AUSTIN (KXAN) - The snake measures more than 6 feet, and 19-year-old Andrew Gerrie's catch would have been one for the record books had it only been what he had suspected -- a cottonmouth water moccasin.
Turns out it was a really large Texas rat snake, a species Parks and Wildlife officials said is extremely common throughout the state. That means the "totally harmless" snake is also commonly mistaken for other snakes, including venomous ones.
"I'm contacted by members of the public; they want to share with me a record cottonmouth, copperhead," said TPWD Herpetologist Andy Gluesenkamp. "And every single time it's a rat snake."
Gerrie, a University of Texas freshman, has lived in Austin his entire life and lives just minutes away from Bull Creek, a spot he's been visiting for years now. That's where he snagged the large snake this week.
Fishing for bass and catfish at Ranch to Market Road 2222 and Lakewood Drive, he saw something out of the corner of his eye. When he turned around to look behind him, he saw the snake curled up in a ball and showing its teeth.
"My heart stopped, but I was pretty excited, too, especially after I got to take a picture with it," said Gerrie, who thought it was a water moccasin at the time. "It's a pretty big snake. I've never seen one this big before."
And while he was spot on with a split-second throw of a rock toward the snake when it began slithering toward him, Gerrie said killing the snake was not his intent.
"I didn't want to kill it, just because I know they're good for the nature out here," said Gerrie. "I am aware that rat snakes, even water moccasins, are of importance to our ecosystem, and I do not want to disturb them in their environment."
Born with a fishing rod in his hand, Gerrie spends much of his time taking full advantage of the outdoor spaces the city has to offer.
And it's in those outdoor spaces Gluesenkamp said field guides will come in handy when it comes to navigating the often-mistaken identifications of Texas snakes. It will also help, Gluesenkamp said, "this phenomenon of people constantly killing them thinking they're something else."
The herpetologist said there are two things to consider when you're in a snake's habitat :
- It's bad for snakes when the population gets cut down.
- People should never assume any snake they encounter is venomous and dangerous.
"It's a burden of fear it seems a lot of people live on," said Gluesenkamp.
It's a fear Gerrie said won't stop him from heading out to his favorite fishing hole, though he'll be keeping a closer watch.
"I would rather be safe than sorry killing a snake that is too close for comfort," said Gerrie. "I really don't like killing snakes, but I felt like I had no other option. If it had been venomous, I would have been in danger."
Still, TPWD spokesman Tom Harvey said people are much more likely to die in a car wreck than to get bitten by a snake. He said the basic message is: Learn to identify venomous snakes and leave the other ones alone.
"If you leave them alone, you're a lot less likely to have a bad time," said Gluesenkamp.
Meanwhile, Gerrie will keep enjoying his catch-and-release hobby in the creek's waters and will try to make the most out of nature.
"I'd love to wrap the skin up and put it around my cowboy hat," said Gerrie.
Snakes this spring season
Dr. David Smith at Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital Fort Worth said snake season began six weeks ago because of the mild weather, according to NBC sister station KXAS in Dallas-Fort Worth.
The news came after David Whillock, of Colleyville, was bitten by a copperhead in early April when he reached to get a water hose outside his house.
However, as far as emerging snakes this season are concerned, Parks and Wildlife officials said things are looking normal.
"Things like drought can affect trends, but usually, it's just snakes doing their thing for the most part," said Harvey.
The mild weather has brought out other critters early this season, however.
There are 75 species of snakes in Texas, 11 of those being venomous snakes.
- Several rattlesnakes, including the three that interact significantly with human beings: western diamondback, prairie and eastern timber
- cottonmouth water moccasin
- coral snake
Of those venomous snakes, all except the coral are pit vipers -- meaning they deliver their venom in a strike through their retractable fangs.
The coral snakes, on the other hand, deliver their venom by chewing on you. That is why these snakes pose a greater danger for babies and elderly people, who are less likely to be able to quickly scoot away from the situation -- allowing the snakes the opportunity to deliver their venom.
Of the snakes that people encounter, Gluesenkamp said they're much much more likely to find a Texas rat snake or some other innocuous, nonvenomous snake.
In addition, he added that it's rare to encounter venomous snakes in Austin. He said it happens, but people are just far more likely to encounter these ubiquitous rat snakes.
Meanwhile, the record length for the Texas rat snake species is 86 inches long, or perhaps slightly more. That's 7 feet and 2 inches long.
The freezing and near-freezing rain that swooped into Central Texas overnight prompted numerous school closings and delays and made for a harrowing morning commute on Friday.
A man is charged with murder in the shooting death Wednesday of a woman at a North Austin auto repair shop, police said Friday.
A man is expected to survive after being stabbed in the head at the Salvation Army shelter in Downtown Austin at about 3:45 a.m. Friday.
As the Austin area prepares itself for an impending winter storm on Friday, Dec. 6, many schools have already announced delays.
With freezing temperatures pushing through the region, heating systems will likely be working overtime, which can bring rising energy bills.
Investigators are looking into an overnight fire that left one woman with third-degree burns.