Here are my other Brazos Bend
and/or critter pages:
---------------------------------------------------------------- OR, FOR OTHER ANIMALS:
Alligators at Brazos Bend State Park Introduction Critters at Brazos Bend State Park Page 1
Snakes-nonvenomous 1------------------------------------------- Critters at Brazos Bend State Park Page 3
Snakes-nonvenomous 2-------------------------------------------------Insects, non-toxic
Snakes-Texas Rat Snakes------------------------------------------------
Welcome to the Visitor's Center at Brazos Bend State Park. That's me on a trail (03/29/2004). As I get more pictures, these pages expand. I've gotten enough images of snakes to collect them here.
12/21/2014 It's Near Christmas, and it was in branches...
I was driving back towards the Visitor's Center, when Chuck flagged me
down as he drove his truck in the other direction. He told me of a
juvenile Copperhead that was hiding (in plain sight) up in some
branches, and he told me where it was. Some hours later, I went looking
for the snake
on my way out of the park. And I found it. The first image below left is a composite of 3 shots showing the where the snake was relative to the trail. The remaining images are views at various zoom distances. I was very impressed that the "leafy" camouflage pattern seemed to work well among the branches 5 feet off the ground.
The closest view shows the extra pit (near and just below the eye) and the elliptical pupil that helps identify a pit-viper. I was stayed relatively far from the snake, and it remained immobile during my photo-shoot.
In the book How Snakes Work, by Harvey Lillywhite, there is some discussion about the function for the colors of snakes. (p129) Snakes that are marked with
patterns of blotches, spots, etc. usually rely on concealment (called "crypsis" in the book) to hide from potential predators. This copperhead is an excellent example of this.
The book goes on to say that many (but not all) species that use "crypsis" will aggressively defend themselves when their stategy doesn't work-instead of trying to crawl away. This might be related to them being unable to crawl rapidly. Howver, the book goes on to say that there are many exceptions to this.
In the second picture, the lighter (green or yellow) tail of the juvenile Copperhead can be seen. As the Copperhead gets older, the tail loses this lighter color. The young Agkistrodons-Copperheads (A. contrortrix)and Cottonmouths (a. piscivorous)-both have these lighter-colored tails. And, the tails are used in a behavior called "caudal luring". The tail can be used as "bait" for prey for the snake--or as "bait" against a predator to distract it from the snake's head. I have shot video showing a juvenile Cottonmouth using its tail as a distraction.
Contrast this with snakes that have stripes or similar uniform patterns. These tend to rely on active escape by moving quickly away from predators (p130). This general behavior
has been observed in a species of garter snake that can have coloration that varies from striped to blotched. Striped snakes tended to crawl away when disturbed, while the blotched were more likely to move a short distance and then stop completely. This behavior is called a "reversal" and is used along with crypsis after the snake has been discovered.
The movement and rapid stop can confuse the predator; since it has been tracking movement, it appears the prey has suddenly disappeared when the prey stops and blends back in. I assume that this is further aided by the tendency of the vision to continue tracking along the percieved path of escape.
I have heard that this is how rabbits and deer can use the white "flag" of their tails as they escape a predator. They run, showing the tail, then suddenly stop and hide their tail. Their natural color blends in with the environment. Meanwhile, the predator has been tracking a white, high-contrast object through the woods which has suddenly disappeared. The predator then has to bring their focus back along the percieved track of their prey--which has stopped moving, and will be hard to see again.
The striped (lines going head-to-tail) snakes also have another weapon-optical illusion. (p130). Recognizing a moving object and judging its speed depends on the relationship of the color pattern on that object and surface where it's moving. Striped snakes can appear to be immobile even when they are moving--or can seem to be moving slower than they actually are. Since there is a continuous line, it's hard to pick out a recognizable point, especially when the snake is moving. I finally realized this after years of watching snakes when I watched it in action in a field. I recognized a ribbon snake in the grass. I stopped moving, and looked down at a gap in the grass. I tried to see the head, but wasn't sure which way the snake was pointing. While I was looking down at the snake I had thought was lying still; the tail suddenly appeared in the gap--and the snake was gone. The snake had been moving all along! I have examples of 2 ribbon snake moving. Exposed in high-contrast by being out in the open on a trail, the movement can still mesmerize. The 2 images below are a screen grab from each clip. The links to the clips are here 051914wmv 051914mp4 and here 072014wmv 072014mp4.
One more thing is visible in the close views of the Copperhead. All of its scales are not the same. Copperheads have "keeled" scales. These are scales that have an additional ridge in their center, that runs lengthwise with the snake. Not all snakes have keeled scales. Then, there are the broad scales that most snakes have on their underside-which are called "scutes" (P.120) Then, between the two types of scales, there is a line of "transitional" scales, which don't have keels, but are not full scutes, either. Since I gave no sign that the Copperhead's crypsis was unsuccessful, it remained still; and I finally went home.
had just started around the 40 Acre Lake Trail when I encountered a small
Southern Copperhead (Agkistrodon contortrix contortrix). I'd heard
it move through the leaves, and when it stopped, I started taking pictures
of it. The first image below shows the snake looking up at me. (Also see
ONE and TWO, below. They are both are from the same image). In image TWO,
the two heat-sensitive pits (which define the pit-vipers) are clearly visible.
The elliptical pupils are also visible. As I bent towards the snake (but
not very close at all), it struck at me!
Since the snake was acting so nervous, I decided to try to herd it off the trail. Knowing that it would strike at least once more, I shot a short video clip with my still camera as I moved the stick closer to it. Images THREE and FOUR below are single frames from this clip. The camera shoots video at 24 frames per second, non-interleaved. Even at that speed, the snake's strike is blurred. The links to the video clip is below. First is the clip at actual speed. The other two clips are parts of the same clip digitally slowed down to .2 normal speed. (I'm assuming this is less than half normal speed).
OLD RICKUBISCAM ONE TWO
STRIKES ACTUAL SPEED 2.5MB DEFENSIVE
STRIKES .2 SPEED A 1.8MB DEFENSIVE
STRIKES .2 SPEED B 3.1MB
surprise, the Copperhead would not back down from me, but continued facing
me. This illustrates an important point. Most animals are content to be
left alone. Any animals enountered on the various trails (like snakes or
alligators but also including deer or raccoons or other "cute" animals)
are generally on their way somewhere when they are discovered. If left
alone, they will generally continue on their way. Sometimes a reptile will
pause to rest. If it is not ready to move, or, if it feels threatened;
then the animal may go into a defensive mode. In this case, it will face
the enemy (which could be *you*, if you are bothering the creature); and
turn its defensive weapons towards the threat (you). Worst cases can be
fangs, teeth, or claws. Aside from the "hard" weapons mentioned above,
there can also be various musks, urine, fecal matter, vomit, or various
other chemical weapons--this, of course, depends on the animal. The point
here is that it's just best to leave the animals alone. In any case, these
weapons are intended to deter an attack.
The only reason *I* was moving the snake was because it was obviously already stressed, and I wanted it further away from the trail (and potential interaction with park visitors. I finally persuaded it to move on, and I took a few more photos. Images SIX, SEVEN, and EIGHT, below, are three cropped versions of the same image. While the snake has relaxed its body, you can see it's still watching me. Remember--I WORK FOR THE PARK. Do NOT molest, or catch, or kill ANY snakes at the park.
SIX SEVEN EIGHT
The picture below (SIX COPPERHEADS) is a picture of the other interesting item, and to further clarify what the caption says, it's a good illustration of "Why We Don't Put Our Fingers and Hands into Places We Can't See." This item, relayed to me by David-and discovered by Rich and Sandy Jesperson and Carol Ramseyer I believe- was a group of six young copperhead snakes under a log.
SIX COPPERHEADS TWO ON THE LEFT CENTER TWO
WE'RE JUST BUDDIES! REALLY! TWO ON UPPER RIGHT
looking at the alligator with its nutria, I went and looked for the log,
which turned out to be less than 5 minutes' walk from one of our parking
areas. CAREFULLY lifting the log (so I wouldn't disturb, or crush
the snakes), I was very happy to see what I show in the pictures above.
