Tex-Zen Ranch About Snakes


Skilled predators, snakes help maintain the balance of nature by eating prey that reproduces frequently, everything from earthworms to rabbits. Snakes are especially important in the control of rodents such as mice and rats.


Venomous Snakes in Texas


Texas is home to around 115 species and subspecies of snakes. The 15 venomous snakes in Texas make up less than 15 percent of the total number of snakes in the state. They are separated into four categories: coral snakes, copperheads, cottonmouths (water moccasins) and rattlesnakes.


Coral Snakes


Coral snake Only one species of coral snake is native to Texas. The brightly colored Texas coral snake is the state's only member of the Elapidae family, which includes the cobras of Asia and Africa. The coral snake is slender with a small indistinctive head and round pupils, and is usually is 2-1/2 feet or shorter. Shy and rarely seen, its distinctive pattern is a broad black ring, a narrow yellow ring and a broad red ring, with the red rings always bordered by the yellow rings. Several harmless snakes are similarly marked, but never with the red and yellow touching. 'Red on yellow, kill a fellow; red on black, venom lack,' is a handy way to distinguish the highly venomous coral snake from non venomous ringed species. The coral snake has a small mouth, and is usually non-aggressive. Its bites are dangerous, but extremely rare. Coral snakes are found in the southeastern half of Texas in woodlands, canyons and coastal plains. 


Pit Viper


A pit viper is a type of venomous snake. Copperheads, cottonmouths and rattlesnakes are called pit-vipers because they have a pit near each nostril which is highly sensitive to heat. This pit helps the snake in locating warm-blooded prey. In Texas, we have 3 groups of these snakes: Copperheads, Cottonmouths, and Rattlesnakes.





Copperheads have chestnut or reddish-brown cross bands on a lighter colored body. These snakes are found in rocky areas and wooded bottomlands and are rare in dry areas. In the spring they can be found along streams and rivers, as well as in weed-covered vacant lots. There are three subspecies of Copperheads in Texas; Southern copperhead (A.c. contortrix), 20-30 inches long and found in the eastern one-third of the state; Broad banded copperhead (A.c. laticinctus), about two feet long, widely scattered in central and western Texas; and the Trans-Pecos copperhead (A.c. pictigaster), 20-30 inches in length and found near springs in the southern part of the Trans-Pecos.


With their bands of gray and/or brown, the three subspecies of Texas copperheads are colored to blend in with leaf-covered forest floors. It's possible to stare right at a copperhead without seeing it. Fortunately, copperheads are the least dangerous poisonous snake. Because they are so well camouflaged, most bites occur when a snake is accidentally picked up or sat or laid on. Always use care when picking up or flipping over logs, boards, old tin or other items where copperheads may be resting.





The Latin name piscivorous means 'fish- eating,' indicating its dietary characteristics. Also known as 'water moccasins', only one recognized subspecies is found in Texas; Western cottonmouth (A.p. leucostoma).


Cottonmouths can be dark brown, olive-brown, olive green or almost solid black. They are marked with wide, dark bands, which are more distinct in some individuals than in others. Juvenile snakes are more brilliantly marked. The cottonmouth gets its name from the white tissue inside its mouth, which it displays when threatened. This heavy-bodied snake, which averages about 3-1/2 feet in length, is found over the eastern half of the state in swamps and sluggish waterways, coastal marshes, rivers, ponds and streams.


The cottonmouth, or water moccasin, rarely strays far from water and can be found in marshes, swamps, ponds, lakes, ditches, and canals in East and Central Texas and along the Gulf coast. It is a stubby, muscular snake and can grow to nearly six feet. Moccasins can bite underwater. These snakes can be very defensive and sometimes aggressive.

Swimmers, bathers and anglers on river banks should always keep an eye open for these snakes.




Western massasaugaNine kinds of rattlesnakes are found in Texas, including the massasauga. Rattlesnakes usually "rattle" before striking, but if they are totally surprised, they may strike before rattling.


