Living alongside poisonous snakes in Southeast Texas

I love snakes. NOT! In fact, in my way of thinking, the only good snake is a dead snake. And yes, I know that there are a lot of “good” snakes that keep the rodent population under control around our homes. That was going through my mind this week as I dispatched not one but two big rat snakes that just about gave me heart failure.

While getting my bird hunting gear in order this week, I was cleaning out a gear bag. I reached into one of the pockets and just about came unglued when I realized that I had my fingers around a live snake. I’m surprised I didn’t dislocate my wrist in an effort to get it out of the bag. After I managed not to stroke out, I picked up the bag, shook it and two rat snakes fell out on the ground. It was not a good day for those snakes.

The ugly truth is that we are infested with snakes, both non-venomous and venomous, here on the right side of Texas. And right about this time of year is when a lot of us hunt for doves and teal in some prime snake habitat.

We have four species of poisonous snakes here in Southeast Texas. The worst, and probably the most numerous, is a water moccasin, aka cottonmouth. The other three are copperheads, rattlers and coral snakes.

Here’s some info on each from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department:

Cottonmouths

The Latin name piscivorous means “fish eating,” indicating its dietary characteristics. Also known as “water moccasins,” only one recognized subspecies is found in Texas, the Western cottonmouth. Cottonmouths can be dark brown, olive-brown, olive green or almost solid black. They are marked with wide, dark bands, which are more distinct in some individuals than in others. Juvenile snakes are more brilliantly marked. The cottonmouth gets its name from the white tissue inside its mouth, which it displays when threatened. This heavy-bodied snake, which averages about 3 1/2 feet in length, is found over the eastern half of the state in swamps and sluggish waterways, coastal marshes, rivers, ponds and streams.

Copperheads

Copperheads have chestnut or reddish-brown cross bands on a lighter colored body. These snakes are found in rocky areas and wooded bottomlands and are rare in dry areas. In the spring they can be found along streams and rivers, as well as in weed-covered vacant lots. There are three subspecies of copperheads in Texas: Southern copperheads at 20-30 inches long and found in the eastern one-third of the state; broad banded copperheads are about 2 feet long, widely scattered in central and western Texas; and the Trans-Pecos copperhead.

Rattlesnakes

Here in Southeast Texas, we have two kinds of rattlesnakes – the Western diamondback and timber rattler.

A Western diamondback is brown, with diamond-shaped markings along the middle of the back and alternating black and white rings on the tail. They average 3 1/2 to 4 1/2 feet in length, and can reach 7 feet. This is the most common and widespread venomous snake in Texas.A timber rattler, also known as a cane break rattlesnake, is a large, heavy-bodied snake averaging 4 1/2 feet. They’re brown or tan with wide, dark cross bands. The tail is entirely black. It’s found in the eastern third of the state in wooded areas in wet bottomlands.

Coral snakes

The brightly colored Texas coral snake is the state’s only member of the Elapidae family, which includes the cobras of Asia and Africa. The coral snake is slender with a small indistinctive head and round pupils, and is usually is 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. “Red on yellow, kill a fellow; red on black, venom lack,” is a handy way to distinguish the highly venomous coral snake from nonvenomous ringed species. Coral snakes are found in the southeastern half of Texas in woodlands, canyons and coastal plains.

One thing is certain about a snake – you never know when or where you’re going to have a close encounter with one. A friend of mine here in Southeast Texas had a coral snake crawl between his legs while sitting on his back porch a few years back. A few years ago I did a story on a fishing guide that had a rattler crawl over the transom of his boat while out on the bay.

More often than not dove and duck hunters are going to come in contact with cottonmouths. That’s especially true for duck hunters, which is always a good reason to bring along a good flashlight and thoroughly check out your blind before entering. Ditto that for boats and duck buggies parked at camps.

The best way to keep from getting whacked by a snake is to wear snake-proof boots. The latest jag among a lot of guides is to wear snake-proof boots when hunting teal or doves. The most popular brand are the Redhead knee-high boots that zip up. They pull double duty for wade fishing and hunting.

The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department reports that most snakebites occur when people are aggravating or trying to kill them. The best thing to do is to either blast ’em with a shotgun or, better yet, head the other way.

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