They follow in sequence in the RICKUBISCAM image from lower left to upper
right, diagonally. Note the extra little friend, a toad, lying next
to the center, extended snake (WE'RE JUST BUDDIES, above). The toad, like
the snakes, was seeking shelter from the cool weather, and is obviously
alive. I estimate the snakes to have been between 8 and 10 inches long.
Since they are all curled-and I did this quickly to avoid disturbing the
snakes enough to make them move; and also before any park visitors might
come along-there was no way I could measure them. My usual use of a quarter,
or any other method of measurement that would require me to put my hand
near the snakes was not an option.
Now, remember this lesson. You can never be certain of what is under any large object you might find in the woods. It could be one snake, which may or may not be venomous, or it could be SIX snakes, which may or may not be venomous. In this case-copperheads-they were all venemous, and if someone reached under this log to lift it, they could have been bitten at least six times (more, if any of the snakes struck more than once). If you must move something, then use something that won't be injured if it is bitten or stung. Remember that in a State Park, it is against the law to disturb or harass the wildlife (this includes snakes). This is also why it is best to stay on the trails at all times. So, if you are using a State Park as you should, then this situation shouldn't even occur.
ONLY DANGEROUS IF YOU BOTHER IT
After today, it will be released in a secluded section of the park, to live free once again. Coral Snakes like to eat small lizards, amphibians, and other snakes. Unlike the snakes that we do keep in the VC/NC, Coral Snakes don't do well in captivity. In the picture below (RED TOUCH YELLOW) you will see the color scheme that will warn you that this is the venomous Coral Snake. The bands of yellow touch directly on the bands of red. The black "patches" in the red bands help distinguish it from the Eastern Coral Snake. Note also in the picture of its head (CORAL SNAKE HEAD, below) that the head is very small, and the eyes aren't very prominant. Do not be misled by the apparent size of this creature. Regardless of the size of its head, like *any* snake, the Coral Snake can open its mouth wide, and the poison it produces is a potent neurotoxin (Coral Snakes are in the same family as Cobras and Mambas). Compare the color scheme with that of a Mexican Milk Snake (Lampropeltis triangulum annulata) (see RED TOUCH BLACK, below); one of many non-venomous snakes species that mimic the Coral Snake's color scheme. This particular snake is not native to our vicinity, though. Notice that the bands of red touch directly on the bands of black (unlike the Coral Snake, where red touches yellow). This is true for all of the various species of non-venomous King and Milk snakes that have this similar color pattern. A look at the Milk Snake's head (see MILK SNAKE HEAD, below) will show that the head is a bit larger in relation to the body, and the eyes are much more prominent, than with the Coral Snake. Also notice that I am holding the Milk Snake (yes, that's my left hand), and definitely *not* the Coral Snake. Both snakes are beautiful, aren't they? Yes, they are. Both eat small reptiles, including snakes, as well as other small animals; although the Milk Snake will also take rodents, while evidently the Coral Snake does not.
Finally, here (flv video 552 kb) is a short video clip of the Milk Snake exploring my hand. This snake has been with the park at least for the two years I've been there, and is obviously used to being handled. The image below (MILK SNAKE VIDEO) is a single frame from the beginning of the clip. Incidentally, the Mexican Milk Snake is not found in our park (its range is more Central Texas), but is kept there to show an example of this mimicry. Animals will sometimes try to emulate the shape and/or color of a similar species that is more dangerous; so that predators may leave them alone.
RED TOUCH YELLOW CORAL SNAKE HEAD RED TOUCH BLACK
MILK SNAKE HEAD MILK SNAKE VIDEO
3 FANGS BEFORE WHERE'S THE INSTRUCTION MANUAL?
for a moment that you have just pulled into Brazos Bend State Park, and
as you enter the park, your brain registers the image of an upside-down
snake on the side of the road. You drive past, as your mind catalogs the
event. What do you do next?
