Creature Feature: Venomous Snakes

“Snakes. Why does there have to be snakes?” Perhaps you’re one of the many who empathizes with Indiana Jones. In fact, ophidiophobia (fear of snakes) tops the list of phobias, right along with public speaking. Fear of wild animals is valid, but what Indie probably didn’t consider is that snakes don’t seek out humans to attack. A bite is most always a defensive reaction. Indiana Jones movies introduce venomous snakes from around the world. In The Woodlands, we have only three. The Southern Copperhead, Western Cottonmouth and Texas Coral Snake.

Southern Copperhead: Tan to light orange body, 2 to 3 feet long when mature. Darker markings that resemble a Hershey kiss. Copperheads are very well camouflaged on forest floors.
Western Cottonmouth: Stout, thick-body that ranges from dark, grayish-brown to black, 2 to 3 feet long when mature. Also known as water moccasins.
Texas Coralsnake: Brightly colored pattern of red, yellow and black rings. Small head and slender body. Usually 30 inches or shorter

Let’s get acquainted

Like most snakes, these three species are shy and generally keep out of sight. They travel alone and prefer brush, rocks and woodpiles. Multiple snakes will share a den for winter hibernation, emerging in late February through early March. They are active during the day in spring and fall and at night during the summer to avoid the intense heat.

All snakes are strictly carnivorous. The type of prey varies by the species and may include mice, rats, frogs, birds, squirrels, rabbits, lizards, insects, eggs, snails, scorpions and smaller snakes. Aquatic species, like the cottonmouth, also eat fish, crustaceans and amphibians.

Snakes play an integral role in maintaining a balanced ecosystem by helping keep prey populations in check. For example, controlling the rodent population results in the reduction of common diseases like hantavirus, lymphocytic chorio-meningitis and salmonellosis.

Living with nature

14 of the 17 species of snakes commonly found in The Woodlands are nonvenomous. While a bite from any wild animal is possible and can cause injury, most wildlife is harmless when left alone. If you unexpectedly encounter a cold blooded neighbor, follow these best safety practices.

Preventing snake bites

Most snakes live on or near the ground. Most bites happen around the ankle and about 99% of all bites occur below the knee.

Safety tips:

  • Wear protective clothing; fangs are sharp but break easily and almost never penetrate leather shoes or boots. Long-sleeved shirts and pants will help further reduce your risk.
  • Watch where you step, sit down and put your hands (never blindly into a hole).
  • Avoid stepping over a log without first seeing what is on the other side. If you must move a log, use a long stick or garden tool first, to ensure snakes are not near.
  • Use a flashlight when moving about at night.

Around the home

  • Keep the grass short, shrubs trimmed, and flowerbeds free from debris.
  • Limit wood and brush piles and keep them away from the residence.
  • Keep storage sheds and garages as neat as possible.
  • Treat overturned boats, plant pots, tarps and similar objects as potential shelter for snake

Snake encounters and recommended responses

Removal – who to contact

When removing wildlife from your private property, it is best to call a professional.

  • Montgomery County: Woodlands Snake Removal, Nathan Wells: 346-218-0279
  • Harris County: Texas Snakes & More, Clint Pustejovsky: 713-934-7668

Keep in mind that living in a densely forested area means that you may encounter snakes at local parks, ponds and along trails. Follow the recommended responses above during an encounter and avoid handling any wildlife. Snakes are a valuable asset to the health of our forests and we don’t want to remove them from their natural home.

Want more information?

Now that you’ve read a little more about snakes, hopefully you appreciate the importance of having them around. We’re not suggesting you’re cured of your fears but maybe you’ve found a new respect for snakes and you will let them be when you see them. And on the rare occasion that you encounter a pit of asps on your world-wide adventures, go ahead and channel your inner professor of archaeology.

Questions or comments? Email enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov

Creature Feature: Raccoons

They’ve been recorded sneaking food from the backyard, teasing household pets through the patio door and ransacking campsites. Their fluffy, cuddly appearance, combined with a curious and endearing behavior has drawn interest for centuries. Christopher Columbus called them perros, the Spanish word for dog. Raccoon was one of the first words recorded by Jamestown colonists: the Powhatan word means “animal that scratches with its hands.” These days you might know them affectionately as night bandits, trash pandas or forbidden cats.

Mischievous and opportunistic, raccoons are not looked upon favorably by some. Maybe you can learn something new about these commonly misunderstood creatures, which were recently highlighted in the April issue of The Woodlands Community Magazine.  

