TYLER, Texas (KETK) – Everyone’s heard a version of the phrase “Red touch yellow, kill a fellow; red touch black, friend of Jack,” but this iconic mnemonic device isn’t as useful as you think.
The rhyme is meant to help distinguish the venomous Texas coral snake, which has red stripes next to yellow stripes, from similar looking snakes like nonvenomous milk snakes, which have red stripes touching black stripes.
While the seemingly ubiquitous rhyme is helpful enough in parts of the United States where we have the Texas coral snake, it’s not so helpful in other areas, according to an article from the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension on how to identify venomous and nonvenomous snakes.
If you’re travelling abroad this summer, it’s important to know the famous rhyme won’t get you far internationally. In places like Mexico, Central America and South America there are coral snakes that actually have red stripes touching white rings and even coral snakes with red rings touching black rings.
Those snakes will still be venomous to you despite what the rhyme says, so it’s best to know what kinds of venomous snakes live in your area.
To help Texans identify the 15 species of venomous snakes they may encounter, the Texas Department of Parks and Wildlife described what they look like and where you could find them.
Here’s some info KETK put together to help Texans avoid those snakes:
Copperheads have a lighter colored body with crossbands that are chestnut or reddish-brown. They are rare in dry places because they stick to rocky areas and wooded bottom lands. They can be seen in lots covered in weeds, as well as by rivers and streams in the springtime.
In Texas, there are three subspecies of copperhead to look out for:
- The Southern copperhead is 20 to 30 inches long and can be found in the eastern third of Texas.
- The Broadbanded copperhead is around two feet long and can be found across western and central Texas.
- The Trans-Pecos copperhead is also 20 to 30 inches long and can be found in the southern section of the Trans-Pecos area in west Texas by springs.
Cottonmouths, also known as “water moccasins,” come in different colors like dark brown, olive-brown, olive-green or even nearly solid black. They have dark wide bands which vary in distinctness by individual snake, and juveniles are more brightly marked.
The only subspecies of species of cottonmouth native to Texas is the Western Cottonmouth. The cottonmouth has white flesh in its mouth (hence the name) and their heavy bodies are around three and a half feet long.
They can be found across East Texas in swamps, coastal marshes, waterways, rivers, streams and ponds.
Texas has two groups of rattlesnake, seven in the genus Crotalus and two in the genus Sistrurus.
- The Western diamondback is a three-and-a-half to four-and-a-half foot long brown snake with diamond-shaped markings down the middle of its back and black and white rings on its tail. This snake can be found in almost all of Texas except the most eastern part. It is the most widely found venomous snake in all of Texas.
- The Timber rattlesnake is a four-and-a-half foot long heavy-bodied snake that is brown or tan with dark and wide crossbands. It’s also called the Canebreak rattlesnake and its tail is totally black. This snake can be found in east Texas in wooded areas of wet bottomlands.
- The Mottled Rock rattlesnake is a small, slender two-foot-long snake that can be found in the mountains of west Texas. It has a pinkish or light bream background and wide spaced dark crossbands and mottled areas between those crossbands.
- The Banded Rock rattlesnake looks like the Mottled Rock rattlesnake only in darker green and is only found in the westernmost tip of Texas.
- The Blacktail rattlesnake is a three-and-a-half foot long gray to olive green snake with a black tail and dark blotches down it’s back. It can be found in bushes and rocky ledges through central and west Texas.
- The Mojave rattlesnake is a snake that has markings similar to the western diamondback but its more slender and smaller.
- The Prairie rattlesnake is a greenish or grayish three-foot-long snake that has rounded blotches along the center of its back. They can be found in the western third of the state in plains grasses.
- The Western massasauga is a two-foot-long light gray snake that has brown blotches that go down the middle of its back and smaller blotches on its sides. They are found in central Texas grasslands, marshes and swamps.
- The Desert massasauga is lighter, smaller and slenderer than its Western relative and its found in the Trans-Pecos region, the western Panhandle and the lower Rio Grande Valley.
There’s only one coral snake species in Texas, the aptly named Texas Coral snake. It’s a two-and-a-half foot or shorter snake with a small head and round pupils. The famous pattern of a wide black ring, thin yellow ring and wide red ring is an easy sign to avoid this snake. This snake is in the same family as the cobras found in Asia in Africa. It can be found in the woodlands, canyons and coastal plains of the southeast half of Texas.
Avoiding venomous snakes
TPWD gave the following tips for avoiding venomous snakes:
- Keep your lawn cut low
- Remove brush, wood and debris around your home
- Wear shoes when outside
- Don’t put your hands in places you can’t see them
- Be careful when you step over fallen logs and rocks
- Be careful by creek banks and underbrush
Whether you’re hiking through the desert of west Texas or walking through the piney woods of east Texas, it’s important to know the signs of a venomous snake. It’s more important to know that most snakes are more afraid of you than you are of them, so if you avoid them, they will most likely avoid you and you’ll both be safer for it.
If you do get bit, visit the Centers for Disease Control has instructions online for snake bite first aid.