AHHHH!!!!... A COTTONMOUTH, HURRY KILL IT!!!!..... Are you sure? by Brad Vollmar, Vollmar Pond and Lake Management

     You may have chosen your home site or your vacation spot around our most precious natural resource, fresh water. You may have bought your ranch or lot all because of that pond that sits at the back. Water is magnetic....we gravitate to it!

     Water is the most unique substance on Earth and it has many special features and characteristics. The aquatic ecosystem is home to numerous plant and animal species. Among these frogs, fish, turtles, snakes, water fowl, cattails, and water lillies. Perhaps the most misunderstood, and loathsome, of these is the snake.

     There are many snakes whose preferred habitat description includes water. Snakes play a key role in any ecosystem as they are both predator and prey. The most common water snakes in all of Texas and much of the southeast is the non-venomous Diamond Back Water Snake (Nerodia rhombifer rhombifer) and the venomous Western Cottonmouth (Agkistrodon piscivorous leucostoma). The range of the Western Cottonmouth in Texas is limited to east Texas, areas around Dallas/Fort Worth, southern shorelines, some of the Hill Country, and parts of the Edwards Plateau. Roughly estimating only about 25% of Texas actually has the venomous Western Cottonmouth. However the Diamond Back Water Snakes range is generally all of Texas, except most of west Texas and the Panhandle (see distribution images below).

     How can you identify the non venomous Diamond Back Water Snake from the venomous Western Cottonmouth. The best way to identify these snakes is up close, but it is not recommended to run up and grab a snake without knowing exactly what kind of snake it is. There are some characteristics that can help identify them without being right next to one (see the table below).

Distribution of Diamond Back Water Snake (non-venomous)

from Texas Snakes, Werler & Dixon, 2000

Images of the Diamond Back Water Snake (non-venomous)
Plates 107 & 108 from Texas Snakes, Werler  & Dixon, 2000

 Distribution of Western Cottonmouth (venomous)

from Texas Snakes, Werler & Dixon, 2000

Image of the Western Cottonmouth (venomous)
Plate 178 from Texas Snakes, Werler & Dixon, 2000


     By knowing the identifying characteristics of the venomous Western Cottonmouth and the non-venomous Diamond Back Water Snake you can feel more at ease at your pond, lake, or river front. Since snakes play a key role in any ecosystem it is advised not to kill these snakes, however exceptions are sometimes made when they are close to your home. The goal should be to discourage snakes from living in your pond or lake.

Pond and Lake Management Techniques to Deter Snakes

     *Keep a 15-20' wide strip mowed around your pond, lake, or river
     front. The snakes like the protection of brush and grasses, it makes
     them feel secure. Make sure when you are mowing this strip that the
     clippings do not go directly into the pond or lake, this will encourage
     algae blooms.

     *Limit the amount of debris touching the ground. Keep wood piles,
     garden hoses, swim toys, etc. off of the ground, these can make an
     excellent hiding place for snakes.

     *Do not discourage large birds like egrets and herons. These large
     birds eat these snakes.

Brad Vollmar
Vollmar Pond and Lake Managment 


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