Encountering Coachwhips

by Pamela Neeley and Phyllis Shuffield

Pamela: Remember the snake encounter I had right after the storm?

I was walking out of house to meet the mail carrier and something ran between and over my feet and ankles. When I turned to chide the cat, it was a snake.

Sue Ann says: Pamela may have forgotten the one she found in her toilet on March 19, 2020.

Watched snake long enough to see it was about 2′ long, light green/slight tan mixed in, no spots, no stripes, non-venomous head, fat middle, slim tail and fast. When it ran away from me, at the steps of the porch it turned and looked at me – and then went on into the flower bed. The light/medium green color blended into the grey of the porch – same value! perfect camouflage.

I searched all photos of non-venomous snakes I could find on internet. Thanks to Donna Lewis, I got the contact information of Dr. Crump at Texas Parks and Wildlife. I received a call back from him and he identified it – with all the disclaimers that come with an ID – as a coachwhip.

Why? Because: they vary in color from pink in the west to black in the east; they are fast; they are fat; AND they are curious. Dr. Crump described coachwhip behavior as “curious, and looking back to check is typical.” That was the final clue to the ID. So the valuable identification clue is that it paused long enough to turn itself around and look at me before continuing on.

Yea! I have a coachwhip here! Good mousers, etc. One of the good guys. I wanted to post a photo of the pink variant, but could not locate one that would copy.

Thank you, Dr. Paul Crump.

Suna says: Here’s a photo of a pink one by Jake Scott from iNaturalist. Used with permission.

Phyllis: Coach whips are really neat to watch. They will stop, raise up out of the grass as if to ask, “What are you looking at?” They will also come up from behind you and slither through you legs. And if you run, they will chase you and whip their tail at you…yep had all this happen several times.

I had some in the puppy pen area. Once they moved into Club Med for puppies and mice, I didn’t have a bad problem with the mice. However, I had help quit once because he got chased by one.

Don’t Tread on Me

by Donna Lewis

I decided to go look at our pond to see if the water level had come up. I took my camera in case I saw something interesting. And lo and behold, there was a gorgeous Red Admiral butterfly nectaring on an elm tree just off the pond area. 

So I very slowly worked my way around the tree near a ravine and stopped in front of a pile of limbs.  Just as I looked down at my footing I just about had a stroke!!!  Probably 24 inches from my hands holding the camera was a large snake lying on top of the limbs. It was fat, oily, and waiting for a meal… 

Large, oily, and waiting for a meal, says Donna.

I am not scared of most snakes, but when you are not expecting one, it can be scary! Luckily I was able to get a photo before I slowly backed away and went on my way.

As soon as I got back to the house I started trying to identify this snake. I had not seen this particular one before. I find it hard to look at a guide book to correctly identify a snake. So, I sent the photo off to Dr. Crump ( TPWD Herpetologist ) and our own Linda Jo Conn(the celebrated iNaturalist expert) to find out what it was.

Dr. Crump responded really fast and informed me that it is a diamondback water snake. Its scientific name is Nerodia rhombifera rhombifera.  Gotta love these long names.

So this baby is a water snake and has an extraordinary ability to stink! They call that a musking ability, but you know what I mean. Thank goodness it is a non-venomous snake, but it will bite if threatened. It likes to eat frogs and carrion. Oh my.

I won’t be trying to pick it up anytime soon. It’s hard to say who would be more frightened, the snake or the human? Live and let live, I always say! All creatures have their place in nature.

As the sun set later on, I said goodbye to my new friend, and hoped he went to visit someone else.

Strike 2!

by Catherine Johnson

Snake adventures at our house continue.

Sami the dachshund found a copperhead by our back door. Yes, it is gone.

Sandy has fang marks on the black tip of her nose.

I have too many outdoor pets to worry about. We see more snakes because we are outdoor people.  We have been lucky except for one year when we had 18 copperheads around our house.

The Benadryl has kicked in.

Later today, we found Sandy had also been bitten.

Warrior Princess!

A Spring Day in Texas

by Catherine Johnson

This past spring on a cool, clear day, my daughter Rosie and I picked up Master Naturalist Donna Lewis and Danielle Ramos in Milano at dawn.  We traveled to Washington-on-the-Brazos State Historic Site for an enjoyable edible plant walk.  Master Naturalist Patrick Still and his wife also attended. 

The group of travelers (this was before social distancing).

Along the way we saw chickens, longhorns, and wildflowers.  We then toured the “Birthplace of Texas” where in 1836 Texas declared independence from Mexico to become the Republic of Texas.

A new friend!

After lunch and Jet Fuel coffee to keep us going, we headed to the Antique Rose Emporium in Independence.  Donna kept us laughing with her tales.  Once she was visiting a nearby farm and a “nice” miniature horse bit her.  The children on the tour got scared and ran away! 

Beautiful gardens.

The Emporium was stunning, and we found our favorite blooming sweet peas.  We also found artisan beer, wine and snacks at the new bistro there.  While relaxing on a porch surrounded by flowers and wind chimes, we noticed a long black crack on a building which turned out to be a snake! We said nothing so as not to “scare the children”. 

Yeah, kids, that’s just a crack in the wood.

As we left, we saw a bride having her picture taken among the roses. We were too tired to stop for dinner, so Donna got home by dark—–a perfect spring day in Texas.