Water (Snakes), Water (Snakes) Everywhere…

This is the next in a series on snakes that’s being written for you by The Houston Zoo’s Herpetology Department Supervisor, Judith Bryja. Our Herp Department knows their stuff, and since we get so much interest in snakes, Judith is writing this informative blog series each week just for you!  If you’d like to read the series from the beginning, click here.

Frequenting the same habitat as the venomous water moccasin or cottonmouth, water snakes are numerous in species and numbers. They prefer wooded areas near slow moving water.  Swamps, ponds, marshes, bayous, small streams, even muddy ditches are all places where you can find these snakes. 

Their diet consists mostly of frogs and fish.  Babies are born live usually in the early fall.  They’re excellent swimmers but will spend considerable time on land and sunning themselves on submerged logs.  When swimming (unlike the cottonmouth which holds its head high and with the back visible) the head is held just barely out of the water and the body is mostly submerged. 

Like most snakes, their first reaction to a threat is to get away, but if they cannot, they will vigorously defend themselves by striking and biting and by releasing a foul smelling liquid from their scent glands. There are about 10 species in Texas with about half of them occurring in the Houston area.  We will look at what are probably the 3 most commonly encountered.

The broad banded water snake (Nerodia fasciata confluens)

Color is variable but usually the background is yellow, brown, or even red.  Wide irregular bands of black or brown break up the ground color.  The yellowish belly has random splotches of black/brown.  They have a dark stripe that runs from the eye to the end of the mouth.  Except for brighter colors, babies look the same as adults.  Adult size is 20-30 inches. 

The yellow-bellied water snake (Nerodia erythrogaster flavigaster)

Color is grey-green (though sometimes darker to almost black).  The back may have indistinct darker crossbars.  The belly is bright yellow as is the area around the mouth.  Babies are heavily patterned and have a pink hue. Average adult size is 24-36 inches.

The diamond-backed water snake (Nerodia rhombifer)

Color is any shade of olive, grey, or brown with dark markings which look sort of like chain link fencing or diamonds (hence the common name).  The belly is yellowish with dark scattered crescent shaped marks.  The head is large and flattened with a distinct neck; this is a good example of why the “triangle shaped” head thing does not work to distinguish venomous from nonvenomous snakes.  Babies look pretty much the same, just brighter.  This is our largest water snake with an average adult size of 30-48 inches.   It is also in general our most cantankerous water snake, not hesitant to get right into the thrashing, striking, biting, spewing stinky stuff part of its defense repertoire. 

At present, we have a broad-banded water snake on exhibit here in the Reptile/Amphibian building right next door to the venomous cottonmouth with which it is often confused.

Come back for the next installment in this Snake Series!

For more information on Texassnakes, Judith has reccomended these two resources: http://www.herpsoftexas.org/ and  The Field Guide to TX Snakes written by James Dixon and former Houston Zoo director John Werler.

The Eastern Hognosed Snake

This is the next in a series on snakes that’s being written for you by The Houston Zoo’s Herpetology Department Supervisor, Judith Bryja. Our Herp Department knows their stuff, and since we get so much interest in snakes, Judith is writing this informative blog series each week just for you!  If you’d like to read the series from the beginning, click here.

The Eastern hognosed snake (Heterodon platirhinos) is a local harmless snake with some interesting characteristics and behaviors which we’ll get to in a bit.

Basics first.  Adult size is about 2 feet.  Coloration is super variable; usually yellowish with brown splotches but ranging also into orange, olive, grey, and black.  Red is unusual but does occur.  The splotches are darker in color, irregular, and pretty much all over the back and sides of the snake. 

The belly is usually grayish and mottled.  The underside of the tail is lighter than the belly.   Sometimes the pattern has faded so much in older animals that you can’t discern it any longer and sometimes there are individuals that don’t have a pattern at all.

This snake has the distinction of a strongly upturned snout.  It uses this to “plow” and move soil and debris to make burrows in which to shelter.  It also comes in quite handy for rooting around and catching their preferred diet of toads.  Toads make up the majority of their diet though they will also eat frogs and salamanders and on occasion, lizards and/or their eggs.   They like fairly open wooded areas (good toad hunting habitat).   

