With warmer-than-usual temperatures covering most of the region recently, it means residents and their animals should be on the lookout for snakes, and when it comes to snakes, Texas is a slithering paradise for the reptiles, says a Texas A&M University expert.
Teresa Shisk-Saling, a registered veterinary technician and experienced herpetologist in the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, says she has already seen dogs that have been bitten recently by snakes.
“Even though it is early in the season and spring is not here yet, some snakes are on the move and many more will be in the next few weeks,” she notes.
Although snakes are found in most of the world – Ireland, Iceland and New Zealand are some of the snake-free countries – only four types found in Texas are venomous: the coral snake, copperheads, cottonmouth (also called water moccasin) and the rattlesnake. Of those four, the coral snake has the most potent venom, Shisk-Saling says, but “the good news is, coral snakes are not seen that often.
“The others, especially rattlesnakes and copperheads, can be found just about anywhere in Texas and the Southwest,” she points out.
Shisk-Saling knows what she is talking about.
About a year ago, her husband was bitten on the finger by a rattlesnake outside their country home. Despite the snake getting only one of its two fangs inside his finger, the venom caused the finger and hand to swell up almost immediately.
“It took him six months to recover completely, and the medical bills and anti-venom treatments totaled more than $86, 000,” she notes. “To this day, he still doesn’t have any feeling in that part of his hand.”
She says the rat snake is often confused with a rattlesnake because the markings are very similar. “People tend to kill it immediately because they think it is a rattlesnake and it tends to be aggressive. But it is harmless, and like all snakes it serves a very useful purpose – it helps control unwanted rodents and insects,” she adds.
“One of the questions we often get is; how can you tell a venomous snake from a harmless one? The answer is: it is difficult. There seems to be an exception to almost every rule about indentifying venomous snakes. If you can turn it over, you will see that along its back tail, there are rows of scales called scutes. If you see a double row of these, it means the snake is not venomous. A single row means it is,” she explains.
Shisk-Saling says that another good reason not to kill a snake is that many types are protected by law, even some types of rattlesnakes. “So it’s not a good idea to go hacking away at any snake because you could be breaking the law.
“Almost always, snakes don’t want to be near people any more than we want to be near them,” she says. “The best way to avoid them is stay away from the places they like, such as brushy and very rocky areas.”
For more information, she recommends several websites such as: