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They’re back! Identifying snakes in East Texas

Snakes are starting to slither back out, but how do you know which ones are venomous and which ones are not?
Updated: Apr. 28, 2021 at 10:10 PM CDT
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TYLER, Texas (KLTV) - They’re scaly. They’re stealthy, and they’re slithering their way out of hibernation.

“They’ve been coming out for two or three weeks now. You know, we had a really hard winter. A lot of snakes were hunkering down, hibernating,” says William Garvin, Supervisor of Reptiles at the Caldwell Zoo. “And now that the weather is improved, everybody’s hungry and they’re starting to wake up and move around.”

Garvin says that over 30 different types of snake species exist in East Texas. That leaves East Texans wondering, which ones are venomous and which ones are non-venomous?

Some East Texans have seen small, brown snakes slithering around their gardens this spring. Garvin calls these “Texas Brown Snakes.”

“Full grown, they’re about fourteen inches long. They’re kind of one of our little common flowerbeds snakes. They like to live in mulch and leaf litter,” says Darvin.

When it rains, and the flowerbeds become permeated with water, the snakes will come to the surface. Then, Darvin says, they sometimes make their way under front doors of homes. He says these fourteen-inch house guests are harmless.

Darvin says the Western Rat Snake is another common non-venomous snake in East Texas.

“A lot of people mistake [the rat snake] for a venomous snake. They are not aggressive, but they are defensive. They will bite if you corner them, but it’s harmless.,” he says.

As far as venomous snakes are concerned, Darvin says there are three that are most likely to be found across East Texas.

The first: the Western Cottonmouth, or water moccasin. Darvin says these snakes do resemble a non-venomous snake, called the Yellow Belly Water snake. However, water moccasin is thicker around, and has a more angled, “blocky” head.

The second: the Timber Rattlesnake. “This is a species you wouldn’t just find in the woods, at the park, or around town—it’s more specialized,” says Darvin. He says these can typically be found in low-lying areas and around river bottom, like near the Sabine River.

The third: the Southern Copperhead. According to Darvin, these are these are the most common venomous snakes in East Texas.

“These occupy almost any habitat, but they’re really at home in woodlands where there is leaf litter on the ground,” he says “They blend in perfectly with oak leaves.”

Darvin says copperhead snakes have a distinctive marking-- an hourglass pattern. “That’s how you know you have a copperhead on your hands.”

If you do encounter any snake this spring- venomous or non-venomous- Darvin says it is best to admire from a far.

“The majority of people who are bitten by snakes, are bitten because they go over to the snake. Very few bites are actually because somebody actually steps on a snake or doesn’t know it’s there,” he says. ”It’s because people, you know, they want to either capture a snake or kill a snake or do some sort of harm to a snake-- and that puts them in too close proximity and that’s when bad things usually happen.’

He also says that if you want to keep snakes from congregating around your house, keep your yard well manicured and avoid junk piles or trash piles near your property.

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