Hognosed snakes rarely if ever attempt to bite.  I’ve tried many times (just to see if they would)  and they steadfastly refuse.  They do however have some very interesting defensive behaviors that are usually put into action in a predictable order:

1. Lie still and hope the threat goes away

2. Run away

3. Strike a scary pose which consists of raising and flattening the head and neck. Some of the neck ribs are elevated which spreads the neck just like a cobra. The snake inhales and exhales deeply and audibly resulting in a loud hissing noise.

4. Stike menacingly at the offensive party. The funny part about this is that they usually never open the mouth at all.

5. Finally, if none of the above work it’s “play dead” time.  The snake will fake “death throes” writhing and twisting its body until it winds up completely upside down.  It often discharges fecal material and a stinky fluid from its musk glands, opens its mouth a bit, and will even loll the tongue out of the mouth.  But wait, it gets even funnier.  If you take one in this stage and flip it right side up it will immediately flip itself back over and go right back to being “dead”.  After a few minutes of being left alone, they will right themselves and continue on their way.  These snakes should get academy awards for these performances as elaborate as they are.

Due to some of these behaviors they are often called puff adders or spreading adders.  Yet another example of the confusion of common names-there is a very large venomous snake in Africa called puff adder.  At present we have a western hognosed snake on exhibit but it will soon be replaced with an eastern

 

For more information on Texas snakes, Judith has reccomended these two resources: http://www.herpsoftexas.org/ and  The Field Guide to TX Snakes written by James Dixon and former Houston Zoo director John Werler.

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Houston Zoo Facebook Page

This morning, we humanely euthanized our male, 20-year-old jaguar, Kan Balam. Due to the tremendous care provided to him by his keepers and our veterinary team, Kan Balam lived well beyond his expected lifespan. Jaguars expected lifespan in the wild is between 12-15 years.

The carnivore staff and veterinary team made the decision after his quality of life began to decline. Quality care and continuous advances in veterinary medicine extends animals’ lives longer than ever, with most felines in human care living well beyond previous generations. Because of this, all cats, including domestic house cats and jaguars, often spend a significant phase of their lives as older animals, and are at a higher risk for geriatric complications.

Read more about Kan B, and the love his keepers had for him on our blog: www.houstonzoo.org/blog/mourning-loss-geriatric-jaguar-kan-balam/
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This morning, we humanely euthanized our male, 20-year-old jaguar, Kan Balam.  Due to the tremendous care provided to him by his keepers and our veterinary team, Kan Balam lived well beyond his expected lifespan. Jaguars expected lifespan in the wild is between 12-15 years. 
 
The carnivore staff and veterinary team made the decision after his quality of life began to decline. Quality care and continuous advances in veterinary medicine extends animals’ lives longer than ever, with most felines in human care living well beyond previous generations. Because of this, all cats, including domestic house cats and jaguars, often spend a significant phase of their lives as older animals, and are at a higher risk for geriatric complications.

Read more about Kan B, and the love his keepers had for him on our blog: https://www.houstonzoo.org/blog/mourning-loss-geriatric-jaguar-kan-balam/

 

Comment on Facebook

Soft kitty, warm kitty, little ball of fur; happy kitty, sleepy kitty, purr purr purr #RIP #bigbangtheory

I know he lived a lot longer due to the excellent care he got at the Zoo.

Aww. When interning in the carnivore dept he was one of my faves. So smart! Ashley remember when Angie was teaching him to do the moonwalk after Michael Jackson passed?

So sorry for the loss of this beautiful creature. Kan Balam.

Is this the one that had the limp?

Thank you Houston Zoo for taking such good care of him and all the animals! I've been going to this zoo since I was little bitty. I always enjoy it.

RIP Kan Balam. You have given the visitors so much pleasure just watching you over these years. You were taken care of by top notch professional handlers, etc.

