the ones that generally will find their way into and onto about anything they can,” Whitehead said.
Copperheads aren’t normally climbers, so Whitehead and Bruner still think that the reptile hitched an inadvertent ride in the basket.
“It seemed healthy enough,” Whitehead said. “It didn’t look like it had just gone through a rinse cycle.”
What to do when you see a snake
If you don't know what to do if you find a snake in your home, Whitehead hopes that people call for help.
“I’d rather them call because most of the snakes end up getting killed, and it’s generally unnecessary,” he said. “I recommend not to kill them. A lot of times you were in their area, so they’re just going where they go.”
If you’re not 100 percent sure what kind of snake it is, you don’t want to grab at it.
“There’s no sense in chancing it,” he said. “They’ll slip you really quick and get away.”
Whitehead knows how squirrely snakes can be because a copperhead bit him four years ago.
“It was a lot of swelling and a lot of pain,” Whitehead said. “I was actually holding it. It’s something that I’ve done a bunch, and I just honestly lost respect for what I was doing in the moment.”
Don’t pick them up, Whitehead recommended.
Missouri's venomous vs. Non-venomous snakes
All venomous snakes native to Missouri are members of the pit viper family. They have a pit located between the eye and nostril on each side of the head while also having a pair of fangs. Pupils on venomous snakes appear as vertical slits within the iris.
Missouri's venomous snakes include the copperhead, cottonmouth, western pygmy rattlesnake, massasauga rattlesnake, and timber rattlesnake. The western diamond-backed rattlesnake and coralsnake are not found in Missouri.
The most common venomous snake in Missouri is the copperhead.
Harmless snakes have round pupils and a double row of scales along the undersides of their tails.
Although the venomous snakes have a somewhat triangle-shaped head, several harmless species, such as watersnakes, gartersnakes, and hog-nosed snakes, can and do flatten their heads, which can cause them to appear triangular.
All snakes native to Missouri are protected. The Wildlife Code of Missouri considers snakes, lizards and most turtles as nongame.
“This means that there is no open season on these animals, and it is technically unlawful to kill them,” according to MDC. “There is a realistic exception, however: when a venomous snake is in close association with people, which could result in someone being bitten. We hope that more people realize that snakes are interesting, valuable, and, for the most part, harmless.”
Sara Karnes is an Outdoors Reporter with the Springfield News-Leader. Follow along with her adventures on Twitter and Instagram @Sara_Karnes. Got a story to tell? Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.