Lone Star Rattlesnake Days

Today, we had a great time with the snakes and visitors at Lone Star Rattlesnake Days! Here are some photos from the event:

Thank you for everyone who came to visit!

Snakes in the Food Chain

Snakes are important to their ecosystems as both predators and prey in the food chain. Their role in this chain keeps rodent populations in check, while also feeding predators. Imagine a world without snakes – what might happen if this food chain became out of balance?

Snake Predators

Birds of prey such as owls and hawks rely on snakes as sources of food. Mongooses are notorious snake predators – Indian grey mongooses are known for eating venomous snakes such as cobras. Even other snakes will eat snakes! The Indigo Snake is a species found in Texas that feeds on rattlesnakes. Other animals like coyotes and raccoons have been known to eat snakes when the opportunity arises.

Snake Prey

Different snakes eat different things, and their food sources can vary significantly from species to species. Some small snakes, like the Rough Earth Snake, eat small creatures such as earthworms and slugs. For gardens with slug problems, snakes are great to have around as a form of natural pest control! Others feed mainly on small mammals, primarily rodents. Ratsnakes are notoriously found in suburban areas, but can benefit homeowners by controlling populations of rapidly-reproducing rats and mice. Many snakes will also feed on amphibians and reptiles, from toads to lizards.

Next time you see a snake in your yard, leave it be! Let snakes serve their important role in nature.

Snakes in the food chain predators prey

If You Love Texas, Love its Wildlife

Our state is better than this — stand up against violence towards snakes.

The Sweetwater Rattlesnake Roundup has wrapped up again this year, and has taken with it the lives of pits full of Western Diamondback Rattlesnakes. This festival started 1958, with locals justifying the festival as a means of controlling the snake population. It has since grown into an annual mass-killing event that attracts visitors from around the globe. To those traveling to Texas for the first time to see the roundup, this is their first impression of our state. Surely we can do better.

Sweetwater Myths & Misunderstandings

With increasing backlash from environmentalists and the general public, Sweetwater proponents have developed defenses. However, none of these can justify the violence and cruelty perpetrated at the event, and many of them are simply untrue.

  1. Death by Snake Bite: Pro-Sweetwater people often mention rattlesnakes’ threat to children’s safety when questioned about the festival. In reality, these snakes are responsible for less than one death per year in Texas. Typically, venomous snake bites are received by people who handle or otherwise taunt the snakes. While children’s safety is certainly important, there are simple steps that can be taken to keep them safe from wild snakes.
  2. Cattle Bites: Another common defense is that rattlesnakes kill ranchers’ cattle. However, this is not supported by the USDA’s Cattle Death Loss report, which has cited no cattle deaths related to snake bites. Cattle are large animals, and typically will experience swelling, but not death as a result of snake envenomation.
  3. Population Control: Sweetwater supporters claim that the event makes less than 1% of an impact on rattlesnake populations in the area, while simultaneously boasting that the event is a form of population control. The truth is that little is done to monitor the affect that the event has on snakes.
  4. Economic Necessity: For a town with a small population like Sweetwater, this event pumps a lot of money into the local economy. However, educational events such as Texas Rattlesnake Festival are proving that the public is interested in non-violent, educational snake events. Other states have banned roundup events and replaced them with similar educational events, keeping their economy alive without any needless killing.
  5. Venom Collection: Many festival goers maintain that the venom collected at Sweetwater’s annual roundup is vital for research. The Kentucky Reptile Zoo argues that this venom is not viable for antivenin production, as the snakes used for collection are unhealthy. These snakes are often bruised and bloodied from rough handling at the event, and have been gassed out of their dens for collection.

A pit full of rattlesnakes collected for the festival. Photo: Jo-Anne McArthur

Gassing of Rattlesnake Dens

Along with the Center for Biological Diversity, we petitioned Texas Parks and Wildlife to ban the gassing of rattlesnake dens. This practice is used as a means of collecting rattlesnakes. Hunters pump natural gas into the ground to drive rattlesnakes out of their dens, so that they can be easily collected and hauled off to the roundup. Gassing not only harms the plant life in the area, it can harm non-target animal species that share these burrows as well. Some of these animals include:

  • Texas tortoises, ornate box turtles
  • Spiny lizards, earless lizards, collared lizards, tree lizards
  • Kit foxes, bobcats, ocelots
  • Burrowing owls
  • Endangered karst invertebrates

This gas is harmful even to event-goers, who eat rattlesnake meat cooked from the same animals who were gassed.

Texas Parks and Wildlife has created a Snake Harvest Working Group to resolve the gassing issue. As of now, a decision is set to be reached in May of 2016.


Even children join in the bloody activities at the festival. Photo: Jo-Anne McArthur

Watch this video from Advocates for Snake Preservation for a close-up look at the cruelty of Sweetwater’s Rattlesnake Roundup:

We encourage you to treat all wildlife with respect. Like any wild animal, these snakes are vital to their ecosystems. Mass-hunting events such as the Sweetwater Rattlesnake Roundup spread a message of violence and animal cruelty.