Here are some facts about our highly adaptable and intelligent neighbors to get you started:   

  • Raccoons weigh up to 30 pounds, are 30 to 40 inches long, and are covered in grayish brown fur that has a dense underfur to insulate against the cold. They are notably adorned with a black mask, and ringed tail. 
  • Opportunistic omnivores, raccoons enjoy fruits, plants, nuts, berries, insects, rodents, frogs, eggs and crayfish, but won’t pass up the chance to sift through your garbage. 
  • They do have a few predators: coyotes, bobcats, cougars and larger species of owls. Disease and cars are their biggest cause of death, though. 
  • They play an important role in a healthy woodlands ecosystem by helping control the pest population. Raccoons help control snake, insect and pest populations and reduce the spread of disease by eating carrion. 

Raccoons are pretty great neighbors, until they’re not. Raccoons can lose their natural fear of humans as they find more food and shelter opportunities, especially if those are in your backyard! If you are seeing a lot of raccoon activity around your home, you may find yourself facing one of these scenarios. 

Nightly Raids 

Once a raccoon has found a source for a tasty treat, they will continue to return, night after night. If your garden, trash can or pet food is being raided, it’s time to remove the source. Adding protective fencing around your garden and using bungee cords to secure your trash lid are a good starting place. But keep in mind that those little dexterous hands can undo many simple latches, so if possible, store your garbage cans inside a shed or garage. There are many ways to scare away a raccoon for a night or two. Loud noises or a barking dog may do the trick a few times, but if the food source is still there, the raccoon will return, and your neighbors might not appreciate the noise. Bright lights, or motion sensor lights will also have a similar, short-term effect. It’s best to remove the source of food and let the raccoon move on to another nightly buffet.

Raccoon Removal 

Raccoons prefer brushy or wooded areas near streams, lakes or swamps but have adapted to live near developed areas, as long as food, water and shelter can be found. Warning: If a raccoon has taken up residence in your attic or shed, it is difficult to remove without professional help. If you are certain that the raccoon has left the space and there are no babies around, you may be able to board up the area before it returns. If you are unable to safely address the issue yourself, check with the Montgomery or Harris County offices for local wildlife removal companies and other resources.  Just be sure to restrict access so another raccoon doesn’t take its place! 

There are no repellants, toxicants or fumigants registered for raccoon control

Found an abandoned or hurt raccoon 

As with any wild animals, be cautious when approaching. Even babies can bite and mom is likely nearby. If you have found baby raccoons, also called kits or cubs, and are certain that mom is not returning, and not just out getting some food, there are some local wildlife rehabilitation resources that can help. For residents of Montgomery County, Friends of Texas Wildlife is a great resource. If you are in Harris County, reach out to Wildlife Center of Texas for assistance. Caring for baby raccoons until you can reach a rehabilitator has its challenges. Review these simple steps for doing your best to ensure your safety and their survival. Both organizations can field questions regarding a raccoon that has been injured as well. 

Raccoons are wild animals. They are not meant to be rescued and turned into a household pet. Wild animals can be dangerously aggressive and many, including raccoons, are known to carry disease. According to the CDC, raccoons were responsible for 28.6% of all reported cases of rabies in the U.S. in 2017. In addition to rabies, raccoons may also carry ticks, fleas, lice, roundworm, leptospirosis bacteria, and salmonella. If you, or a pet, encounters a raccoon, please be cautious and follow up with medical professionals if you receive a bite or scratch.  

Whether you think they are the epitome of cuteness, the best cleanup crew and pest control, or are just one of nature’s nocturnal neighbors, there’s no denying that raccoons are a part of our community. Next time you see one scampering across the road at night, you might wonder, did I put the trash can away?  

Questions or comments? Email enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov 


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Creature Feature: Bees and Wasps

While sitting outside on a spring afternoon you hear a low buzzing sound. On alert and ready to run you scan the area, anticipating an attack from an angry insect. A reaction many of us are guilty of, but why? How many times have you actually been stung and let’s be honest, could it have been avoided? Bees and wasps are feared by many but they need not be. The vast majority of these highly beneficial insects are not aggressive and stings are easily avoided.  

Whether you think of bees and wasps as friend or foe, they play a critical role in the health of our environment. Beyond sustaining our food supply by pollinating billions of crop plants each year, they provide essential needs, like shelter and food, for other wildlife. Bees are responsible for the production of seeds, nuts, berries and fruit that many other species depend on. Bees and wasps themselves are an important food source for thousands of species of birds, spiders, insects such as dragonflies and praying mantises, and larger predators such as skunks, foxes, weasels, mice, badgers and even bears.  