There are two groups of rattlesnakes: the more primitive forms belong to the genus Sistrurus. Texas has two:


Western massasauga (Sistrurus catenatus tergeminus), light gray, with brown oval blotches along the middle of the back and smaller blotches along each side. They are two feet in length and found through the middle of the state in grasslands, marshy and swampy areas.


Desert massasauga (S.c. edwardsii), lighter in color than the western massasauga, smaller and more slender. Found in the Trans-Pecos, western Panhandle and the lower Rio Grande Valley.


The more advanced forms of rattlesnakes belong to the genus Crotalus and Texas is home to six:


Western diamondbackWestern diamondback (Crotalus atrox) has brown, diamond-shaped markings along the middle of the back and alternating black and white rings on the tail; averages 3 1/2 to 4-1/2 feet in length, and can reach seven feet. This is the most common and widespread venomous snake in Texas, found in all but the easternmost part of the state.


Timber rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus) also known as Canebreak rattlesnake is a large, heavy-bodied snake averaging 4-1/2 feet; brown or tan with wide, dark cross bands; tail is entirely black; found in the eastern third of the state in wooded areas in wet bottomlands.



Timber rattlesnake

Mottled Rock rattlesnake (Crotalus lepidus) is light bream or pink background with widely spaced, dark cross bands and mottled areas between the cross bands. It is small and slender with an average length of about two feet and is found in the mountainous areas of West Texas.


Banded Rock rattlesnake (C.l. klauberi) is similar to the mottled rock rattlesnake, but darker greenish-gray in color. It is found only in the extreme western tip of Texas.


Blacktail rattlesnake (Crotalus molossus) is gray to olive green with dark blotches along the back and a black tail. Averaging a length of 3-1/2 feet, it is found from Central Texas throughout most of West Texas in bushes and on rocky ledges.


Mojave rattlesnake (Crotalus scutulatus) is similar to the western diamondback in markings, but smaller and more slender and found only in extreme West Texas.


Prairie rattlesnake (Crotalus viridis viridis) is a slender rattler that is greenish or grayish, with rounded blotches down the middle of its back. Its average length is about three feet and is found in the grassy plains of the western third of the state.


About Centipedes


CentipedeCentipedes do not carry diseases to man or to his animals and plants. They are usually considered nuisances rather than destructive pests. Centipedes pose an occasional threat to man because they have poison glands and will bite.

There are many kinds of centipedes but all of them are more or less wormlike and have a flattened body. The largest centipede inhabits the tropics of Central America. Scolopendra gigantca is its name and when fully mature will attain a length of 12 inches. A closely related centipede, Scolopendra heros, occurs in Texas and may be over 5 inches long when full grown.

Like all centipedes Scolopendra can inflict a painful bite with a pair of poison claws located directly under the head. These poison claws, once a pair of walking legs, have Scolopendra head showing poison claws over mouthundergone a drastic change over thousands of years and are now used for capturing and killing their prey instead of walking. So complete is the change and so close is the association with the head, the claws now appear to be mouth parts.

Most centipedes can only bite with their poison claws located directly under the head; however, Scolopendra can harm a person with the sharp claws of its many walking legs. Each walking leg is tipped with a sharp claw capable of making tiny cuts in human skin. A poison produced from the attachment point of each leg may be dropped into the wounds resulting in an inflamed and irritated condition. The best rule of thumb is NEVER HANDLE CENTIPEDES.



About Scorpions


Striped bark scorpion, Centruoides vittatus ( Say).  Photo by G. McIlveen, Jr.Scorpions are non-insect arthropods. All species of scorpion are poisonous. Texas scorpions produce a bee-sting like reaction in humans. It is very painful, but not life-threatening to most humans. Body size of the victim is very important. Children, because of their small size, are at greater risk of severe envenomation than are adults. There are no scorpions in Texas that are considered lethal to man.


The presence of pre-existing medical conditions such as pneumonia, hypertension, and certain heart ailments can turn otherwise normal systemic reactions into life threatening situations. Persons with such conditions are at greater risk of severe envenomation than are healthy persons.