Well....I drove a second or two more, and then thought: "Interpretive Material!", and I stopped the car (after, of course, being sure there was no one behind me.) I then backed up, and passed the snake again. After retrieving one of my Tallow-Whacking machetes from the rear of my car, I moved towards the snake. After carefully prodding it over, I saw that it was a Water Moccasin, or Cottonmouth (agkistrodon piscivorus), and that it was dead. This was easily determined by noticing that it had already been found by fire ants, and NOTHING will sit still while being attacked by fire ants. This snake is one of 3 pit-vipers that used to be found in the park (the Canebrake Rattlesnake is thought to be extinct in the park), and is venomous. The head was intact, so I cut it off and slipped it into a small plastic container (film case) that I had in my car for just such an occassion. Then I put the case into my vest pocket (well THAT'S what the pockets are FOR!).
Later examination of the head while photographing it revealed a few things. The image below shows a side view of the head as I hold it between my fingers. (NOTE THAT I USED EXTREME CARE WHILE HANDLING THIS SPECIMEN, EVEN THOUGH IT WAS DEAD! ALSO NOTE THAT THIS SNAKE WAS ALREADY DEAD! I'D NEVER CONSIDER KILLING *ANY* SNAKE IN THE PARK.)
Pictures below show: The extended fangs (MOUTHOPEN1); Closeup of both fangs (MOUTHOPEN2); the right fang (RIGHTFANG1). As I was pushing on the fangs for these pictures, I noticed fluid appearing on the fang. I assume that this was venom I was forcing from the poison sac (RIGHTFANG2). THIS IS WHY CARE IS NECESSARY WHEN HANDLING DEAD VENOMOUS SNAKES. The teeth are like needles, and a slip on my part could cause an injection.
Some sharper-eyed people may have noticed something odd in the first two pictures. The left fang is is a double fang! This picture (LEFTFANG1) shows a closeup of that structure. David, the park naturalist, says that from time to time, the snake will grow a replacement fang. As this grows, it moves alongside the previous one, until the older one finally drops off. If I'd thought about it, I could have tried to force venom out, to see which fang it would flow from. But...I didn't think about it, so it's unknown to me. Oh, well, I can't think of *everything*. In any case, visitors to this page can now say that they've actually seen pictures of a three-fanged Water Moccasin!
MOUTHOPEN1 MOUTHOPEN2 RIGHTFANG1
all this, I began a treatment of the head which I hope will allow me to
strip the flesh off and maintain enough structure for me to rebuild the
skull--WITH the double fang. That will be an interesting display!
Please note that like all animals in the park, the snakes, including the venomous ones, are part of the ecology. They perform a function like *all* predators. They are harmless to humans when left alone (to their PREY, on the other hand, they are BIG TROUBLE). Care should be taken while walking in *any* wild area for a number of reasons. The great majority of the snakes in the park are non-venomous. The presence of these-and any other-reptiles in the park should be no cause for alarm. Brazos Bend State Park is an amazing and unique natural resource and an area with an uncommonly varied number of animal and plant species. On a single good day at the park, it is possible to see as many wild creatures as most people would see in a year...or even in a lifetime. On the other hand, if the interpreters (like me) at the park do what they hope to do, then visitors who leave the park will see more wildlife everywhere. Because they'll start to notice it!
May 05, 2002 Tuesday, April 23, I got to the park around 8:00 am. I hadn't been on the trail 10 minutes (I started at the 40-Acre Lake parking lot), when I encountered a copperhead stretched across the trail near Hoot's Hollow. I was able to take a few pictures before it got bored with me and continued across the trail.(COPPERHEAD, above) Notice the coloration of the scales and the shape of the head. Also, the nostril is the small opening at the tip of its nose. You might notice another opening between the nostril and the eye. This pit is what gives "pit vipers" their name. It's a heat sensor, and aids the snake in stalking food. Copperheads are poisonous, and as stated in signs throughout Brazos Bend State Park, "POISONOUS SNAKES EXIST IN THIS PARK". The snakes belong in the park. Humans are only visitors there. Visitors should keep a close eye on their children and pets while they are in the park, for this reason.
If you'd like to know more about the park follow these links:
Brazos Bend State Park The main page.
Bend State Park Volunteer's Page The
volunteer's main page.
Go back to my home page, Welcome
Go back to the RICKUBISCAM page.
Go back to the See the World page.