Texas has a lot of venomous snakes, here is what to watch out for.
They say everything is bigger in the state of Texas and that includes the snake population. The Lone Star state is home to more than a dozen species of venomous snakes. Most of these are subspecies variations of rattlesnake, but thee are a few other species that can deliver a harmful snakebite too.
It is important to know the different snake species in the area where your outdoor adventures are taken place. This is so you can quickly tell the difference between a venomous and a non-venomous snake.
In the unlikely even you are bitten, you will be able to tell the doctors at the emergency room the exact species. This will allow them to select the proper antivenom if the bite is serious enough. Here is our field guide to the venomous snakes of Texas.
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. Most of these pit vipers top 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.
One thing to be cautious about with Copperheads is juvenile snakes. These hatch in August and September and are about seven to eight inches long. While the younger snakes can be colored just like the adults, they can sometimes also take on a total gray coloration. The big giveaway is to a baby is the tail. It is usually bright yellow or green. Remember that these snakes are just as venomous as the adults. If you are bitten by any copperhead, seek help immediately.
The distribution of copperheads depends on the subspecies. The Trans-Pecos variation is found mostly in the south. Ironically enough, Southern Copperheads are found in the east while the Broad-banded is found in the west and central regions. Keep an eye out for any copperhead 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 it may be hunting fish or small amphibians that call the water home.
When it comes to dangerous snakes in North America, the rattlesnake is the top variation to be worried about 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 is 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. This one only lives on the extreme western edge of the state. While this snake often has the typical tan and brown colorations rattlesnakes are known for, they also sometimes develop green hues.
The Banded Rock rattler is another most Texans are not likely to encounter because it is a nocturnal species. It also lives exclusively in west Texas. This species that only grows to about 24 inches. They are usually grey with darker crossbands, but they are sometimes 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. It 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. These are also the two species that grow the largest. Diamondbacks can easily reach four feet in length. Every so often ones larger than that pop up too. The Diamondback is usually grey or brown in coloration with "diamond" blotches that are brown, grey or almost black. The tail is also marked with black bands. The Diamondback is found over much of the central and western part of the state.
The Timber Rattlesnake does not grow as large as the Diamondback, but it is still a sizeable snake because it reaches three feet or more. This one is usually brown, tan or yellow in color. Unlike the diamondback, it is banded with distinctive brown or black crossbands. However, be wary. 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. It is a bone-chilling sound that will make almost anyone stop in their tracks. If you hear this sound, stay calm and do not panic. Try to slowly back out of 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 ironically enough, is only found 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, most Cottonmouth rumors are just that. Rumors. 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, thus the name "Cottonmouth." You should be wary of this species while fishing or swimming in lakes or streams. It has been seen in the ocean, but this is much less common. This one has venom that is potentially fatal, so use caution if you see one. Remember, most bites tend to happen when someone tries to capture or kill the 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 is not usually more than two feet long. The body is marked with broad red and black bands inter-spaced with narrow yellow bands. However, use caution. Like all snake species, there are some wild color variations at times. Specimens that lack banding and are one solid color have been observed. If you have any doubt, it is probably best to air on the side of caution.
Because there are so many similar species, a saying was devised to help differentiate which snake is dangerous and which one is not. Just remember: "Red on yellow kill a fellow. Red on black, friend of Jack." There may be some other variations on this saying. Just remember that you should give snakes with red and yellow touching a wide berth.
One reason to leave this snake alone is that treatment may not be there. Bites are rare, so most hospitals do not even stock the antivenom. Use caution! Fortunately, this snake is not actively looking for people to bite. They eat mostly other snakes and lizards. Texans should be aware of the animal's wide home range however. This species is found through the central, eastern and southern parts of Texas, especially along the gulf coast.