Some people are allergic to scorpion venom in the same way that some are allergic to honey bee venom. In such cases, very severe effects, including death, can occur very rapidly and are not related to the toxicity of the venom. Deaths due to envenomation by non-medically important species are usually the result of allergy induced anaphylactic shock.


About Tarantulas


A tarantula, Aphonopelma sp.  Photo by Jackman.Tarantulas are solitary animals and can live up to 30 years. They are nocturnal hunters and are generally non-aggressive. Moreover, they can live in burrows that are 2 feet deep. This species (Aphonopelma) has the longest life span of any other spider. Furthermore, most tarantulas are killed by predatory wasps called Tarantula hawks. The Tarantula hawks sting their prey and use the dead tarantula body to lay their eggs in. In addition, the offspring of the Tarantula hawks rely on the leftover body parts to supply them with food. 


Unlike other spiders, tarantulas use their silk to line their burrows instead of catching their prey. They have a pair of silk producing spinnerets located on the abdomen. Moreover, the female tarantula uses her silk to protect her delicate baby eggs.  In addition, tarantulas shed their skins (molt) to adapt to their growing bodies.


Tarantulas are HARMLESS to humans and most pets (e.g., dogs and cats). Their venom is of no medical significance, and contrary to popular belief, nobody has ever died from such a bite; most people compare the bite to that of a bee sting and experience no lasting ill-effects other than mild to moderate pain and slight swelling at the site of the bite. Most species are nocturnal, and if one shows up in or around your house, it is just because he is trying to hide out during the day to return to his search at night (or maybe you have female tarantulas living around your house). In South Texas, some males hide out in the low mesquite trees during the daytime hours.


If you do not feel comfortable having tarantulas around, please gently chase the spider into a jar with a leaf or other long object with a soft end, and deposit it as far away as you feel comfortable. Remember, these animals are completely beneficial to humans, feeding on cockroaches, crickets, scorpions, and likely mice and other rodents.


Poison Ivy and Poison Oak


Poison ivyPoison Ivy and Poison Oak, common names applied to two plants of a genus in the cashew family, are capable of producing an allergic reaction in people who have become sensitized to them. Poison ivy and poison oak are variants of a single plant (sometimes treated as separate species by botanists), different mainly in the shape of their leaflets. Both are woody perennial plants of roadsides, thickets, hedgerows, and open woods, and one or the other is found throughout the United States and southern Canada. They may take the form of vines climbing up tree trunks to considerable height, shrubs or sub shrubs standing erect by themselves, or vines trailing on the forest floor, sometimes also trailing out into meadows from hedgerows. Distinguishing characteristics include the regular grouping of three leaflets in each leaf, and stiff clusters of small, yellowish or white berries that appear in summer and fall. Other characteristics vary considerably, especially size of leaflet, notching, whether the surface is shiny or dull, or color.


Poison ivy and poison oak contain a lacquer-like resin in their sap. The resin is composed of active substances that provoke a sensitizing reaction in most, if not all, persons the first time effective contact occurs. Brushing past the leaves or the bare stems may result in contact. Contact with exposed pets, clothing, or garden tools many induce a reaction. Smoke from burning ivy plants may carry the resin and affect all uncovered parts of the body.


After a person has become sensitized, subsequent contact with the resin produces the typical allergic reaction of ivy poisoning. The effects do not become apparent for some hours. First, the skin reddens and begins to itch. Small watery blisters soon appear, often in lines indicating the point of contact with the plant, and the itching becomes intense. Finally, in severe cases, large watery swellings appear and coalesce. The condition is self-limiting, and recovery takes place in one to four weeks, even without treatment. A physician should be consulted in severe cases or if sensitive parts of the body, such as the eyelids, become involved. Scratching slows healing, invites infection, and may spread the resin from one location to another; the watery fluid in the blisters does not spread the reaction. Boric acid solution or calamine lotion is commonly used to relieve itching. Some or all of the resin may be removed by prompt and vigorous scrubbing with strong soap.

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