SAN ANTONIO – If you’re hanging out outside as the weather starts to warm up you might encounter some slithery friends.
“As more rodents and other prey species are more active, and as more people spend more time outside and in natural spaces, it can increase sightings of snakes at times as they are performing their beneficial services in our neighborhoods,” Texas Parks and Wildlife Department urban biologist Judit Green told KSAT.
Snakes are a natural part of the Texas ecosystem and they provide an environmental service by helping keep rat and mouse populations in check.
Whether you find snakes fascinating or fearsome, many people don’t want them around their homes for various reasons.
There’s not a sure-fire deterrent to keep snakes at bay but there are a few steps you can take to help lower the chances of the reptiles hanging around your house.
Keep storage areas clean and tidy because snakes can fit through tiny openings. Also, be sure to keep wood and brush piles far away from your residence.
Snakes are often found sheltering amid landscapes like shadowy areas, brush piles and other places that provide cover from their natural predators like hawks, owls and mammals.
“Keep in mind that many of the snakes around our homes and in our communities are non-venomous snakes, like the Texas rat snake, that does an exceptional job of finding rats in our yards as their name implies,” said Green. “There are venomous snakes found throughout the state as well, but thankfully it is a rarity that people are harmed by them.”
There are at least 76 known species of snakes in Texas, according to TPWD, and the vast majority are non-venomous.
In the rare case, however, that someone does suffer a snake bit, TPWD encourages Texas residents to find the hospital located nearest to them.
“Like a fire drill, you have the reassurance of knowing what to do in case of an emergency. Knowing how to ID the few most common venomous snakes in your area can also reduce fears,” Green said.
The four common venomous snakes in South Texas are copperheads, cottonmouths, rattlesnakes, and coral snakes.
Copperheads are usually light-colored with red/brown crossbands along their body. They can be found along streams and rivers and in heavily weeded areas.
The photos below show a copperhead and a cottonmouth, respectively.
Cottonmouths, also known as water moccasins, are usually darker in color. They can be dark brown, olive green, and even solid black. The cottonmouth prefers swamps, rivers, ponds, and waterways, something to be wary of when visiting the River Walk.
Coral snakes are highly venomous and commonly confused with the nonvenomous milk snake. Coral snakes typically have a black head with a red, yellow, and black pattern. Milk snakes usually have a red head with a black, red, black, and yellow pattern.
An easy way to remember the difference between the coral and milk snake is to recite the rhyme “red touch yellow, kill a fellow, red touch black, friend of Jack.”
Most venomous snakes in South Texas, with the exception of the coral snake, will be thick and fat instead of thin.
Rattlesnakes are the easiest to identify because of the rattle at the end of their bodies. Different types of rattlesnakes prefer different environments. Some like marshes and others seek a drier climate.
“If you are seeing a lot of snakes around your home, then you should be looking closely at what may be attracting rodents to your property—that’s ultimately what most snakes are after! Stacked firewood, for example is like a mini high-rise for rodents, so keeping it near the back door is probably not the best place if you want to avoid snake visitors there,” Green said.
“Keeping high traffic areas clean and/or mowed will avoid residents from accidentally stepping on a snake that may be looking for a meal or is just passing through. This will reduce the risk of human/snake encounters,” said Green.
According to TPWD, more people in Texas die from lightning and insect bites than from snake bites every year.
The closer the bite to the heart, the more dangerous it is. Children and the elderly are particularly vulnerable to the effects of snakebites. Because children are small and close to the ground, they are often bitten on the face and arms, the TPWD website states.
Don’t let a fear of venomous snakes keep you from enjoying the outdoors. Most of the snakes you will come across are harmless, but they should all be left alone.
If you enjoy looking for native and wild reptiles and amphibians there are online groups like Texas Field Herpers you can join.