Beware! Warmer weather has awakened the reptile family. I just saw a yellow-bellied water snake slithering through my yard, and sliding under my deck. Fortunately, it is non-venomous, but will still bite, if provoked. Note to self: “Stay alert in the days to come because snakes are mating, and they are feeling feisty.” Snakes mate in early spring soon after they finish hibernating during the cold months of winter. In this way, their young can be born or hatched during the hot, summer months. All snakes are cold-blooded and can be found sunning themselves on top of a wood pile or a rock.

In the Southeastern United States, there are several species of poisonous snakes, including the cottonmouth, copperhead, coral snake, and the rattlesnake. The cottonmouth is venomous, and is to be feared because he will stand his ground if he feels threatened. He is the only snake out of the four that lives in water, and rarely strays from his watery habitat. His diet consists of frogs, fish, and small animals. He is named for the white coloring on the inside of his mouth.

Copperheads camouflage themselves in leaves, and hide under loose boards, or logs. They are difficult to see as their coloring is frequently the color of the dried leaves that they like to hide under. Their heads are coppercolored, and their bodies have bands of gray or brown patterning.

The coral snake is not to be confused with the harmless milk snake. A good way to remember the difference is: “Red on yellow, kill the fellow; Red on black, the venom lack.” Coral snakes are shy and not aggressive; however, their bite, although rare, contains a neurotoxin that causes paralysis and respiratory failure.

Although most snakes lay eggs, rattlesnakes give live birth. They will warn you before striking by rapidly shaking the buttons at the end of their tail. The number of buttons at the end of the tail will not indicate how old the snake is because a new button is added each time the snake sheds its skin. A snake may shed its skin several times a year. The timber rattlesnake is a protected species in Texas, and it is illegal to capture or to kill it.

Most snakes are harmless, but it is important to learn about these four venomous snakes in order to avoid a bite. Snakes can deliver a lethal bite by injecting their venom into a human. Most bites are below the knee. Their fangs are fragile and will break off; they will not penetrate leather. Half of the bites that occur are “dry” bites meaning no venom is injected into the human being. Snakes are good for the ecosystem because they eat rodents and insects. Therefore, it is important for the environment that they be respected and protected.


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