Snakes: A Civil Serpent
With warm temperatures and frequent rains, Grapevine Lake and the various creeks and runoffs see rising water levels and some of our neighbors’ homes become unlivable. No, I don’t mean our human friends next door. I’m talking about our WILD neighbors, the ones that often go unnoticed in the tree line. As space becomes limited, we will begin to notice more frequent visits from various critters. But, I would like to talk about a specific creature that is often misunderstood and known to scare many people by merely being seen. I’m talking about snakes.
Snakes often strike fear into the hearts of many people—it has actually been studied that humans are hardwired to fear and avoid these creatures. It may have served as a protective mechanism to our ancestors. Many people often assume that every snake they see is a venomous one. Here in Texas, there are four venomous snakes– Water Moccasins (aka Cottonmouths), Copperheads, Rattlesnakes and Coral Snakes. “But they make up only a small portion of area snakes. Texas Rat Snakes and the large, yet harmless water snakes are much more common in addition to the numerous grass snakes.” stated Andrew Gluesenkamp, A Herpetologist with Texas Department of Parks and Wildlife. “The key is not to overreact”.
The staff at Grapevine Animal Services is happy to help identify a snake for you and provide further resources. A great group to join, if you are social media savvy, is “What Kind of Snake is This North Texas?" on Facebook. You can learn more about the snakes and see photos of a variety of types.
Why Would A Snake Take Up Residence in My Yard?
Snakes are drawn to areas that have shelter and a food source. Snakes are attracted to un-kept areas of landscaping such as leaf and grass clipping piles, rock piles, timber/firewood stacks, untrimmed bushes, and high grass. Food sources can be human provided or other little critters that want to be in your yard like mice, rats, and frogs; keep pet food in airtight containers and do not leave it outside. Be proactive about rodent control.
To keep snakes out of houses or other buildings, you must seal off all entry points. Snakes usually enter a building at or below ground level. For this reason, all openings around water pipes, electrical outlets, doors and windows should be sealed. Any holes in masonry foundations around the home should also be sealed off with mortar. Hardware cloth or sheet metal can also be used to seal holes in wooden buildings or siding.
What Should I Do With A Snake In My Yard?
Although it may be hard to imagine, non-venomous snakes might do you more of a service than you realize. They help balance the eco-system and even help keep away the much less desired venomous snakes by “staking claim to their territory”. If you remove non-venomous snakes, but don’t take care of the reason they were there your next “tenant” may be a venomous snake.
How Do I Identify If A Snake Is Venomous?
Common Snakes of Texas
The Texas Rat Snake (http://www.louisianaherps.com/_Media/dsc09713_2.jpeg) is the most commonly seen snake in our area. These snakes typically have a yellowish-tan to brown base with brown to near black spots that may appear to look diamond shaped. These snakes are adept climbers and can be climb trees to reach birds’ nests for their eggs. These are large snakes that can reach lengths of 4-6 feet. Despite their size, Texas rat snakes are non-venomous and pose no threat to humans. Though when confronted, this snake may they may vibrate their tail and raise the front portion of their body off the ground in an ‘S’ shaped configuration, hiss and sometimes strike. Unfortunately, this beneficial and harmless species is often confused with venomous snakes such as copperheads, cottonmouths and western diamondback rattlesnakes.
The Blotched Water Snake (http://www.uta.edu/biology/herpetology/DSC06031.JPG) grows to 2-3 feet in length and have an olive green to brown coloration with a series of dark grayish-brown blotches across the back. A narrow creamy yellow to beige bar is present in the center each blotch that are yellow with a tint of light brown along the edges. The non-venomous Blotched Water Snakes are often confused with the venomous Cottonmouth. These snakes pose no threat to humans but will defend themselves by delivering a series of rapid bites while smearing feces and musk onto anyone attempting to capture them or when provoked.
Bull Snakes (https://riverbendnaturecenter.files.wordpress.com/2010/12/bull-snake.jpg) are typically mostly yellow or tan, with prominent reddish or brownish blotches running in a pattern all along its body from head to tail. They typically grow to about 6 feet in length and has a prominent overhanging supraocular scale above each eye making the Bull Snake look as if it is perpetually scowling, much like the brow of a bull. These snakes will rapidly tap the end of their tails to mimic a Rattlesnake to ward of potential predators. This will lead many people to confuse this snake for a Rattlesnake.
King Snakes are probably the absolute best snakes to have around. King snakes will hunt and consume other snakes, including the venomous ones. They have an immunity to the venom from pit vipers which allow them to feed on other snakes that come into their territory. Identification is difficult as there are multiple subspecies with varying patterns and colors. The two most common in the area are the Prairie King Snake and the Speckled King Snake. The Prairie King Snake (http://i984.photobucket.com/albums/ae321/fluidfive/PRKI6_zps67a7d1c8.jpg) usually has a light tan or yellow colored base with brown to black blotches along its back, whereas the Speckled King Snake (http://www.coloradoherping.com/uploads/9/7/8/6/9786261/7552262_orig.jpg) is a typically black or dark brown with yellow or white specks along its back. Both these snakes average 2-3 feet long and will bite if handled, but adapt well to captivity making King Snakes popular pets.
Cottonmouth’s are typically very dark brown in color with a brown-to-black cross pattern and will flatten its body to make it appear bigger when it feels threatened. The most distinguishing feature of the cottonmouth is the nearly white, puffy mouth that has given this snake its name. This snake is also known as the Water Moccasin because it is frequently seen in, or around, water environments such as lakes and swamps. The average length of the Cottonmouth is 3-4 ft in length. These snakes are often confused with various nonvenomous water snakes.
The Copperhead can be identified by its distinct banded pattern of tan or beige contrasting with a red-clay or brown. The snakes name comes from the copper like color that is found on the snakes head. They average to be only about 2-3 feet length. These snakes can be found almost anywhere, but they tend to stay in areas of high vegetation (bushes) or wooded areas (trees). Copperheads are usually found on the ground but can also climb onto plants or other structures.
Rattlesnakes are possibly the easiest snakes to identify because of the distinct “rattle” at the end of its tail. The rattle are sections of keratin that fit inside each other, which when shaken, they bump into each other to produce the rattle sound. A new section is added with each shedding of the rattlesnake’s skin. Rattlesnakes also tend to have some kind of diamond pattern on it’s back. The snakes average 3-5 feet in length with some species reaching greater lengths. Some nonvenomous snakes that are confused for the rattlesnake include rat snakes due to similar patterns and the Bull Snakes as they too can have diamond patterns and will vibrate its tail to imitate a rattle sound.
The Texas Coral snake, though venomous, is not a member of the Pit Viper family. It is actually a member of the Cobra family. This snake can be identified as the red bands will only touch the yellow colored ones, as opposed to the similar looking non-venomous King Snake in which the red bands only touch the Black ones. Coral snakes grow to be only 2-3 feet in length. These snakes are often found under boards and rocks.