As the warmth returns to the hills, so do the snakes crawl from their wherever it is that they hide away to return to our backyards. Texas is home to a wider diversity of snakes than any other state and while most native snakes are non-venomous, two families of snakes, coral and some pit vipers are. Of the 80 species of snakes in Central Texas, only four are venomous, rattlesnakes, copperheads, coral snakes, and cottonmouths, also known as water moccasins, have a bite of which to be wary.
Always use care when picking up or flipping over boars, logs, metal, or other items where copperheads may be resting. Indeed, keep a special eye out for the cottonmouth (water moccasin) near marshes, swamps, ponds, lakes, ditches, and canals Central Texas and along the Gulf coast. Most rattlesnakes are active at night though they’re found everywhere so just listen. The coral snake is pretty rarely seen as it’s shy.
So it’s spring, when snakes are emerging to find food, and tend to have a greater risk than later in the season, and you believe you’ve found a snake; you want to know what kind. First, let’s make sure. You’d be surprised, I’ve heard stories, even in my short time here, of discoveries that turn out to be lizards or hoses (no, I’m not suggesting you’ll mistake a hose for a snake… though some have). Let’s give this check list a review first:
- Does it have legs? YES? NOT a snake
- Does it have moveable eyelids? YES? It’s NOT a snake (and you thought after #1 that these would all be easy didn’t you?)
- Does it have external ear openings? YES? NOT a snake
- Does the animal have fins? YES? A fish
- Is the lower jaw separated into a right and left jawbone joined–at the chin–by a flexible ligament, rather than a single, rigid, lower jaw that does not allow movement between the right and left halves? And, does the animal have numerous ribs, rather than only a few pairs of ribs? Whoa. Yes? A snake
Is it venomous?
You may need to examine the snake’s head to figure this out. Simply, don’t. DO NOT do this with a live snake. Even attempting to do this with a dead venomous snake can result in injury or death. This is meant to be informative only, hire a professional to identify a snake that may be venomous and leave it be!
- Are there rattles at the end of the snake’s tail? YES? A Rattlesnake, and venomous
- Does the snake have a pit (a depression between its nostril and the eye on the side of its head? YES? A Pit Viper, and venomous
- Does the snake have red, yellow-ish, and black bands on its body? YES? MAY be a Texas Coral Snake, and venomous. Many other snakes have similar markings; it’s the yellow that distinguishes these but better safe than sorry, stay away from the pattern
- Now this one is toughest to ID as many non-venomous snakes look similar: Does it have cat’s eyes (vertical pupils) with scales under the tail arranged in a single row? YES? Likely a Copperhead or Cottonmouth, both venomous
Snakes are not easy to identify. Coloration, head shape, and other physical characteristics of the animal may be so common that identification will be misleading. DO NOT rely on what I’ve shared here. If bitten, seek medical attention and stay away from the snake.
If ANY snake bites you, the Centers for Disease Control says you should:
- Get medical attention as soon as possible
- Try to remember the color and shape of the snake to assist in the treatment of the snakebite
- Stay calm to help slow down the spread of venom
- Limit movement of the bitten limb and keep it below the heart
- Remove jewelry and constricting clothing before swelling
- Apply a tourniquet
- Slash the wound with a knife
- Suck out the venom
- Apply ice or immerse the wound in water
- Drink alcohol
- Drink caffeinated beverages
Finally, since I couldn’t find a fun video about Snakes (other than Snakes on a Plane), I leave you with this walk down memory lane as a duck and a rabbit fight over the turn of their own seasons.
Addition after the original post: My wife mentioned the Steiner Snakeman after I wrote this up and, turning to the community online, it didn’t take long to figure out who he is, with an endless amount of gratitude for what he does. Todd Lapittus will come to your house and remove and relocate any “creepy crawly thing” for free: 512-944-0633 – You may run in to him giving a snake seminar to kids at one of the community centers. Todd, if you read this, I’d love to tell your story here; drop me a line.