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

Fascinating snakes

Herpetophobia is the morbid fear of snakes. While they may provoke phobia in some, snakes are amazing animals with some pretty striking (please pardon the pun) attributes. Check out the list of some of them below. And for a closer look at the more common snake species in our area (yes, live specimens will be there for the viewing), attend the next week’s Walk in the Woods Nature Lecture.

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Nathan Wells will present, Snakes of The Woodlands
Thursday, November 8th, 6:00 to 7:30 p.m.
Recreation Center at Rob Fleming Park
Registration is required.

Where you’ll find them…

Snakes can live in almost any environment, ranging from jungles and deserts to lakes and mountains. They live everywhere on Earth except Ireland, Iceland, New Zealand, and the North and South Poles.

There is an island in Brazil known as the Snake Island that arguably has the highest occurrence of snakes in the world. It’s estimated that there is one snake every 11 square feet.

The most common snake in North America is the garter snake.

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Garter snake

They come in all sizes…

The smallest snake is the thread snake that lives on the island of Barbados. It is about 4 inches long and “thin as spaghetti.” The longest snake is the reticulated python which can reach over 33 feet long. And the heaviest snake in the world is the anaconda, weighing over 595 pounds.

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Green tree python

Eating habits…

All snakes are strictly carnivorous. Depending on their size, however, their prey differs considerably. The smallest snakes feed on insects, snails, and mice while the largest snakes kill and eat anything from an antelope, pig and even a jaguar.

Most snakes need to eat only six to 30 meals a year to stay healthy.

To keep from choking on large prey, a snake will push the end of its trachea, or windpipe, out of its mouth, similar to the way a snorkel works.

Snakes don’t lap up water like mammals do. Instead, they dunk their snouts underwater and use their throats to pump in water.

Some snakes have over 200 teeth. The teeth aren’t used to chew—they point backwards to prevent prey from escaping the snake’s throat. And only venomous snakes have fangs.

Snake biology…

Most species of snakes lay eggs, and some species are ovoviviparous (they retain the eggs within their bodies until they are ready to hatch), but it was recently found out, that several species (such as the boa constrictor and the green anaconda) are fully viviparous (giving live births).

Snakes are completely covered with scales—even their eyes. Instead of eyelids, they have a brille, which is a transparent, disc-shaped, immobile scale that covers the eye for protection.

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Scales completely cover a snake, including its eyes

While snakes don’t have external ears, or eardrums, their skin, muscles and bones carry sound vibrations to the inner ears.

To accommodate their narrow bodies, snakes’ paired organs (such as kidneys) appear one in front of the other, instead of side by side.

Pit vipers, pythons, and some boas have infrared-sensitive receptors in deep grooves on the snout, which allows them to “see” the radiated heat of warm-blooded prey.

Snakes have one of the highest occurrences of polycephaly—a rare condition of having more than one head. There have been many cases of two-headed snakes. The heads might fight each other for food.

Species with super-powers…

The brahminy blind snake is the only snake species made up of solely females. It’s also the most widespread terrestrial snake in the world.

The death adder has the fastest strike of any snake in the world. It can attack, inject venom, and return to striking position in under 0.15 seconds.

There is a genus commonly known as the flying (or gliding) snakes. Native to Southeast Asia, these snakes are capable of gliding over distances as great as 330 feet through the air. Watch the video below to see how they do it.

The muscles that cause a rattlesnake´s rattle to shake are some of the fastest known, firing 50 times per second on average, sustained for up to 3 hours.

The black mamba is the world’s fastest snake. It’s found in East Africa and can reach speed up to 12 miles per hour.