Texas Living

Spotting Snakes

By Jennifer Chappell Smith 5.17.17

Memories of snake encounters have a way of staying with you. I remember walking out onto my grandmother’s front porch as a child and seeing a big black snake lying on the warm, red tiles of the porch steps. I couldn’t close the front door fast enough.

Get to know these slithery serpentines, including which ones to avoid, and learn how to spot signs of a snake nesting nearby. 

How scared should you be?

The Lone Star State has 115-plus native snakes, the most of any state in the U.S., but Texas Parks & Wildlife assures us that only 15 percent of them are ones you should be cautious of. At least that narrows it down a little, right? Venomous snakes in Texas fall into four categories:

  1. Coral snakes 
  2. Copperheads
  3. Cottonmouths (also known as water moccasins) 
  4. Rattlesnakes

But do you know how those guys differ from the good guys?

  • Coral snakes — Look at the colored bands on the coral snake and remember this rhyme: If red touches yellow it kills a fellow, but if red touches black venom lacks
  • Copperheads — Don’t let the name fool you, while some copperhead snakes can actually appear a bright copper color, others can range from light pink to peach. 
  • Cottonmouths — While you will most likely spot this snake near the water, cottonmouths, or water moccasins, have adapted for life on land with a heavy body, thick and blocky head with a noticeable “neck,” and heat-sensing pits on their face. 
  • Rattlesnakes — Look to the end of the snake for the telltale rattle; in the event you cannot see the tail, rattlesnakes have large and heavy triangle-shaped heads. 

While it’s not a foolproof rule of thumb, most venomous snakes are banded or striped, so a solid snake is more than likely a friend instead of a foe. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says to watch for snakes:

  • In and around water
  • Under piles of debris (wood piles, construction piles, etc.) 
  • Around sheds, barns, duck blinds, water troughs, and outdoor storage units on your property.

If you see telltale signs, such as snakeskins that have been shed or slide marks in the dirt, keep your eyes open.

It’s a good idea to keep your property free of clutter and promptly remove large piles of leaves, wood, and other materials. If you do have such mounds on your land, make sure to keep them away from your residence. And if you move the material, use a pole, rake, or another implement rather than your hands to start moving things around. If you encounter a log on your property, step on top of it, instead of over it, to avoid a strike from a snake burrowing underneath.

What should you do if you see a snake?

The CDC recommends that you back away slowly. Do not attempt to touch it or move it — with a stick, pole, etc. — and if you need to, call your local animal control to help remove the snake from your property or home. 

What should you do if you or a buddy gets bitten by a snake?

The CDC recommends that you:

  • Take note of the color, size, and shape of the snake.
  • Try to keep still and calm, which can help prevent the spread of the venom.
  • Call 911 and seek medical attention.
  • Keep the bitten area below the level of the heart.

Equally important is what not to do:

  • Do not try to capture the snake.
  • Do not apply a tourniquet.
  • Do not try to suck out the venom.
  • Do not apply ice or soak in water.

From your garden-variety garden snakes to water moccasins and more, keep this useful guide (and rhyme!) handy the next time you encounter a snake in Texas.

To learn more about the critters you may cross paths with in the Lone Star State, check out “What You Need to Know about Bedbugs, Crazy Ants, and Termites.”

© 2017 Texas Farm Bureau Insurance