How to Identify Harmless Texan Snakes


Nearly 70 species of snakes inhabit Texas, ranging from its eastern swamps and pine woods to western mesquite scrub and tablelands. A number of venomous serpents are among these, including several kinds of rattlesnakes, the cottonmouth, the Texas coral snake and the copperhead. But the vast majority are nonvenomous, presenting no threat to human beings.

Things You'll Need

  • Field guide
  • Camera
  • Sort out the larger constricting snakes of Texas, some of its most impressive reptiles. Several subspecies of bullsnake inhabit Texas -- the bullsnake proper, the Louisiana pine snake and the Sonoran gopher snake -- and all have tawny bodies with ragged, dark brown or black blotches. The numerous native races of rat snake are similar-looking but have more well-defined blotches and more variable body color, from orange to gray. The desert and speckled king snakes are muscular, toned in black and white. The huge Texas indigo snake, occasionally over 8 feet long, is near black, glossy, big-scaled and has black lines on its upper lip.

  • Identify the garter snakes by their slender bodies and longitudinal stripes. It can be difficult at a glance to distinguish the various subspecies, which in Texas include the eastern, Texas, red-sided and New Mexico garter snakes, but pay attention to the pattern and coloration of the striping to attempt it.

  • Learn the appearance of the several subspecies of milk snake in Texas: the Louisiana and Mexican varieties closely resemble the venomous Texas coral snake: all have tricolor banding, prominently featuring red and black. But the red bands of the coral snake directly border yellow ones, while in the milk snakes red alternates with black.

  • Distinguish between the water and crayfish snakes of Texas, often encountered in streams, swamps and marshes. The dorsal sides of the relatively small, elusive Graham's and glossy crayfish snakes are uniformly brownish or greenish, while the bolder, larger water snakes are usually blotched or banded. The yellowbelly water snake of far eastern Texas is an exception, but is much stouter and larger than the crayfish snakes.

  • Keep an eye out for the eccentric behavior of the eastern and western hognose snakes, which between them inhabit essentially the whole of Texas. These big-headed, nonvenomous, heavily mottled snakes perform an elaborate routine when threatened: hissing, flattening their necks, coiling -- and, finally, flopping belly up to play dead.

  • Spot the unmistakable rough green snake in the thickets, vine tangles and waterways it favors in eastern Texas. This arboreal species is a vibrant green, which can make it difficult to discern against a backdrop of shrubbery. Its slenderness and large eyes are other notable field marks.

  • Identify the many other native serpents of Texas, from long-nose snakes to racers to blind snakes, by focusing on prominent physical features as well as behavior, habitat and geographic location.

Tips & Warnings

  • Bring along a good field guide to Texas reptiles to help you identify snakes. A camera can be very helpful as well: You can record an image for later study.


  • Photo Credit Jupiterimages/ Images
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