So you’re heading off on your next trip to Texas but there’s something niggling away at the back of your head.
Have I booked a hotel? Check.
Is the car insurance sorted? Check.
Should I be worried about venomous snakes?… Maybe.
While it may seem a little farfetched to be overly concerned about venomous snakes in Texas, when you consider snake bites kill upwards of 80,000 people a year globally, it’s certainly worth knowing what you might run into during your trip!
According to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, fifteen species of venomous snake call the state home. Luckily for you, these fifteen snakes can be categorised into four types which makes recognising and avoiding them much easier.
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4 Types Of Venomous Snake In Texas
Before we dive in too deep, it’s worth noting that even though the venom from these reptiles can cause a range of symptoms, from painful swelling to death, it really isn’t common to have your day ruined by a snakebite.
More deaths in Texas are attributed to lightning strikes than to snakes. By knowing what to look out for and using a dash of common sense, these snakes are easy to avoid.
One of the most recognisable snake species on earth, the Texas Coral Snake has red, yellow and black banding along its length. Growing to around 70cm long, coral snakes belong to the same family as cobras and are one of the most venomous snake species on the planet, let alone in Texas!
You may have heard the rhyme ‘red and yellow kill a fellow’. This is an easy way to distinguish coral snakes from the harmless but very similar looking milk snake. Both have the same coloured banding but the coral snake has its red and yellow bands touching, whereas milk snakes do not.
Although this is an easy way of helping you avoid the nasty blighters, you shouldn’t rely on it 100%. A few corals have been found with slightly different markings, often caused by genetic mutations. Don’t go around picking up snakes you find because you think they’re safe to handle or you could be in for a nasty surprise!
Coral snakes live predominantly in the southeast of Texas, as well as in the central areas. They are found in dense vegetation and leaf litter, where they can remain hidden as they hunt for their favourite food – other snakes!
Being nocturnal, it’s highly unlikely you’ll come across a Texas Coral Snake but after heavy rains, they can be spotted searching for new places to hide.
Always be wary when in woodland or while moving log piles. Make sure you can see what you are doing and don’t reach into any hidey holes without being able to see what’s inside. Coral snakes tend to be very timid and non-aggressive but their bite is lethal. They only strike if startled, handled or threatened so if you spot one of these guys, turn around and walk away.
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If you are unlucky enough to get bitten by a Texas Coral Snake, seek medical assistance immediately.
Even if you’ve never heard the noise in person, the unmistakable shake from a rattlesnake’s tail is enough to make your heart stop and your blood freeze. Pop culture teaches us that as soon as a rattlesnake is nearby, it will undoubtedly be hunting you down but the reality is very different.
Ten separate species of rattlesnake can be found in Texas, each in their own favoured habitats. Some, like the Prairie Rattlesnake, can be found in the state’s western grasslands while others, such as the Timber Rattlesnake are found in woodlands to the east. Others can be found across the majority of Texas, with species like the Western Diamondback being found everywhere aside from the most eastern recesses.
As with all snakes, Texan rattlers are much more likely to sliver away unnoticed than to strike but a few species are notoriously aggressive, especially when threatened.
The Timber Rattlesnake and Western Diamondback are two of the most feared snakes in Texas because of their propensity to attack at the slightest sign of a threat. They can both inject a huge amount of venom with a single bite and the Western Diamondback, as well as being the largest rattlesnake in the state, is responsible for more hospitalisations in Texas than any other.
It’s quite easy to tell different species of rattlesnake apart as they have a wide array of markings. The Blacktail Rattlesnake found in western Texas, for example, has a grey/green body with dark blotches and a dark black tail, while the Mottled Rock Rattlesnake is a light pink colour with dark bands.
It’s not just their temperament and colouration that set the different species of Texas rattlers apart. The potency of their venom also comes into play. The Mojave Rattlesnake, found only in the western reaches of the state, has one of the most dangerous bites of any snake in the USA. Although its payload is up to ten times more powerful than that of the Diamondback, your chances of encountering one of these slippery creatures are almost nil, as they live in only the most inhospitable parts of the Trans Pecos.
All rattlesnakes in Texas do share a few key features which will allow you to spot and avoid them long before they are close enough to cause you harm. Firstly, and this one should go without saying, they have a rattle. That said, young rattlesnakes may not have developed their rattle yet but can still be highly venomous, so look out for these other traits.
Secondly, they all have a triangular-shaped head with small pits between the nostrils and eyes. This leads us nicely on to the third commonality, the eyes. Rattlesnakes have vertical slit pupils much like a cat and unlike many other species of non-venomous snakes in the state.
