Wednesday, August 17, 2005 BY BILL SWAYZE Star-Ledger Staff Stephen Sodones spotted it along the edge of Route 23 in Jefferson, a snake just starting its precarious slide to the other side of the highway. So the 62-year-old animal lover picked it up, hoping to carry it to safety. But in doing so, Sodones quickly learned one of nature's more important facts: Snakes bite. What bit Sodones three times on the arm Monday night was a copperhead, which can grow to 4 feet and have fangs like hypodermic needles. No one is quite sure how big this one was. Sodones, who lives in the Newfoundland section of Jefferson, remained hospitalized last night in the intensive care unit at Chilton Memorial Hospital in Pompton Plains. His condition was listed as critical, but improving, a hospital spokeswoman said. Sodones was given an antivenin intravenously, and is expected to be fine, said Steven Marcus, medical director at New Jersey Poison Information and Education System. Some say Sodones could have fared much worse. "If you had to be bit by some venomous snake, you'd want it to be a copperhead," said Joe Abene, venomous snake expert at the Bronx Zoo. "Most people do not have to go to the hospital." Copperheads get their name from the copper-like hue of the head and are fairly common in the Jefferson area. They account for more cases of venomous snake bites than any other snakes, but their venom is the least toxic of the species, according to the Web site snakesandfrogs.com. What prompted Sodones to pick up the snake in the first place remains a question to police, authorities said. But to those who know Sodones, his actions made perfect sense. A animal lover, Sodones lives alone with a white long-haired cat named "Old Cat." He likes to feed bears and stop traffic so ducks can walk across the road. Not too long ago, he tried to revive a bumblebee, keeping it in the palm of his hand with some water until it buzzed away two hours later, said John Bross, a friend and neighbor. "One time, I stepped on a spider and he wouldn't talk to me for two days," Bross said. "Steve's got a problem with animals. He loves them too much." Friends said Sodones routinely takes walks along Route 23, not far from his house. At about 8:30 Monday night, he spotted the reptile in the road. When he picked it up, it attacked him, police said. At first, Sodones didn't think much about the bites. But about four hours later, when he felt woozy, Sodones called 911, police said. By then, the snake was long gone. "It was a good thing to do, but the wrong way to do it. I wouldn't recommend anyone touch a venomous snake unless they know what they are doing," Abene said. "What the heck was he thinking?" Staff writer Jordan Doronila contributed to this report.