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South Texas Living

Spring means snakes

Spring means snakes

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March 12, 2014
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Warmer weather brings reptiles out

Texas A&M University

Visiting your zip code very soon: snakes, and perhaps plenty of them. With warm temperatures and upcoming spring rainfall, experts say it’s getting that time of year when snakes are on the prowl, or at least on the slither. With Texas a ground zero for many snake populations, people and pets should be aware that snakes are out and about, said a Texas A&M University expert regarding the creatures.

Jill Heatley, associate professor of veterinary medicine, noted that this is the time of year when snakes forsake their comfy winter surroundings and head out and about, and that could mean bad news for people and their pets. She and other veterinarians in the Small Animal Hospital at Texas A&M University’s College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences are expecting to see snakebite cases any day.

“I spoke with one of our emergency room doctors the other day and said to be sure and tell pet owners that dogs and cats are likely to encounter snakes this time of year,” she said. “If you believe your pet has been bitten, you need to seek veterinary care and the doctor can determine what kind of treatment is necessary.”

She said a snakebite on a human can be painful -- and very expensive.

It is not uncommon for a person bitten by a venomous snake to have medical bills of $50,000 or more because of hospitalization, which can run from one day to several weeks, treatments on damaged tissues, plus antivenin treatments that can run into the thousands of dollars, she added.

Although snakes are found in most of the world -- Ireland, Iceland, and New Zealand are some of the few snake-free countries -- only four types found in Texas are venomous: the coral snake, copperhead, rattlesnake, and cottonmouth (also called water moccasin), and the state is a slithering paradise for all of them.

“The thing to remember about snakes is that generally, they want to be left alone. They are probably more afraid of you,” Heatley explained.

“Of the four types of venomous snakes in Texas, the coral, copperhead, and rattlesnake are almost never aggressive unless they are provoked,” she added. “The cottonmouth has been known to be a little on the aggressive side, so you should be a little more wary of it, especially if you are near a creek or lake where they have been frequently seen.”

Heatley said snakes are becoming more active and many are changing out of their skin -- and that can reveal a key clue.

“This is the time of year when all reptiles become more active,” she said. “Even water turtles begin to shed their scutes for the shiny new ones underneath,” she added.

Heatley said an inquisitive pet can be a snakebite victim.

If bitten, a dog usually suffers the bite on its face or nose, while cats tend to be nicked on their paws, she explained.

“The area that has been bitten will usually begin to swell almost immediately, and that’s a tell-tale sign to look for,” she noted. Venom can spread quickly inside the animal, and kidney failure can result within 12 to 24 hours, which is why a bitten animal needs immediate treatment.

She said it’s important to know that all snakebites are not the same.

“Sometimes an animal or person will get just a small amount of venom from a bite, and sometimes it’s much more,” she added. “There is also such a thing as a ‘dry bite’ in which no venom is injected at all. And also, larger snakes tend to have lesser amounts of venom than smaller ones.

“One of the questions we often get is, how can you tell a venomous snake from a harmless one?” Heatley said. “The answer is that’s difficult, because there are numerous types of snakes that are not venomous that look very similar to a venomous one. Look for the triangular-shaped head,” Heatley noted, adding that coral snakes are brightly colored with rows of yellow, red, and black markings. But a coral snake is part of the cobra family, so its venom can be very potent.

For more information about snakes, she recommends such websites as Herps of Texas, Austin Herpetological Society, and Texas Parks and Wildlife.

Find out more
•Herps of Texas:
•Austin Herpetological Society:
•Texas Parks & Wildlife Department:

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