Planning a trip to Texas and concerned about venomous snakes ruining your vacation? Well, worry not. Your chances of encountering a venomous snake, let alone being bitten by one, is substantially lower than you might think.
Although Texas is home to over 100 species of snakes, the vast majority of them are harmless. And many of the venomous ones are rare enough that you’d be lucky to see one. You’re more than twice as likely to be killed by a lightning strike in Texas than you are by a snake bite. And you’re substantially more likely to be killed in a boating accident.
That being said, it’s wise not to take unnecessary risks, so we’ve made a list of seven of the most venomous snakes to watch out for in Texas. And we’ve included a few safety tips to help keep you out of harm’s way too!
If red touches yellow, it’ll kill a fellow. This rhyme is commonly known throughout Texas and it refers to the most venomous snake in the state, the coral snake. Luckily its distinctive coloring means that you should know it if you see it. They have stripes of red, yellow, and black coloring, with – as the rhyme says – the red always next to the yellow. So if you’re looking at a snake and the red patches are next to black, it’s most likely a non-venomous lookalike such as the milk snake.
The coral snake is not a viper like the other snakes on our list, instead, it’s of the cobra family. But you won’t catch it swaying and displaying its hood like a traditional cobra. Texas coral snakes are notoriously reclusive. They are nocturnal, spend their days hiding in log piles and woodland, and will attempt to flee from predators rather than attack. They will only bite as an extreme last resort and may not have much success even then. They have short fangs which are not suited for biting through clothing or boots and have an inefficient venom delivery system. For these reasons, plus their low numbers, coral snakes are responsible for very few snake bites across America.
This is lucky because if they do bite, they have the most potent venom of any snake in Texas. It contains a powerful neurotoxin that can paralyze the respiratory muscles in a matter of hours, causing a need for artificial respiration and death if not treated.
Copperheads are the first of 6 pit vipers on our list since this clarification encompasses most of the venomous snakes in Texas. The term pit viper refers to a family of venomous vipers distinguished by an organ – or pit – located on either side of their nostrils. This pit is highly sensitive to heat and enables the viper to detect the presence of warm-blooded prey.
The copperhead is one of the more docile varieties of pit viper but is still dangerous, primarily due to its incredible capacity for camouflage. These beautifully colored copper snakes live in forests and woodlands. They will lie hidden against the leaf-strewn floor where they are often sat on, stood on, or picked up accidentally. Although this snake’s usual recourse is to avoid confrontation, it will understandably bite in self-defense if it is surprised like this.
The copperhead’s venom is dangerous, but it is rarely fatal in a healthy adult. However, it can be painful and cause swelling and damage to the blood vessels and tissue around the bite. Further complications can occur, especially if the victim is a child, elderly or frail.
The cottonmouth or water moccasin is one of only two semiaquatic vipers in the world. It is native to the southeastern states of the US and almost always lives in or near water. In Texas, they are most often found in marshes and swampland and along the gulf coast.
Broad, stocky snakes they are generally around 3-4 feet long but can exceed 6 feet. They come in a variety of colors ranging from banded and spotted dark brown and olive green to almost solid black, making them tricky to identify. However, their mouths which they open when feeling threatened, are startlingly white. This whiteness reminded people of cotton balls and earned the snake its name.
This open-mouthed posture coupled with the snake’s tendency to rear back and hiss loudly has gained the snake a reputation for aggression. In reality, this is a defense mechanism intended to scare predators away. The cottonmouth is only likely to bite if the threat continues. However, there have been incidents of swimmers being bitten in the water, so anyone fishing, wading, or swimming in cottonmouth territories should be alert.
The cottonmouth bite is rarely fatal but can be extremely painful and have lasting effects. The venom causes tissue and cell death, and if left untreated, can cause deep scarring or, in rare cases, amputation of the bitten limb.
There are around 10 species of rattlesnake found in Texas. They each have slightly different characteristics, appearance, and habitats, but they are all venomous and should be treated cautiously. The Mojave rattlesnake is the most venomous of them all and has the most dangerous bite of any rattlesnake in the world. In Texas, this snake’s venom is second only to the coral snake.
Its venom is both neuro and haemotoxic, meaning that it attacks the nervous system while also causing muscle and tissue damage. A bite from a Mojave rattlesnake can lead to impaired vision, trouble walking, and breathing problems. If left untreated, it can be deadly; however, fatalities are rare thanks to the availability of antivenom treatment in Texas.