They also help provide shelter for those predators and many other species. By pollinating a variety of plants, trees and grasses they help maintain healthy forests and grasslands and provide nesting and protective spaces for other insects, birds and small mammals. There is no doubting the importance they play in beautifying our flower garden and bringing our favorite foods to the table, but let’s not forget all the other reasons bees and wasps are so important.     

Bumblebees do not store large quantities of nectar and pollen, like honey bees. Instead they rely on a continuous food supply from spring to fall.

Bees

There are more than 16,000 species of bees in the world, 800 in Texas and 13 in Southeast Texas.  The most common varieties include carpenter, squash, leafcutter, sweat, mason and bumblebees.  All wonderful pollinators, we rely on these native bees to transfer pollen amongst many local crops including cotton, fruit trees, melons, berries, vegetables and livestock crops such as alfalfa and clover.  Even onions rely on pollinators for fertilization!

The annual value of native bee pollination to U.S. agriculture is estimated to be $3 billion.

There are a variety of places bees prefer to nest, depending on the species. 70% of all bee species dwell underground. The rest find their shelter in bare ground, weathered wood, or a honeycomb. When cleaning up around the yard, keep in mind that bees need a variety of places to live so leave some options for them to call home. Some bees are solitary dwellers (carpenter bees) and others live in social groups (bumblebees). The most familiar and well-known hive-dwelling bee is the honey bee.

A nest is the proper term to describe a colony that has created a natural cavity, usually hanging and exposed. A hive is a man-made structure used to house a honey bee nest.

The European honey bee has caught a lot of media attention in recent years due to a steep decline in population. Brought over in the 1600s, honey bees have spread to nearly every corner of North America and play a significant role in the pollination of hundreds of commercial crops. Due to pesticides, habitat loss, and disease, the population of honey bees has declined nearly 60% in the last 50 years.

Good news! You can help. Reduce the use of pesticides in your yard and garden, plant native nectar producing plants (groupings of the same plant are easier for bees to find), and provide various shelter options. These simple steps will go a long way in supporting bees and all pollinators. For more information on how you can help pollinators visit our Plant for Pollinators page.

Beekeeping is permitted within the boundaries of The Woodlands Township. State regulations do apply. The Texas Apiary Inspection Service (TAIS) oversees the State regulations regarding beekeeping.

Wasps

Distinct color patterns, smoother, thinner bodies, and a reputation for ill-temperament distinguish wasps from their more beloved counterparts, bees. That bad reputation, though, is not entirely deserved.

True, an un-barbed stinger allows a wasp to sting repeatedly (a honey bee must leave its stinger in the victim, causing it to die shortly after). However, the vast majority of the time, wasps will sting only when they or their nests are threatened. If you keep a safe distance from nests and don’t swat (this only excites them more) you’ve nothing to worry about. If you do find yourself under attack, cover your head and run away quickly into a building or protected area.

Did you know that wasp venom contains a pheromone that causes other wasps to become more aggressive? A good reason not to swat at one near its nest or other wasps.

Even though we loath the sting of a wasp, they are one of the most beneficial insects when it comes to controlling pest populations. Nearly every pest insect on Earth is preyed on by a species of wasp, either for a meal or as a host for its parasitic larvae. So, having wasps in your garden just may solve your tomato hornworm problem!

If your wasp or bee population has gotten a little too comfortable around the house, taking up residence in a wall of your home or storage shed, the best solution is to have the hive removed by a licensed structural pest control operator (the Texas Department of Agriculture maintains a list). Spraying or improper removal most often results in the site being re-inhabited. Lingering pheromones and honeycomb residue will draw them back making proper sealing of access points a critical step. Licensed operators will also work with a local hive owner to relocate bees before treating the nest. Many will not relocate wasps. Instead, the wasps are exterminated and the nest is removed.

Bees and wasps are a critical component of a healthy ecosystem. They benefit the local gardener, the commercial farmer, and all of us who enjoy a cup of coffee, chocolate bars, and fruits and vegetables. If you enjoy the ‘fruits’ of their labor, then help them out by providing them native nectar plants, some shelter, and most importantly, reducing or eliminating the use of pesticides at home. These beneficial insects will show their gratitude in the form of fewer pests in your garden this spring.

