AUSTIN (KXAN) — As summer months draw near and temperatures rise, so do the odds of snakes coming out to hiss — or deliver a dangerous kiss!
While snakes serve valuable functions to their habitats (more on that below), it’s important to know what to look out for – for their safety and yours.
Many types of venomous snakes call Texas home: here’s how to spot them and what to do if you find yourself on the receiving end of a nasty bite.
Lone Star Snakes
These serpents are among the most common found in Texas, according to Texas Parks and Wildlife. There are 10 species found in the state — including the Western diamondback, the most common venomous snake in all of Texas.
You can spot a Western diamondback by the brown, diamond-shaped marks down its back and white and black rings near the tail. They can reach up to seven feet, TPW says.
Other rattlers include the Timber rattlesnake, Mottled Rock rattlesnake, Banded Rock rattlesnake, Blacktail rattlesnake — many are found in the western parts of Texas.
Copperheads can be found all across Texas, with three subspecies claiming different territories for themselves.
The Southern copperhead can grow up to 20-30 inches long and is found in the eastern one-third of Texas. The Trans-Pecos copperhead is about the same size and can be found in the area of its namesake. Meanwhile, the Broadbanded copperhead can be found in central and western Texas and can be up to two feet long! No internet connectivity, despite its name.
These are also commonly known as “water moccasins.”
These can be various shades of brown, green and even black. You can spot them by distinct colored bands across their bodies. There’s only one recognized subspecies found in Texas: the Western cottonmouth. This snake, TPW says, is the world’s only semi-aquatic viper, which is a family of snake species.
The cottonmouth’s name comes from the white tissue that can be seen inside its mouth, which can be seen when it’s threatened.
Cottonmouths can be up to 3 1/2 feet in length and found in eastern Texas swamps, waterways, marshes and other bodies of water.
Texas Parks and Wildlife says these are the only snake in the state that’s brightly colored: red, yellow and black rings encircle its body. Venomous Coral snakes are dangerous for several reasons: including that they look similar to other non-poisonous snakes.
But there are ways to tell the difference — an old rhyme you may remember: “Red next to black-friend of Jack; red next to yellow will kill a fellow.”
Rings on non-venomous snakes, like Texas scarlet snakes, also stop near the upper body.
Coral snakes are generally not aggressive but can deliver a serious bite if threatened. They tend to eat other snakes and reptiles.
Snakes in Your Home
No one likes uninvited house guests. The Austin Animal Center has previously reported fielding large numbers of calls of snakes being found in area homes during warmer temperatures.
A few tips the center offers:
- Keep lawns trimmed. Snakes love hiding in tall grass and brush piles.
- Keep rodents away. While snakes are great mouse and rat catchers, you also likely don’t want snakes in your home, either. Keeping your home rodent-free will decrease the likelihood a slithery friend may come searching for a snack.
- Keep competition. Austin Animal Center says snakes are competitive and don’t like to share food between venomous and non-venomous types. Keeping a non-venomous rat snake around the house could deter a rattler or a copperhead from taking over.
If you happen to get bitten, Dr. Jeremy Kenter, with Ally Medical Emergency Rom in Bastrop recommends acting as soon as possible.
“The most important thing to do if you are bit by a rattlesnake is really get to your closest ER. Rattlesnake bites are extremely dangerous,” said Kenter. “One thing you should do if you are bit is call ahead to make sure they do have the antivenom.”
Wanting to treat your bite immediately may also tempt you to try a home remedy you may have heard, like sucking out the venom. But St. David’s Round Rock nurse Kristen Hullum says not so fast.
There are some cowboy movies suggesting to suck the venom out,” said Hullum. “You don’t want to do that.”
Texas Parks and Wildlife also recommends keeping victims — or yourself — calm, while keeping the bitten arm or leg below heart level. Next, clean the bite with soap and water. Remove tight-fitting clothes and jewelry since swelling may occur.
If possible, you should try to identify the snake that bit you, but if it will take too much time, you should call 911 immediately.
Snakes are useful
While many of us share a common fear of snakes — also called Ophidiophobia — they creatures don’t prey on humans and generally like to avoid us altogether. Most snake bites are the result of humans being reckless or threatening to snakes, TPW says.
Snakes have historically been maligned, write University of Illinois’ Wildlife Epidemiology Laboratory students Katie V. and Kennymac, in their article, “Why YOU Should Care about Snakes.”
Snakes have been the victim of many unprovoked attacks and killings, but it’s important for humans to know how much good the animals provide to their habitats. One big help snakes offer is by controlling pest populations — and controlling the harmful diseases they can carry.
The Circle of Life: while snakes are predators, they’re also prey for other animals. This, according to the Wildlife Epidemiology Lab, is what’s called being a “mesopredator.” Larger predators like foxes, birds of prey, and bigger snakes are quick to snatch up a smaller snake.
Overall, snakes serve critical roles in sustaining Earth’s ecosystems. So keep your distance and let snakes do their work!