Your chances of encountering one on your travels are pretty minimal since this snake is pretty scarce and lives only in the far western reaches of Texas.
Western Diamondback Rattlesnake
A more commonly sighted rattlesnake is the western diamondback. This snake is not as venomous as the Mojave, but its widespread habitat and greater numbers mean it’s responsible for far more bites per year than its more dangerous relative.
It’s also one of the largest rattlesnakes averaging around 4-5 feet but capable of growing to about 7 feet long. It’s recognizable by the dark, diamond-pattern markings along its back from which it gets its name, but its body can be anything from dusty brown to a pinkish-red or white.
If you see any snake that you think might be a western diamondback, the best advice is to stay well away. This snake has a reputation for being aggressive and not shying away from confrontation. Unlike most snakes in Texas, it does not try to escape but will hold its ground when feeling threatened. It will usually deliver a warning before striking, coiling back, and rattling its tail, but if the threat continues, it will strike.
Its venom can cause vomiting, shock, fever, tissue and muscle damage, cardiovascular damage, and internal bleeding that can be fatal if left untreated. But, as with the Mojave, the bite is not often fatal because effective antivenom treatment is widely available.
Another rattler with a widespread habitat is the timber rattlesnake, found in high numbers throughout eastern Texas. They live in forests and rocky outcrops, where they sometimes like to sunbathe. Like the diamondback, their wide distribution leads to a significant number of human interactions.
However, timber rattlesnakes are more reserved than their more aggressive relative. They will try to escape from confrontation rather than holding their ground. If they can’t escape, they will give plenty of warning rattles before eventually striking as a last resort.
When they do bite, their venom is not as strong as the diamondback’s or the Mojave’s, but it is still dangerous if left untreated. The bite can also be extremely painful thanks to this snake’s larger-than-average fangs.
The timber rattlesnake is the only species of venomous snake in Texas that is protected. It’s listed as a threatened species, so owning, selling, killing, or removing the snake from its habitat is illegal without the correct permit.
Scientifically, massasauga rattlesnakes should be the most venomous snakes in Texas. Their venom is technically the most potent of all our snakes. But it can only deliver a small amount of venom per bite, so is considered less dangerous than some of its larger relatives. However, a massasauga bite can still be pretty painful, and its venom, even in small doses, can cause swelling, internal bleeding, and cell and tissue damage.
You’ll find this snake living in wooded areas and grassy prairie land. Nocturnal and preferring the cool, damp weather, this snake rarely sunbathes but is often spotted after rain. You’ll recognize it by its light grey or pale brown color dotted with darker splotches on its back and sides. It’s also known for having a rattle that makes a higher pitch than most other rattlesnakes.
What is the most venomous snake in Texas?
The most venomous snake in Texas is the coral snake. Its venom contains a powerful neurotoxin that can cause respiratory failure and death if left untreated. Luckily coral snake bites don’t often happen and it is actually rattlesnakes that cause the most snake bites and deaths in Texas.
How many venomous snakes are in Texas?
There are 15 species and subspecies of venomous snakes in Texas. Most of them are rattlesnakes, and all of them, except the coral snake, are from the pit viper family.
Should I worry about snakes in Texas?
You don’t need to worry too much about snakes in Texas. The majority of the snakes there are non-venomous and only 1-2 people die annually from venomous snake bites.
But if you are concerned, you can do a few things to ensure your safety.
- Never approach, provoke or threaten any snake you see regardless of whether you think it is harmless. Most snakes will avoid confrontation and only strike as a last resort, respect them and their habitat and keep your distance.
- Be cautious when moving logs or vegetation, wear thick gloves, and watch where you’re putting your hands.
- Take care when hiking, wear long trousers and thick boots, watch where you put your feet, and check the ground before sitting down.
- If you are bitten, stay calm but seek medical attention immediately. Even if you don’t think the snake was venomous, it’s better to be safe than sorry. Antivenom treatments are widely available in Texas and are effective against all the snakes in the state.
Is killing a snake illegal in Texas?
It is illegal to kill any snake inside a state park in Texas, and doing so could land you with a hefty fine. However, outside of the parks, very few snakes are protected by law and the only protected venomous snake is the timber rattlesnake.
Not only are most snakes not protected, but rattlesnake roundups are still a common occurrence. At these events, snakes are captured and killed in large numbers for sport, prizes, and meat, to the dismay of conservation groups and reptile lovers everywhere.