Did you know rattlesnakes roam Southeast Texas?
When thinking of the venomous snakes in the region, the cottonmouth, copperhead and to a lesser extent, the coral snake come to mind. However, rattlesnakes are indigenous to the region.
The timber or canebrake rattlesnake is the one most commonly encountered and they are present from the northern reaches of Orange and Jefferson Counties on through the Pineywoods region.
According to the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department, they have a heavy, light yellow, gray or greenish-white body with a rust-colored strip along the length of their back and a black tail is tipped with rattles.
“Timber rattlesnakes have yellow eyes with elliptical or cat-like pupils. Twenty to 29 dark, V-shaped crossbars with jagged edges form a distinctive pattern across their back.”
As rattlers go, they are very docile and there are few instances of people being bitten by these beautifully marked pit vipers.
They are however, subject of an ongoing urban legend of sorts that we first proved untrue on these pages in 2006.
Here it goes.
According to the story, in a secret effort to replenish diminishing timber rattlesnake stocks, government officials have been stocking captive-bred specimens of the venomous reptiles at various locations within Texas' National Forest land.
It is unclear as to which government agency is responsible but some reports indicate it could be the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) while another rumor has it linked to a clandestine Texas Parks & Wildlife Department (TPWD) project.
I say "story" but the truth is I have heard numerous tales of rattlesnake restoration efforts in the Pineywoods of East Texas. One gentleman even told me his uncle's brother-in-law had some released next to his farm near Crockett. Hundreds of them.
Where did these stories originate?
Well, rattlesnakes have technically been "released" into certain areas in the Pineywoods. However, scientists did not breed them in captivity and they are not part of some secret restoration effort.
These "released" rattlesnakes are simply ones that were captured as part of a radio-telemetry study conducted by officials with the U.S. Forest Service. Timber rattlesnake were captured in the wild, fitted with radio transmitters and released back into the wild so researchers could track their movements.
There never has been a timber rattlesnake stocking program in Texas or anywhere else for that matter.
According to TPWD endangered species specialist, Ricky Maxey, the rumors have been floating around since the 1990s.
"I used to work in the Big Thicket area out of Beaumont and we used to get questions about rattlesnake stockings frequently. And it seems the rumors are still pretty rampant," Maxey said.
"Someone could have seen Forest Service officials capturing the snakes or releasing the ones fitted with transmitters and the rumor could have started there. Then again, it could be the case of a true story getting less and less truthful as it's told," he said.
The pigmy rattlesnake is also present in the Pineywoods region and is very rarely seen.
I have only seen one and that was in 2000 on my old deer lease in Newton County.
These snakes only attain lengths of around 18 inches and are super reclusive. They are most often seen crossing roads in the evening and are a true enigma in the region. Most outdoors lovers are not even aware of their presence.
There are also diamondback rattlesnakes in the region as well, at least dwelling in the coastal areas.
A capture reported to us by veteran local meteorologist Greg Bostwick last August gave us the first glimpse of area diamondbacks.
“The snake was captured alive about one mile south of my house in Chambers County and was about 4.5 feet long,” Bostwick said.
The snake was found north of Winnie and that is not typical diamondback territory.
In fact, there aren’t supposed to be any until you get a bit west of Houston moving toward the Hill Country and southward on the coast in the Matagorda area. That is at least according to field guides.
Mike Hoke of Shangri-La Botanical Gardens said there was a diamondback found an expedition awhile back at McFaddin.
In addition, I spoke with a reliable source last year that reported killing a diamondback near the Veteran’s Memorial Bridge.
Both of these snakes were believed to have been western diamondbacks, which are indigenous to the western 2/3 of Texas but the reason for three sightings/captures since our slate of Hurricanes in the last six years is interesting.
Look for a story later this summer on snake migration and possible impacts of storms and other methods of travel.
Check out our Thursday column on coral snakes to give you a look at the most venomous snake in Southeast Texas.
(To contact Chester Moore, e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org
. You can hear him on "Moore Outdoors" Fridays from 6-7 p.m. on Newstalk AM 560 KLVI. you can find him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/extremewildlife.)