So sorry for your loss. He was a brilliant cat and he is at peace now and free.

So sorry they had to go through this, a decision that is emotional and difficult, and necessary.

Thank you to you and your staff for the years of quality care given this magnificant creature.

Sending my love to Kan Balam's keepers ❤️ This is the hardest part of our jobs 💔

We just saw Kan Balam on Monday😔.... he will be missed❤️

I am so sorry for your loss, each of these animals are precious ....

This was my daughters favorite critter at the Zoo. We always went to say hello to him before anyone else whenever we went. When she was 7 years old we sent a post out to out neighborhood on Halloween saying Paisley was asking for pocket change donations in lieu of candy for Halloween and all amounts would be donated to Kan thru the zoo. She raised over $40 in coins! I still have the letter from the zoo thanking her for her donation. He was a sweet boy and will be missed. 😔

Hugs to all of you keepers that took special care of Kan Balam.

Awe, I’m so sad to hear his quality of life was declining. But, I’m happy to know he had a long and wonderful life thanks to the wonderful teams at the Houston Zoo. He was a beautiful cat.

I'm so sorry for your loss. Thanks for taking such great care of him so he was able to live a long life. My thoughts are with his keepers and all who adored him. <3

Heartfelt condolences to the veterinary and keeper staff. Thank you for taking care of him

Katie Rose Buckley-Jones I won’t ever forget the time you asked him to bring something and he ripped off a piece of cardboard and tried to hand it to you ❤️ thank you for introducing me to him. Sending you guys many hugs

The Houston Zoo staff has lost several animals this year and I am sure each one is so hard to go through.

Thank you for providing him with a caring and enriched life. So sorry for your loss!

My thoughts of sympathy are with you all. I can't even imagine the sadness you feel today.

So sorry to read this. It is always a hard decision. RIP and run free sweet boy.

I’m so sorry for your loss. He was a beautiful cat.

So sad. Native Houstonian. He was one of my favorites.

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Social Media Guy to Sea Lion Keeper: Can you send me a pic of you working with the sea lions in this chilly weather?

Sea Lion Keeper: Sure... (sends picture next to sea lion statue)

SMG: I'm still using this.
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Social Media Guy to Sea Lion Keeper: Can you send me a pic of you working with the sea lions in this chilly weather?

Sea Lion Keeper: Sure... (sends picture next to sea lion statue)

SMG: Im still using this.

 

Comment on Facebook

Are there some zoo animals that enjoy this weather?

SMG is another reason why Houston Zoo is the best Zoo!

Happy New Year “sea lion keeper “ 💖💖

More snow for TJ and Max ❤️ lucky them!

Are we positive that’s the statue rather than it really just being that cold? 😛

That’s my best friend Sophie for ya! 😂

Brrrrr

Omg the Zoo is so awesome 😂😂😂 Alana Berry

Omg be warm sweetoe

Haha!! Good one!

Sweetie 💞

Ashley Jucker 😂

Mike DePope

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We've heard of stalagmites but is stalagmice a thing? ... See MoreSee Less

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Weve heard of stalagmites but is stalagmice a thing?

 

Comment on Facebook

Ok, it took me a minute to get this. I was literally zooming in to try to find the mouse. 🤦🏻‍♀️🙄😂

Cindy Christina Angela Ramirez see I told y’all! Lol

Andrew Kaufmann Look its Richard Jr! 😂

Wow ... good photo shot ... show the world that you need to protect your pipe ... if not, freezing water will expand the pipe and crack the pipe !!!

“Baby it’s cold outside!”

My gutters had glaciers in them!

I fell for the mouse thing too..

That's nothing! Talk to keepers from the northern states or Canada!

i was honestly looking for a mouse lol

Wow,that is so neat!

Annecia Wesley but where is the ice bacon? Lol

Johnnie R. Summerlin, cool, see the "stalagm ice"?

Two words. Pipe insulation.

That’s awesome!

Ana Rivers Smith cool!

Cortez

Pauline Ervin

Denise Daigre

Ashley Nguyen

Vicente Gonzalez

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