What is Herpetology?
Herpetology is the study of reptiles and amphibians. Herpetoculture is the captive husbandry and propagation of reptile and amphibian species.
Why keep snakes?
Some people love animals, some are indifferent, some are disgusted by them. Millions find inspiration, joy and passion in working with animals. Some people love dogs for their utility, but most adore them for the social traits they identify as “human.” Since most commonly kept pets are furry, it’s sometimes hard for people to understand why anyone would love these scaly beasts. The simple answer is, herpetoculturists love their cold-blooded charges because of their primitive beauty, not in spite of it. On the practical side, a pet snake requires very little care compared to a dog, is well suited for life as an indoor pet (even in an apartment) and does not suffer if you are too busy to spend time playing with it during the holidays.
What about snakes that are not from around here?
There are no wild populations of non-native snakes in Wilson County, or anywhere else in Texas. Every now and then, an irresponsible person will make the news by releasing or allowing their pet to escape, but no member of the public has ever been killed by any escaped reptile - be it crocodile, cobra or giant python- NOT EVER, anywhere in the country. It’s an idea that would make a great summer blockbuster, but it’s not something worth really being fearful over. To put the risk in perspective- Dogs kill livestock every day and around two dozen humans every year, while hundreds of people are killed while working with their own horses, cattle, donkeys and goats.
Are there laws in Wilson County Texas regarding what kind of snakes I can keep?
Yes there are! The county recently passed an ordinance regarding non-native venomous snakes and the largest five species of constrictors. You can keep them but you must do so responsibly. This is not an option! The species of animals covered in the ordinance should only be kept by experienced individuals. Keeping these animals is a big responsibility. You must have the proper caging, tools, labeling and protocols in place in case of a bite or an escape. You must also contact the county dispatch center at the Sheriff's office and submit a copy of your Texas Parks and Wildlife Controlled Exotic Snake Permit. The ordinance can be found below:
Possession of Exotic Snakes Ordinance
Isn’t it safer to just kill any snake I see in my yard?
It may make you FEEL safer, but by killing harmless snakes, you may be opening up the door for a potentially dangerous one to move in. People are trained to be afraid of snakes, as opposed to be educated on which can be dangerous. In Wilson County, only about a dozen bites occur each year. In the entire state of TX, between 0-3 people die due to snakebite every year- roughly 1/3 the number who die from spider bites or lightning strikes.
How can a wild snake possibly be beneficial to me?
A great many of the snake species in Wilson county hunt mice, rats, voles, moles and pocket gophers. Judging by the number of gopher and mole mounds I see in our county- we need more rat and bull snakes, not fewer! A snake can go pretty much everywhere a mouse can, something nobody can claim of their barn cat, no matter how good a mouser it may be. Some smaller species of snakes actually eat ant and termite larvae.
Are wild snakes dangerous to my pets or livestock?
Horses are actually used to make anti-venom for use in people. As you can imagine, there is little risk to a horse or cow from a venomous snakebite, though some tissue death around the site may occur. Dogs can handle a bite to the face much better than a bite to the body. That said, a venomous bite of any type can be very dangerous for small dogs and cats. A vaccine is available to help protect your cat or dog from rattlesnake and copperhead bites. Non-venomous snakes are only dangerous in two specific cases: 1) Some Texas Rat Snakes will develop an affinity for chicken eggs and chicks, and are sometimes called “chicken snakes” 2) Garter snakes and a few other fish-eating snakes may raid goldfish ponds, though this is very rare.
How can I discourage snakes from my yard?
The most important thing to do is to maintain your yard. Wild animals take refuge in tall grass, brush piles and leaf litter. Mow your lawn regularly and prevent leaves from piling deep in the fall. Rodents are attracted to trash and stored animal feed. Even a bird feeder that is allowed to spill on the ground can support a healthy mouse population. Make sure your grain and dog food is stored properly and don’t store food waste outdoors.
How can I avoid being bitten?
The number one rule to avoid being bitten is to always look where you put your hands and feet. Wear gloves, closed shoes and long pants when working outdoors. Rattlesnakes and Copperheads have incredibly good camouflage, and a good number of bites occur when someone accidentily steps on-or sets their hand on-a resting snake. These incidents almost always happen when a person is working on their garden or yard, so be vigilant. Teach your children not to handle snakes without adult supervision, and never handle a snake if you’re not sure what it is! Over 20% of envenomations involve men between the ages of 18-24 who have been drinking.
What to do if someone has been bitten:
· If possible, get a photo of the snake, but do not risk another bite by trying to capture it
· Remain calm, lie down and call 911 or the TX Poison Hotline 1-800-222-1222
· DO NOT:
o Suck out the venom
o Cut the wound
o Apply a tourniquet
o Put ice on the wound
o Drink alcohol
· Half of bites from venomous snakes are “dry”, meaning the snake bites, but does not inject any venom. Click on this link to familiarize yourself with the symptoms of an envenomation: Snakebite
Questions about Reptile-related human health issues and training:
Texas Dept of State Health Services - Region 8 Zoonosis Control
For help identifying a snake:
For learning more about the reptiles and amphibians that share our state:
Herps of Texas: A Comprehensive List of Texas Reptiles and Amphibians