Sunday, August 15, 2010

The Snakes Among Us

Snakes: for some people, the reptiles constitute one of the joys of living near a Texas stream. For others, they are hair raising, slithering creatures that must be dealt with using a shovel with a long handle. Off with their heads!

Personally, I'm one of the former. I love seeing snakes around the Reach and the neighborhood. That doesn't mean that they don't give me the heebie-jeebies when I come across one. We must be pre-programmed genetically to give fright at their sight.

Knowing more about snakes is one way to fear them less. We should be particularly grateful that we aren't likely to find any of the poisonous snakes native to our area at the Reach. Everything's possible of course, but cottonmouths tend to like shallow, stagnant stretches of water that we don't have. Think big pools and ponds. Rattlesnakes aren't likely to find their way past all the roads and freeways, and they generally prefer rockier areas. Coral snakes are very rare.

Around the Reach, we have two very common snakes, both non-poisonous. There's the blotched water snake and the Texas rate snake.

All snakes provide good food for the hawks and owls, and are predators of frogs and rodents. Just one part of the important food chain here.

The Blotched Water Snake

These snakes are quite common down in the stream, though during drought they can be found wandering about on land. When scared, they can flatten their heads, which makes them look a bit more like the cottonmouth. One way to tell the difference is that cottonmouths float across the surface when swimming. When the water snakes swim, only their head is above water.

The Texas Rat Snake

These snakes are great consumers of all our nastiest little rodents, but they love chicken eggs too (just ask the Choates). They can get large (4 to 6 feet long) and climb vertical surfaces. That means they can be found lounging vertically on your house wall. And of course, craziness will then ensue! Mostly, we see the young snakes around the hood, and often they are found squashed in the road, but larger ones are about. These snakes can be aggressive when cornered, they may even hiss and bite. It'll hurt, but remember: no poison. Best just to give them some respect as they move on their way to find a meal.

All of this information and these photos come from the Austin Area Snake Identification Pages.

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