A Missouri teen was emptying her washing machine. She found a copperhead snake.

Sara Karnes
Springfield News-Leader

Doing laundry can be a mundane household chore, but one teen discovered a slithery surprise when she went to put her wet clothes into the dryer.

A copperhead was in the freshly washed load, 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.”

Bruner believes the snake somehow crawled into the basket while it was on the ground.

After taking a quick photograph, Brunner tried to get the reptile with a grabber tool. 

A Greene Country teen found a copperhead inside her family’s washing machine July 2, 2021.

“At waist height, it was a little hard because it was trying to strike,” she said.

She was unable to find a reptile rescue through online searches and could not reach the Missouri Department of Conservation, so Bruner searched on Facebook and found the pet service TRL Reptiles.

She called Jake Whitehead of TRL, and "he rushed right over and hooked it with one of those snake hooks and put it in a container,” Bruner said. 

And how is Bruner’s daughter 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 lucky she didn’t get bit. She was quick enough to get her hand out of there ... because it was mad.”

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The Bruner family lives in a wooded area outside 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 Whitehead.

Black rat snakes like this 4 1/2 foot long one, are Missouri's biggest snake and can grow up to 7 feet.

“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 into 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 his first snake call this year. Usually 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 usually aren’t climbers, so Whitehead and Bruner still think the reptile hitched a ride in the basket. 

“It seemed healthy enough,” Whitehead said. “It didn’t look like it had just gone through a rinse cycle.”

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What to do when you see a snake

Whitehead says people should call for help if they find a snake in their home. 

“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 sure what kind of snake it is, you don’t want to grab 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,” he 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.”

Missouri's venomous versus non-venomous snakes

The Missouri Department of Conservation shares a guide on venomous and non-venomous snakes in the state.

All venomous snakes native to Missouri are members of the pit viper family. They have a pit between the eye and nostril on each side of the head and 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 diamondback rattlesnake and coral snake 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.

Copperhead snakes are part of a sub-family, pit vipers.

Although the venomous snakes have a somewhat triangle-shaped head, several harmless species, such as water snakes, garter snakes 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,” the state conservation department says. “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.”

Follow Sara Karneson Twitter @Sara_Karnes.