Thursday, February 12, 2009

Afraid of snakes and you live near The Woodlands?

Even if you do not live near The Woodlands, this is probably for you. The East Texas piney woods is not a dangerous place for snakes. Here in The Woodlands, we cautiously look for only three venomous snakes and only one is really of much concern. Not bad considering there are some seventeen snake varieties expected to be seen in this area! Learn these three and you have it made. There is possibly a fourth venomous snake that might be seen, that is on the endangered list, but I really doubt any of us will ever see it. I will also describe it here nevertheless.

First be safe outdoors. When gardening, wear gloves when working in in and among vegetation. For clothing, wear long pants and shoes. Don't allow children to play outside barefooted. These are practical safety tips for everyone irregardless of what we do outside. Stepping on a rusty nail is probably more apt to occur than running across a snake. Snakes do bite and they can hurt but most of the time, that is all there is to it. Still, be safe and if you or your child is bitten, go to the clinic. Don't panic, just casually go there to have it looked at. The staff will want to know what the snake looked like. If you know your venomous snakes, you already know whether the snake is venomous or not. Chances are even if it is venomous, there is no venom in your wound.

Speaking of risk, do you know how many fatalities we have each year in Texas as a result of a snake bite? We average less than one per year for the entire state. Those usually occur in the hill country or in West Texas or on the coast. (Be careful in the dune grasses of Galveston or Padre Island - rattle snakes there are very dangerous). I don't believe we have had any deaths in east Texas. But people do get bitten. Many times when people are bitten by a venomous snake, the snake releases zero or only a small amount of venom. They are known to conserve their venom for catching prey. They know you are not food and they need to eat! A baby snake may be more apt to hurt you, because he probably has not learned yet to conserve his venom.
Courtesy of Troy 1. Click on photo for detailed view. Copperhead.

Let's take a look at the venomous species. It behooves us to learn to identify these three common snakes. The most likely one you are to encounter is the Southern Copperhead. This one is the most populous of the venomous snakes in this area. The key identifying marks are the clear dark patterns that look like Hershey Kisses on the side of the snake, with the tip of the kiss on the top of the back, often touching the kiss on the other side. Another way to look at the markings is to envision an hour glass with the center of the hour glass on the top of the back. Hershey kisses are easy to remember. Characteristically, the snake will be light colored underneath, a light brown base on its sides and top, with fairly sizable kisses on the sides. Our first lesson - Don't kiss a Hershey Kiss snake! In fact, stay clear of it. They will not harm you unless you corner it or otherwise threaten it in some way. Let it be - all snakes have value in the forest. This snake might climb up into a bush looking for food.
Courtesy of Troy 1. Click on photo for detailed view. Adult Cottonmouth.

The next likely problem snake would be the Western Cottonmouth. This one is less populous but very wide-spread and likely to be found on or near the water. This one is a little more difficult to identify. The head is the key to this snake. At some distance, you might see a fully black snake, or a very dark snake with barely visible brown rings or if a young lad, it might have irregular dark rings around a brown body. The rings fade as the snake ages. To confirm your sighting, you would examine the head.
Courtesy of Troy 1. Click on photo for detailed view. Juvenile Cottonmouth.

It will have a dark stripe on the sides of its head, resembling the face of a raccoon. So remember, raccoons don't eat cotton; they just have in their mouth! It is dangerous. Inside the mouth of these slippery creatures are little pieces of tissue that look like cotton. This is not the only snake that has this in its mouth, so use the external head criteria to identify the snake. This snake likes to eat food near the water, such as frogs.

Courtesy of Troy 1. Click on photo for detailed view. Coral Snake.

The less likely snake to run encounter is the most dangerous but not seen very often. Its venom is the strongest. The Coral Snake has a small mouth and has more difficulty than other snakes breaking the skin and even more of a problem trying to get through your clothing. However, its teeth are sharp and given sufficient time, can and will envenom a person. Consider this snake very dangerous and do not touch it or threaten it! This one is colorful, but there are several species that can appear to be a coral snake and are not. Every other ring is yellow. There is no other snake with that attribute, but there are others with yellow rings. The rings are red, yellow, black, yellow then the ring color pattern is repeated. If you see yellow bands in the day, this is it. If you see yellow bands at night, it is another species, such as the King Snake. So remember, yellow bands in the day are dangerous. Stay clear. Just let him be. There is no need ever to harm a snake. He wants to be left alone just as you do.

The only other possible dangerous snake is the Timber Rattlesnake. If you see rattles on the end of the tail, it is dangerous. Always! And the rattlers do make noise.

Other non-dangerous snakes you may see here include: nocturnal Milk Snake (every other band is black), Buttermilk Racer (also known as the Blue Racer), Rubber Snake, Eastern Hognose, Texas Rat Snake, Rough Green Snake, Texas Brown Snake, Rough Earth Snake, Yellow Belly Water Snake (raccoon mask on head 4-4.5 ft), Blotched Water Snake (black with some white), Diamondback Water Snake (5 ft checkered pattern), very common Broad Banded Water Snake (Black and white bands), Western Mud Snake (reds on it with rectangles underneath), Speckled King Snake (looks like small white dots all over it).

Other trivia to know: all snakes can and will swim in water. They know how to survive in bogs and swamps. Mothballs are good to repel snakes from an area.


Thanks to Mike Howlett of Houston Herpetology Supply for presenting this material to us. He sells snakes and snake supplies at in Spring, Texas.

1Thanks to Troy Hobbitts for providing his 2006 copyrighted photos of the venomous species to help you visually identify snakes here in The Woodlands.

And thanks to several others who also shared their knowledge of snakes in this part of Texas.

This is an interesting video of a "land snake" swimming in water. A Rattle Snake!


She sure is strange! said...

My family and I are Longview Texas natives but spent a few years in Spring, just minutes from The Woodlands.

This nature blog is wonderful!! I found it in a search for pickerel frogs and have enjoyed reading every post, especially the coyote one(we're dealing with them in our neighborhood). I've passed it on to my homeschool group for their nature studies. Keep up the great work! Thank you!!!!

Molly Sonier and family

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this information. I not long ago moved to Etoile ( a street over from the Angelina River) and live right on the lake, and was fearful of snakes near me. I'm glad I came across this information, makes me feel a little more at peace and insightful. Thanks

E-Man said...

Great article but some of your memory phrases are ones I've never heard of and not as easy to remember as the facts or the ones I learned.

For instance with the Coral Snake I can easily remember "Red touches yellow, you're a dead fellow; red touches black, you're okay jack."

I've never encountered an adult Copperhead but I have run across babies coiled up on two occasions here in Henderson county. One time my Grandmother was compulsively picking up sticks and then reached down and said "That's not a stick!". The other one was when I was playing with a dart blowgun or something and I was about to pick up a dart or BB in the leaves and grass and I saw it, and was about to reach for it when something made me stop. Then I noticed a coiled baby copperhead.

Oh, and by the way "irregardless" is NOT a word.

Unknown said...

Irreguardless is a word look it up