Diamondback water snakes might surprise you

This big diamondback water snake was among many spotted last week along a river

We were about the only boat on the Nueces River last Friday, March 4, and the white bass were plentiful and easy to catch. Everything seemed to be fine until I noticed something at the back of the boat. I looked over and about 3 feet of a 5-foot-long snake had slithered into the boat. Talk about a panic attack. There were two of us in a 17-foot, flat-bottomed boat, and there definitely was not any room left for a snake. I quickly whacked it with the tip of my fishing pole and it reversed direction and swam out of sight.

The good news is that it was nothing more than a diamondback water snake. The bad news is that at first glance, they look like a cross between a water moccasin and a rattler. And they are not shy. In fact, they can be aggressive enough to give you a good scare.

Regardless of what kind of snake this one was, my heart was about to blow right out of my chest.

Although it’s still winter, it’s definitely warm enough for snakes to be out and about. While fishing on the Nueces, I bet we saw at least 50 snakes. Most were diamondbacks, but a few were unidentified.

Over the years I’ve had many encounters with snakes on the water. Most were on rivers and backwater areas of lakes. A few years ago I was getting in a kayak on the Angelina River and just about walked on water when a big snake popped up from beneath my lifejacket on the front deck.

Diamondback water snakes are fairly common all over Texas, especially on rivers, lakes and creeks in the Pineywoods. They are appropriately named because they look a lot like a diamondback rattlesnake. They are heavy bodied, ranging from greenish brown to brown with a net-like pattern formed by dark blotches along the back, similar to a rattler. The blotches are connected by alternating dark bars on their sides, leading to a yellow underbelly.

Many of the diamondbacks we saw the other day were bunched up on limbs, logs and stumps at the water’s edge. Their mating occurs in late winter and early spring, and they give birth to live young — from 14 to 60 snakes at a time. Maybe that’s why they are so numerous. These snakes, which can easily reach lengths of 4 to 5 feet, troll shallow shorelines feeding on frogs and small fish. Thank goodness they are not dangerous as are many other snakes in these parts.

Texas is home to 15 venomous snakes, and plenty of people are hit by them each year, some fatally. However, each year, more deaths in Texas are caused by lightning strikes than from venomous snakebites. Here’s another fact – bites are usually a result from a snake being surprised, cornered or from someone handling them.

One of the most common poisonous snakes in Southeast Texas is a water moccasin, aka cottonmouth. This is a nasty snake that won’t hesitate to lash out at you in a second. If you encounter this snake turn around and go the other way. Definitely don’t jack with them. They will come at you.

Cottonmouths can be dark brown, olive-brown, olive green or almost solid black. They are marked with wide, dark bands. The cottonmouth gets its name from the white tissue inside its mouth, which it displays when threatened. This is a heavy-bodied snake with an average length of 3-1/2 feet. They are most often found in bayous, swamps, rivers and small ponds.

A copperhead is another fairly common poisonous snake found in and around Beaumont and surrounding areas, especially the Pineywoods. I’ve killed three here in Beaumont over the past few years. All were in flower beds, which explains why most bites are on the hands of unsuspecting gardeners.

Copperheads, ranging from 20 to 30 inches long, have chestnut or reddish-brown cross bands on a lighter colored body.

Two other venomous reptiles found in Southeast Texas are rattlers and coral snakes. However, both are pretty rare in this region of Texas.

I’ll bet you don’t know this. The brightly colored Texas coral snake is the state’s only member of the Elapidae family, which includes the cobras of Asia and Africa.

A coral snake is thin and is usually 2-1/2 feet or shorter. Its distinctive pattern is a broad black ring, a narrow yellow ring and a broad red ring, with the red rings always bordered by the yellow rings. Several harmless snakes are similarly marked, but never with the red and yellow touching. Remember this: Red on yellow, kill a fellow; red on black, venom lack.

Just in case you get whacked by a poisonous snake, try not to panic, and get to an ER as soon as possible. It’s that simple.


Robert Sloan can be reached by e-mail at sloan288 [at] aol [dot] com.