Show your support for snakes by donating, or by signing up for our monthly newsletter:

Snake of the Day: Buttermilk Racer

Today’s Snake of the Day is the Buttermilk Racer. This snake is one of many racers found in Texas, but is unique in its appearance.

Buttermilk Racers often look mainly dark with light speckles, like the snake shown below. However, they can have so many speckles that they look mostly white, like the snake in this video:

These snakes can be found in East Texas, particularly in pine-hardwood and longleaf pine forests. They typically eat rodents, lizards, and frogs as adults.

Snake of the Day: Texas Garter Snake

Today’s snake in the spotlight is the Texas Garter Snake – a subspecies of the well known and approachable Garter Snake.

Texas Garter Snakes eat amphibians, earthworms, and small fish such as minnows. Their primary habitat is Texas’ tall-grass prairies; less than 1% of these prairies remain in Texas. Originally, Texas Garter Snakes found their prey in the small ponds that were found throughout these tall-grass prairies.

Texas Garter Snakes have unique features, but they can be easily confused with other garter snakes and ribbon snakes. Notice the bright, red-orange stripe running down the pictured snake’s back, and its low, yellowish side-stripes. In between the back and side stripes are a series of yellowish checkerboard markings. The combination of all of these features can be used to distinguish Texas Garter Snakes from their similarly marked friends.

Texas Garter Snake Facts

How to Snake-proof Your Chicken Coop

Keep those eggs uneaten and your chicks unharmed! Eggs are easy sources of food for snakes—they can often become unwanted visitors in chicken coops.

Chickens are not endangered by snakes, in fact, the birds will attack/eat small snakes. Snakes may try to eat baby chicks, so take extra precautions as your young chickens grow. Species like the Texas Ratsnake will try to find their way into the coop in search of eggs.

Ratsnake Eating Egg

Here is a Texas Ratsnake taking advantage of an easy meal. This non-venomous snake slithered into the chicken coop through a ventilation opening.

To prevent these unwanted visits, the best thing that you can do is to snake-proof your coop. Take a look at every potential entry point for your coop and follow these steps:

  1. Secure openings: Check for any holes or cracks in your coop. Even small openings should be considered possible points of entry for snakes. Use a fine wire mesh or a weatherproof fabric to securely cover these openings. If you find areas that are difficult to cover with mesh, try rolling up pieces of chicken wire and inserting them into irregular surfaces.
  2. Bury an “apron”: Dig a trench around the coop, and bury more of the mesh used to cover openings. This will keep snakes and other animals from entering the coop by digging or squeezing underneath. Learn more about adding this security feature to your coop from Backyard Chickens.
  3. Remove food sources: Try to remove eggs frequently, as these are a major attraction for snakes. Further, do not leave food in the coop or run that might attract rodents, as these animals are also food sources for snakes.
  4. Clear the yard: If there are not snake-friendly hiding places in your yard, it is less likely that snakes will hang around to look for eggs. Remove piles of brush, logs, and rocks if possible.
  5. Use a trap: If none of the above methods work, consider using a minnow trap baited with eggs. These traps are made of a wire mesh large enough for snakes to enter, but that they are not typically able to leave. After trapping a snake, quickly call a professional in your area to relocate it safely. Do not use glue traps or poisons/chemicals; these are inhumane to snakes and the chemicals can harm your chickens inadvertently.

Shown here is a snake trapped in a minnow trap that was baited with eggs.

Follow these steps and your coop should be snake-free!

We encourage you to treat these animals with respect. Like any wild animal, snakes are vital to their ecosystems. Mass-hunting events such as the Sweetwater Rattlesnake Roundup spread a message of violence and animal cruelty. To learn more about snakes in Texas, or to help us spread positive snake education, join our email newsletter list:

Snake of the Day: Prairie Kingsnake

Today’s snake of the day is yet another kingsnake! The Prairie Kingsnake is an elusive subspecies rarely seen in Texas. These snakes can be found in East Texas, but are uncommonly seen due to their excellent hiding abilities.

If you were to come across a Prairie Kingsnake you could recognize it by its stocky build, similar to other kingsnakes. It has a yellowish brown body with darker brown blotches down the middle of its black, and alternating matching blotches on its sides. Its head features a distinctive dark stripe behind the eyes.

Just like so many other Texas snakes, Prairie Kingsnakes are non-venomous and harmless to humans. Their main sources of food include rodents and small mammals, as well as birds, reptiles, and amphibians.


How to Keep Your Kids Safe Around Snakes

Many parents fear the thought of their children encountering snakes, and with good reason. Curious kids often like to turn over rocks, reach into open logs, and jump into creek water — all of which are common places for snakes to dwell. Here we will teach you how to prepare yourself and your children for potential snake encounters.

Be aware.

