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Catching Up with Your Favorite Snakes

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By Jason Jones

Messenger Reporter

EAST TEXAS – There may be a measure of irony involved in the fact my first article as a reporter for The Messenger will revolve around snakes, considering I wrote a column for this publication several years ago called “The Snake Farm,” which was, in no way, reptile related. It was recommended, though, as the season is upon us and many of us in east Texas will encounter a few in the coming months.

 There will be, no doubt, many who feel that “no snake is a good snake” and immediately grab the nearest hoe, shovel or other easily wielded tool of destruction – or simply run as far and fast in the opposite direction as possible. As with most other subjects, however, education is king, and could spare a snake that is doing far more good for you and your property than you may realize. Snakes, for the most part, are excellent at pest control, and their absence could definitely result in an abundance of pests you may otherwise never know you had.

 There are, unfortunately, several species of snake native to east Texas that are venomous, and knowing what to identify and avoid could be extremely beneficial.

 According to Texas Parks and Wildlife, there are five species of venomous snakes common to our area. These are as follows: the Texas Coral Snake; the Cane Break, Timber or Velvet-Tail Rattlesnake; the Pigmy or Ground Rattlesnake; the Southern Copperhead; and the Western Cottonmouth or Water Moccasin. Let’s get to know them better.

There are a couple of characteristics that will positively distinguish the venomous snakes in our area from the harmless ones. Since four of the venomous species are pit vipers, they all have a deep pit between and below the eye and the nostril. No other snakes have this structure. Pit vipers also have elliptical pupils, much like a cat, where non-poisonous snakes have round pupils.  The fifth snake is the Texas Coral Snake, which has red, yellow and black bands with the red and yellow bands touching. This differentiates it from the Scarlet King Snake, which has similar coloring, but the red and yellow bands are separated.

 Canebrake, Timber or Velvet-Tail, Rattlesnake – The largest species of venomous snake in East Texas averaging 48 inches, with a record longest at 74 inches. While dangerous, this snake is a Texas Threatened Species and is protected by State Law, which is information you will want to know before reaching for that shovel.

 Pigmy or Ground Rattlesnake – This is the smallest species of venomous snake in East Texas averaging 17 inches, with a record length of 25 inches.

 Southern Copperhead – This species averages 24 inches with a record length of 52 inches. The Copperhead is a common species in East Texas. Look for dark cross bands that are wide on the side and narrow along the back. A Copperhead will vibrate its tail when disturbed to mimic a rattler.

 Western Cottonmouth or Water Moccasin – This species averages 34 inches, with a record length of 62 inches. Found in streams, ponds and lakes, the Cottonmouth will open its mouth and expose the white lining when disturbed and will also vibrate its tail.

While all snakes play a valuable role in the environment, knowing which of them are venomous is highly beneficial and responsible. Still, as you are out and about, be careful as to which rock you reach under or which pile of leaves you walk through.

Jason Jones may be contacted via e-mail at jjones@messenger-news.com.   

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