Everything is bigger in Texas, right? Well, that mantra certainly doesn't exclude the state population, which comprises more than a dozen venomous species. While most of these are various rattlesnake subspecies, there are a handful of other snakes in the Lone Star State that can deliver a harmful bite, too.
However, while snakes do pose a danger to Texas residents, it's easy to avoid an unpleasant run-in with them by simply having an understanding of the different species in your area, or in the region of our next outdoor adventure. By learning distinct differences at first glance, you'll quickly be able to tell if a nearby snake is venomous and should thus be avoided, or you can tell if a snakebite needs immediate medical attention should you not spot it before encountering it. Additionally, in the unlikely even you are bitten, you'll be able to tell the doctors at the emergency room exactly what kind of snake delivered the bite, allowing them to select the proper antivenom.
Here is our field guide to Texas' venomous snakes.
There are five different subspecies of this snake (Agkistrodon contortrix) found in the United States and Texas is home to at least three of them, according to Texas Parks and Wildlife. They include the Trans-Pecos copperhead, the Southern Copperhead and the Broad-banded Copperhead, each of which tops out at around 24 inches in length.
All three snakes have triangular heads and light-colored bodies that can vary from tan to a reddish-brown coloration. The color is marked over with darker crossbands that can vary from dark brown to almost red or black. Sometimes these crossbands can take on an "hourglass" shape which you can see in the photo above.
When it comes to Copperheads, however, you should always be wary of juvenile snakes, which hatch in August and September and are about 7-8 inches long. While the younger snakes can be colored just like the adults, many of them often take on a total gray coloration, which can make them difficult to identify. The easy giveaway to a baby copperhead, though, is its tail, which is usually bright yellow or green. It's important to remember that these snakes are just as venomous as the adults, meaning you have to seek help immediately if you suffer a bite from one of them.
The distribution of copperheads largely depends on the subspecies. The Trans-Pecos variation is found mostly in South Texas. Ironically enough, Southern Copperheads are found in East Texas, while the Broad-banded is resides mostly in the western and central regions. Keep an eye out for copperheads in wet areas near lakes and rivers and wherever grasses are found. Bank fishermen should probably use the most caution in watching for this species, as these snakes will often be hunting fish or small amphibians that frequent marshy freshwater banks.
One of the most dangerous snakes in North America, the rattlesnake is easily the biggest concern in the Lone Star State. Texans should be wary to nine different subspecies and the venomous snake bites they could bring. These animals have potent venom, so it's best to give them a wide berth. For simplicity's sake, here is the full list:
- Blacktail Rattlesnake
- Banded Rock Rattlesnake
- Desert Massasauga Rattlesnake
- Western Massasauga Rattlesnake
- Western Diamondback Rattlesnake
- Mottled Rock Rattlesnake
- Timber Rattlesnake
- Prairie Rattlesnake
- Mojave Rattlesnake
The Western Massasauga and Desert Massasauga are two of the smaller variations, only growing to around 21-24 inches. These two species are usually found in tall grass and marshy areas. They are a bit less common to run into, but you should at least be aware of them.
The blacktail rattlesnake is probably one of the easier Texas snakes to spot because the name is usually quite literal. While the overall color of the snake varies from brown to green, the tail above the rattles is almost jet black in coloration. This species is found mostly through the central and western parts of Texas. It is notable that one was found in Travis County near Austin last June. That marked the first time that species had been observed in that county since 1965.
The Mojave rattlesnake may get mistaken for the Western Diamondback, although the Mojave does not grow quite as large. Typically found only on the far western edge of the state, this snake often has the typical tan and brown colorations rattlesnakes are known for, but can also develop green hues.
The Banded Rock rattler is another most Texans are not likely to encounter because of its nocturnal tendencies. It also lives exclusively in west Texas where it doesn't experience a ton of human interaction. This species only grows to about 24 inches, usually donning grey with darker crossbands, and occasionally some green, too.
Another species only found in the western part of the state is the Mottled Rock rattler. This one also has a light-colored body marked with dark bands, and grows a little larger than the Banded Rock, reaching up to 32 inches. This one is sometimes called the "Blue" or "Pink" rattlesnake.
The two big rattler species to be concerned about in Texas are the Western Diamondback and Timber Rattlesnake, which happen to be the two species that grow the largest. Found all over the western half of Texas, Diamondbacks can easily reach 4 feet in length. They usually sport grey or brown in coloration with "diamond" blotches that are brown, grey or almost black. The tail is also marked with black bands.
The Timber Rattlesnake does not grow as large as the Diamondback, but it is still a sizable snake, reaching an easy 3-4 feet. This one is usually brown, tan or yellow in color. Unlike the diamondback, it's banded with distinctive brown or black crossbands. However, be careful, as some specimens take on an almost uniform black coloration without distinctive bands.
The giveaway for any rattlesnake is the segmented, hollow tail that gives off the distinctive rattling sound these snakes are known for. This bone-chilling sound will make almost anyone stop in their tracks or even panic, but try your best to stay calm. The best thing you can do is slowly back away and exit the area quickly and quietly. Odds are, if you leave the snake alone, they will leave you alone, too. If you are bitten, seek first aid immediately.
Agkistrodon Piscivorus, aka the "Water Moccasin" is the next species Texans should be able to identify. Fortunately, unlike the many species of rattlesnakes in Texas, there is only one subspecies of this pit viper in the Lone Star State. That species is the Western Cottonmouth, which you'll only run into in central and east Texas.
The Cottonmouth grows to a little over 30 inches as an adult. You will often read tall tales on the Internet that stretch the size of some specimens like an old fisherman spinning yarns about the big one that got away. Take those with a grain of salt, as most Cottonmouth rumors don't carry a whole lot of weight. Look for the broad, triangular-shaped head as your first giveaway that this animal is one to stay away from.
The color of a Cottonmouth varies wildly. Most seem to be brown, tan or gray, but there have also been examples that are nearly jet black. That makes it harder to spot the distinctive crossbands over much of the reptile's body. These crossbands usually have a lighter portion in the center and a darker outline on the edges that will stand out clearly on the light-colored background.
Another distinctive way to spot this species is through its signature threat display. It may try to scare you away simply by opening its mouth widely. The photo above shows one such display. The inside of the mouth is white, which is precisely how it earns the name "Cottonmouth." You should be especially wary of this species while fishing or swimming in lakes or streams, as its venom is potent enough to kill you. Remember, though, most bites happen when someone tries to capture or kill a snake.
Texas Coral Snake
This one is tricky because the snake bears a striking resemblance to several other species, including Scarlet snakes and Milk snakes. Look for a banded snake that's typically less than 2 feet long. The body is marked with broad red and black bands inter-spaced with narrow yellow bands. But use caution, as these snakes can also present some wild color variations, making them difficult to identify. If you have any doubt, it's probably best to err on the side of caution.
According to a study by the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension, the easiest way to differentiate which snakes are dangerous is to remember the useful rhyme, "Red touch yellow, kill a fellow. Red touch black, friend of Jack." There may be some other variations of this saying, but snakes with red and yellow touching call for extra caution.
Another reason to leave this snake alone is the potential shortage of treatment. Bites are rare, so most hospitals don't even stock the antivenom. Fortunately, though, coral snakes aren't typically looking for people to bite, as they're usually hunting other snakes and lizards. Texas coral snakes are found throughout the central, eastern and southern parts of Texas, especially along the gulf coast.
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