Questions? Email enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov

For more information, visit our wildlife page or check out these other resources:

Montgomery County Beekeepers Association

Native Plant Society of Texas: Native bees in Texas

Texas Apiary Inspection Service

Creature Feature: Feral Hogs

Have some unusual “alterations” to your landscape occurred overnight? Trampled flower beds, plowed up lawn, tufts of hair and mud stuck to fence posts and garden sheds? No, Bigfoot hasn’t been out for some midnight gardening. You’ve likely been visited by feral hogs.

Whether you’re dealing with these unwanted neighbors or you just want to know more about the history, biology and impacts of the invasive Sus scrofa, be sure to attend one of these upcoming lectures by a State expert.

Upcoming Events

Kick off the Spring Walk in the Woods Nature Lecture Series with Dr. John Tomecek, Assistant Professor and Extension Wildlife Specialist with Texas A&M AgriLife Extension. Dr. Tomecek is a leading expert in the State on feral hog biology and control. His agency’s mission is both scientific and educational, providing landowners and governmental bodies with support on the identification, management and abatement of damages from feral hogs.

Walk in the Woods: Feral hogs in a Suburban Landscape

Wednesday, February 5 from 7 to 8 p.m.

The Recreation Center at Rob Fleming Park

Free Lecture. Space is limited. Register online here

Can’t make it on the 5th? Don’t worry. Join The Woodlands G.R.E.E.N. for the next Going GREEN lecture, Feral Swine: Challenges and Control. Chris Watts, Wildlife Damage Management Biologist with Texas A&M Agrilife Extension will walk through the history of invasive feral swine in Texas, their ecological and economic impacts, wildlife-human interactions, and urban feral swine management practices and strategies.

Going GREEN: Feral Swine Challenges and Control

Thursday, February 20 from 7 to 8 p.m.

Houston Advanced Research Center

Free Lecture. Space is limited. Register online here.

Feral hogs don’t have great eyesight, but make up for it with excellent hearing and a keen sense of smell

Let’s talk hogs

Feral hogs were likely first introduced to Texas by Spanish explorers in the 1600’s. Over the ensuing 300+ years their numbers have grown dramatically. Over 1.5 million feral hogs are estimated to now roam the State, becoming one of our most destructive invasive species. Feral hogs cost the State some $400 million in damages annually by wreaking havoc on crops and lawns. They also have a tremendous impact on native plants and wildlife. Rooting, trampling and wallowing activity destroys vegetation and destabilizes riparian areas. This leads to soil compaction and erosion, spread of invasive vegetation, water quality degradation, and disruption of the nutrient cycle.

The secret to their success is multi-fold: they are highly intelligent, impressively fecund and lack natural predators. They’re also remarkably adaptable, as more and more residents of urban areas, like The Woodlands, are realizing.

Most human interactions with feral hogs are limited to an uprooted lawn. Feral hogs have a keen sense of smell and use it to avoid contact with humans whenever possible. However, as with most wildlife, feral hogs will defend themselves if cornered and females may aggressively protect their young. They can grow quite large, up to 400 pounds and are more powerful than their domestic counterparts. Should you encounter a feral hog, be calm and move slowly away from it. Do not corner or provoke the animal. If you see adults with young piglets, leave them alone.

What you can do

If feral hogs are impacting your property there are steps you can take.

  • First, reduce access where possible. Address any holes or gaps in your fencing and cordon off garden areas. A fence height of 36 inches is enough to keep feral hogs. Make sure fence is flush with the ground to prevent access.
  • For areas that can’t be fenced, remove food sources, like acorns, fruits and vegetables, and bulbs. They also eat grasses, forbs, roots and tubers, mushrooms, insects, earthworms, reptiles, amphibians, carrion (dead animals), live mammals and birds.
  • Don’t water your yard in the winter. Lawns should go dormant (brown) in the winter to allow the roots to grow deep and strong. Watering in the winter not only weakens your grass, making it more susceptible to disease, the green leaves are a major attractant to feral hogs.
  • If you encounter a hog during the day, you will likely be able to scare it off with loud noise but you’re likely to see it back at night in search of more food.
  • Currently no chemical repellents are labeled for use.
  • Motion-activated sprinklers and ultrasonic animal repellents have also not been proven effective.

While feral hogs may be killed or trapped on private property without a State of Texas license or permit with landowner consent, discharge of firearms of any kind within The Woodlands Township is not permitted.

For more information on feral hogs, check out the Wildlife section of the Environmental Services Department website.

For more resources or to report feral hogs that have been sighted in the area, please contact the following:

Reach out to Environmental Services with questions or comments at enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov