Creature Feature: Nonvenomous Snakes

Spring is here and so are the snakes. Taking advantage of increasing temperatures, our native Texas snakes are more active this time of year as they emerge out of hibernation in search of food and mates for breeding season. Snakes are more active when their prey is active, so spring and summer provide a buffet of frogs, rodents and other critters for snakes to eat. Chances are you may encounter a snake along a pathway, in your yard or at a local park. Good news is that all but three of the snakes commonly found in The Woodlands are nonvenomous.  

Let’s get acquainted 

Most snake 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 Diamondback water snake, 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.  

Preventing Snake Bites 

Most snakes in The Woodlands are harmless and an important part of the ecosystem, especially in controlling rodents. Snake bites are usually the result of them being surprised or cornered and are easily avoided with a few precautions. Because most snakes live on or near the ground, the majority of bites happen around the ankle. 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 snakes. 

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 forest and we don’t want to remove them from their natural home. 

Want more information? 

Creature Feature: Opossums

Opossum or possum, however you pronounce it, we’re talking about one cool marsupial. Prehensile tails and opposable thumbs equip them for skillful climbing. They help rid our lawns and woodlands of grubs, ticks and other damaging insects, clean our roadsides of disease-spreading carrion, and they make great parents, to boot. Read on for more cool facts about our neighbors, Didelphis virginiana, whose origins trace back more than 65 million years!  

Fast Facts: 

  • The only marsupial (pouched mammal) in North America 
  • Male opossums are called jacks and females are called jills. Babies are called joeys. 
  • ‘Playing possum’ is a real defense used to confuse a possible predator. 
As they grow, offspring emerge from the mother’s pouch and will cling to the mother for up to two months as they continue to develop

What do they look like? 

  • Up to 30 inches long and weigh about 15 pounds 
  • Cone shaped nose with a pink tip, hairless ears, short legs and a long hair-less tail.  
  • Fur color is variable from pale gray to black. 

What do they eat? 

Opossums are omnivores who eat primarily animal matter such as insects, earthworms, small mammals, snakes, birds, fruits and vegetables. They are also amazingly immune to snake venom, so rattlesnakes and cottonmouths make the menu too. If available, they will dine on pet food, garbage cans and bird feeders. 

What eats them? 

  • Predators include owls, coyotes, hawks, snakes, foxes and feral cats.  
  • An estimated 19 million opossums are killed by vehicles every year in the United States. 

Why do we need them? 

Opossums are extremely beneficial to the environment. They eat a variety of critters considered pests or vermin by clearing your yard of roaches, mice and rats. In one season an opossum can consume about 5,000 ticks, helping minimize tick-borne diseases such Lyme disease.  Also known to eat carrion which minimizes disease in the environment.

Interested in learning more about local wildlife? Check out these past articles:   

Creature Feature: Great Egret

Egret
Like a ghostly apparition
the egret did appear
beautiful in its white paleness
though almost unaware
that two strangers were viewing
such a beautiful bird
speechless and in awe
that such a situation
could hardly be put into words.

G Paul Fisher

Whether you know it as the common egret, large egret, great white heron or Great Egret the stunning Adrea alba graces the skies and waters of The Woodlands and has a wonderful story to tell.  

Fast Facts 

  1. Second largest heron in North America, next to the Great Blue Heron. 
  1. Has four subspecies spread across five continents. 
  1. Great Egrets were decimated by plume hunters in the late 1800’s; populations plunged by 95 percent. Their plight spawned the nation-wide bird conservation movement. Legal protection has resulted in a remarkable comeback. 
  1. Symbol of the National Audubon Society, which was founded to protect bird populations.  

What do they look like? 

  • All white with black legs and a yellow bill.  
  • Weigh only 2 pounds despite reaching a height of 41 inches with a wingspan of 55 inches. 
  • During breeding season (late December to early July) the patch of skin on the face turns lime green and long plumes, called aigrettes, grow down the back.  

What do they eat?  

  • Mostly fish. Will also eat crustaceans, frogs, lizards, snakes, and insects.  
  • Hunts in shallow water, impaling prey on its long, sharp beak. 

What eats them? 

  • They have no real predators as adults. Most would-be predators avoid such a large bird. However, raccoons, hawks, owls and snakes raid their nests for eggs and chicks. 

Why do we need them? 

  • Great Egrets play an important role in balancing aquatic and riparian ecosystems by controlling amphibian, insect, and small mammal populations.  

Want more information? 

Within The Woodlands, Great Egrets have at times created large nesting sites in residential areas. Abandoned nests can be removed to deter egrets from nesting in your trees, however active nests are protected by the Federal Migratory Birds Treaty Act and cannot be removed.  