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Named for the white cotton-like tissue inside the mouth, Cottonmouth snakes are the only living example of a semi-aquatic viper. Also known as water moccasins, these metre long snakes come in a variety of dark colours.
It’s possible for cottonmouths to be dark green, olive, brown or even black. They all have dark bands along their thick bodies. These bands are more obvious in some individuals than others.
They’re often perceived as aggressive because of the open-mouthed posture they adopt when threatened but water moccasins would prefer you just leave them alone, so they don’t have to bite. Venom is a precious resource for snakes and they seldom want to waste it on humans they can’t even eat.
You’ll find water moccasins in the eastern half of Texas, where they’re abundant in swampy areas, marshlands and around big bodies of water. Keep your eyes peeled when swimming, paddling or lounging by the river and move away if you spot a cottonmouth nearby.
A water moccasin bite can contain a large volume of venom. However, it’s not all bad news! Cottonmouth venom is less than half as toxic as most species of rattler. Providing treatment is sought quickly, long term health complications are rare and death is incredibly unlikely.
Copperheads are closely related to Cottonmouths and are one of the most common venomous snakes in the state. They are found predominantly in eastern Texas but can be seen as far west as West Hill Country and the Trans-Pecos.
Easily recognisable for their chestnut coloured cross band markings and light brown coloured body, these metre long snakes are among the least venomous in Texas. Their ideal habitat is open pastures near sheltered woodlands, which means they thrive in tree-filled suburbs.
Even though they share much of their habitat with people, copperhead bites a relatively uncommon and very rarely fatal. They are some of the most docile snakes in the USA and bites only tend to occur when they’re attacked, stepped on or handled.
The best way to avoid a copperhead bite is to be aware of where you put your hands and feet while you’re out and about. Copperheads love piles of wood so be careful when collecting logs for the fire!
Even when they do attack, the first bite is usually ‘dry’, meaning it contains no venom and is just the snake’s way of warning you to back off. If the message isn’t received, the second bite almost always contains venom.
If you’re unlucky enough to be bitten by a copperhead, never assume it was a dry bite and always seek medical help.
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What is the most venomous snake in Texas?
Officially, the most venomous snake in Texas is the coral snake. They have incredibly potent neurotoxic venom, which causes very little pain or swelling, at least initially. It can be hours before the symptoms start but when they begin, the victim’s condition quickly declines.
The good news is that coral snake bites are incredibly rare, only accounting for around 2% of all snakebites reported in the USA. Even when they do strike, their venom delivery system is less efficient than a rattlesnake’s and they often deliver a very small dose. Rattlesnakes are actually responsible for more bites and deaths than the coral snake in Texas!
Is it illegal to kill a snake in Texas?
In Texas, you can legally kill most species of snake – with a few exceptions. There are 12 protected species of snake in the Lone Star State, which cannot be killed unless they are endangering a human life and even then you have to prove it. It’s also illegal to kill any snake you find in a Texas State Park, doing so is a class C misdemeanour which will incur a $500 fine.
The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department requests that you don’t kill any snakes in the state. They’re an important link in the local ecosystem and removing large numbers of them can have serious detrimental effects.
With over 105 different species of snakes in Texas, it’s not surprising that at least of few of them pack a punch. However, this doesn’t mean you should be scared of the state’s powerful reptiles.
Snakes help keep rodent populations in check, which in turn keeps the number of Lyme disease-spreading ticks under control. Venom from various species is currently being studied as a viable treatment for everything from Parkinsons disease to blood clots and even cancer! Without these tremendous creatures, the state of Texas would be a very different place and the entire ecosystem could collapse.
If you see a snake and suspect that it’s venomous, don’t panic. Give the snake a wide birth and continue on your way. Do not approach the snake, as this would be considered a threat and could cause the snake to strike. Do not handle any snakes, dead or alive. Even dead snakes have been recorded to inject venom through muscle spasms and poor handling.
If the worst occurs and you do get bitten, the Texas Department of State Health Services has a huge amount of information on the best course of action you should take, as well as great tips to avoid venomous snakes in the first place.
Not matter if you’re fascinated by snakes, indifferent or terrified of them, it’s important to remember that snakes do not hunt humans. They’ll only strike if disturbed or threatened. In the USA, the odds of you dying by snakebite are less than 50 million to one. So be careful, understand where snakes like to shelter and steer clear of any snakes you see to ensure you have a cracking time in the Lone Star State.