  • Be on the lookout for snakes as your kids play outdoors. Keep a watchful eye on brushy areas, tall grassy fields, and murky water. If you see a snake, calmly notify those around you, and back away from it. It is important to avoid panicking.
  • Remind kids to watch where they step, and where they reach. Snakes often seek out hiding places such as under rocks, in log piles, or in piles of leaves as protection from predators. Be sure that your kids are aware of this, and are careful where they place their hands.

Back when I lived in Arizona, I took my son out in his stroller for morning walks in the park. One morning, we were walking when I noticed a rattlesnake sunning itself on the sidewalk. I was terrified at the time – this was before I knew anything about snakes – but I tried to stay calm. I pulled his stroller backwards, and watched as the snake slithered off into the desert. It was just as scared as I was.

-Dina Pittman, TXSI co-founder

Copperhead snake hiding among oak leaves in Ravenna, Texas.

Notice how well this venomous Copperhead is hidden among forest debris.

Be a teacher.

  • There are many lessons that children ought to know about snakes. First, and most importantly, teach them to always avoid snakes in the wild. Even though the majority of Texas snakes are harmless and non-venomous, children should not be encouraged to approach them.
  • Kids ought to know the types of snakes to especially avoid. Teach them how to identify the four types of venomous snakes in Texas. You can learn with them by reading our Snake of the Day blog posts – this is a great way to teach kids who are interested in reptiles about the wide variety of wild snakes found in Texas.

Protective clothing and shoes.

  • A seemingly harmless place, such as a neighborhood creek, can actually be a habitat for venomous snakes such as Cottonmouths (Water Moccasins). Be sure to have your kids dress in protective clothing and shoes when visiting these types of places.
  • Long pants and boots are good choices for snake-safe clothing. If swimming in a lake, have alternative shoes to wear on shore, especially if the surrounding area is wooded. Snakes may live in the land around these bodies of water.
  • Examples of potential snake habitats:
    • Long-grassy plains
    • Creeks, rivers, ponds, and lakes (on shore and in the water)
    • Wooded areas (leaf piles, under rocks, in logs, etc.)
    • Deserts & rocky areas
  • In the video below, watch how the Cottonmouth’s color blends in to the soil. Keep a careful eye out for these snakes near water:

Practice snake safety.

  • Especially with younger children, it is important to practice snake safety.
  • Penny Whitehouse has a great idea for a snake safety game. Hide a fake “snake” in the yard, and have them practice pretending that it is real. This should involve them holding still, and then calmly retreating from the snake. You may want to have them practice telling you that they saw the snake, so that they will remember to tell an adult when they see a real snake.
  • These little exercises are great for young kids, because they can learn by doing. This will help reinforce any lessons you teach them about staying safe around snakes.

With the proper preparation, you and your kids can venture outdoors with confidence. Go out, have fun, and remember to respect all wildlife!

Tips to keep kids safe from snake bites Texas

Despite the danger that these animals pose, we encourage you to treat them with respect. Like any wild animal, these snakes are vital to their ecosystems. Mass-hunting events such as the Sweetwater Rattlesnake Roundup spread a message of violence and animal cruelty. To learn more about snakes in Texas, or to help us spread positive snake education, join our email newsletter list:

Snake of the Day: Bullsnake

Today’s snake is one known for its feisty attitude – the Bullsnake.

Bullsnakes are stocky, three to five foot long snakes that are common in Texas. When threatened, they will often curve themselves into the defensive S-shaped pose pictured below. This pose is often considered aggressive and intimidating, but don’t be fooled. These snakes are non-venomous, and harmless to humans.

This defensive pose and tendency to lunge at humans when threatened has earned Bullsnakes a bad reputation. There are all kinds of myths surrounding this species – some believe that they crossbreed with rattlesnakes, others believe that their bites are deadly due to infection. While a bite from any animal can lead to infection if left untreated, Bullsnake bites are not particularly infectious. And of course, Bullsnakes and rattlesnakes do not breed to create “super snakes”.

Bullsnakes eat small mammals, especially rodents. They are another beneficial species that is great to have around for rodent control purposes. Welcome a Bullsnake the next time you see one, and leave it in peace to continue serving its role in the food chain!


Snake of the Day: Desert Kingsnake

Today’s snake of the day is the Desert Kingsnake. This lovely black and yellow snake looks very similar to one of our previous snake stars – the Speckled Kingsnake. What sets this subspecies apart in its markings are the yellow bands and black splotches created by its speckles. The Speckled Kingsnake has a more uniform distribution of black and yellow scales.

Many Desert Kingsnake sightings in Texas occur near the famous “Marfa lights” viewing area – very spooky! These snakes are fairly uncommon in the state, but their favorite places to live are prairie grasslands.

Desert Kingsnakes are non-venomous, and harmless to humans. They eat small reptiles, small mammals, and reptile eggs. They are resistance to pit viper venom, and are therefore able to eat young rattlesnakes.