Learn how to effectively and legally address nesting egrets by visiting the Wildlife Section at www.thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov/environment.   

Nests are built high in trees to avoid predators. Males select the location, but it is common to return to the same nesting site year after year.  

Interested in learning more about local wildlife? Check out these past articles:  

Creature Feature: Cormorant

Combine a goose and a loon, stir in a few prehistoric features, and there you have it – the captivating cormorant. You’ve likely noticed this sleek black deep diver with a snake-like neck frequenting Township waters this time of year. Two species are native to our area. The Double – crested cormorant (Nannopterum auritum) resides year-round while the Neotropic cormorant (Nannopterum brasilianum) visits primarily in the winter.  

Distinguishing between the two can be difficult; there are more similarities than differences. The fact that they flock together makes it even more challenging. Perhaps the easiest tell is the white outlining specific to the head and chin of the adult Neotropic. Bear in mind, juveniles of both species have their own color variations, so if you’re keen on identifying correctly, best to bring along a bird identification guide.  

Neotropic Cormorant
Double-crested cormorant

You’ll find large numbers fishing in local waterways, ponds and lakes. A drive past the south end of Lake Woodlands will almost guarantee a glimpse of a few dozen sunning themselves, wings outstretched.

Cormorants spend most of their time out of the water, resting or holding their wings open to dry. 

Fast Facts 

1. When threatened a Double-crested cormorant may vomit fish at a predator. 

2. The name cormorant is derived from the Latin corvus marinus, which means “sea raven”. Not actually related to ravens, this misnomer likely dates to the Middle Ages when most black birds were referred to as ravens. 

3. The cormorant served as a hood ornament for the Packard automobile brand. (Many people mistakenly believed it to be a swan.) 

Cormorants are pellet-makers. Similar to owls, they spit out pellets that contain bones and scales of the fish they eat. 

What do they eat? 

Primarily fish-eaters, an adult can eat a pound of fish a day. Groups of cormorants work together forming a line as they cross the water, hitting the surface with their wings then take turns diving below to catch fleeing fish. Their long, thin bill has a sharp hook at the end – great for catching small fish. 

Cormorants will also dine on crustaceans, snakes, and amphibians.  

What eats them?  

Most predators are unable to access cormorants easily as they  slip into the water or take flight to escape. If given the opportunity coyotes, alligators, bald eagles and great horned owls will prey on adults and juveniles. Foxes, raccoons, skunks and some birds (crows, jays and grackles) will take advantage of unattended eggs and chicks.   

Why do we need them? 

They play a critical role in nature’s complex food web by helping keep fish, and other aquatic organisms, from overpopulating our waterways. 

And that’s not all 

Cormorants aren’t your average waterbird. Did you know they are uniquely designed to be excellent divers and underwater swimmers. More like a seal than a bird! 

And unlike ducks, cormorants’ feathers are not very waterproof. Instead, their feathers are designed to get waterlogged, allowing these feathery fishermen to sink and dive more efficiently. Their bones also have a higher density than other aquatic avians.   

Double-crested cormorants can dive to depths up to 25 feet and stay underwater for over a minute. Check out the video below and see for yourself just how amazing these birds are at swimming.  

There’s no denying it – cormorants are cool. Next time you’re at a local park with a pond or lake, hopefully you’ll get to experience these fascinating feathered friends yourself.  

Interested in learning more about local wildlife? Check out these past articles: 

Join Us For Walk in the Woods This Thursday

Grab your popcorn and kick back as we explore The Spring Creek Nature Trail together. The Woodlands Township Environmental Services Department is offering one of our most popular programs, the Walk in the Woods Nature Lecture Series, online. Gather the family and join us this Thursday for an experience virtually as good as being on the trail.  

Be a part of the fun on Thursday, October 8 at 6:30 p.m. when Bill Bass presents on The Spring Creek Nature Trail and the Importance of Conservation.  

Over the course of an hour, Bill will share the importance of preserving our natural spaces and provide an overview of the Spring Creek Nature Trail located in the heart of The Woodlands. This 14-mile multi-use path offers stunning views and a chance to see nature up close. From migratory birds to native wildflowers, the trail provides an escape back to nature in one of the fastest growing urban areas in the United States.  

Keeping wild places free of pollution and development is challenging. As a conservation photographer, Bill has dedicated himself to a multi-year effort to capture the flora and fauna of this system. His stunning images communicate the importance of preserving Spring Creek and our other natural jewels.   

Registration is required for this free presentation. 

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