What You Need to Know About Texas Snakes

Last fall, near the end of a round at Traditions Club in College Station, my 7-year-old son and I came across one of the grand facility’s maintenance men, who was staring into native brush and holding a rake. I recognized the pose.

“What kind of snake?” I asked.

“Big one,” he said, meaning he had no clue. “Keep back.”

My son heeded the caution. I pressed forward. In a low spot, stunned from chill and likely bruised from golf-course equipment already thrown its way, was a sleek, speckled king snake.

Closer to 4-feet than 3, it was a fine specimen—and rightfully agitated after dodging a barrage of tee markers and sand bottles. One attempt at a hand-grab was enough. It struck long distance and missed. I retrieved a 3-iron, hoisted the snake gently and had my son snap a picture of it.

This particular snake is among the prettiest of more than six-dozen species that move, mostly undetected and unbothered, around Texas. The majority eat rodents, frogs and toads and maybe an occasional fish. They are collectively disinterested in us and, when politely avoided, are unlikely to bite.

The best defense against a snakebite in Texas—or anywhere—is to avoid walking through and reaching into places where snakes might go to hide from us. Get some training and go looking, and you’ll likely find a snake or two. The beginning “snake hunter,” on his or her own, is more apt to find none in a year. The ones you don’t want to find, intentionally or otherwise, are Texas’ handful of venomous serpents.

Grumpiest, and capable of inflicting serious damage, is the western cottonmouth (or water moccasin). It is dark, almost black, and appears stubby alongside any other snake. If threatened, a moccasin will open wide and display its white mouth. You should back up, because it will not.

There are three rattlesnakes in Texas: western diamondback, canebrake and pigmy. The diamondback gets long and thick, and its hemotoxic venom eats away muscle and other soft tissue quickly. They’re why South Texas quail hunters wear snake-proof boots—they kill people.

The canebrake and pigmy are somewhat scarce. If you see one, get a photograph.

Most likely to “getcha” in Texas is the southern copperhead, with gray and tan coloration that blends well with fallen leaves and piles of junk around garages. Watch where you step and reach. The copperhead’s bite is far worse than a bee sting, but if you have to get bitten by a pit viper, this 2-footer with short fangs is top choice.

Coral snakes inject you with neurotoxic venom, the kind that messes with your brain and lungs and heart. They’re pretty and colorful—and tend to burrow into soft, moist vegetation. A bite is nasty but almost as unlikely as a sighting.

Like mine near College Station, the overwhelming majority of snake encounters bring you face-to-forked tongue with something that doesn’t want to hurt you and couldn’t if it did.

If a snake poses no direct threat to you or your family, let it walk…er, slither. Unless you’re a mouse rancher or frog farmer, chances are good that the animal is just passing through.

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