McKinney certainly had the right amount of rain at the right time to keep the reptile population above ground, out and about longer and hunting during daylight hours this year. The abundant rainfall also helped increase the availability of food and the acceptability of the food source for many species of snakes, including the cottonmouth, copperhead, rat snakes and banded water-snake.
Everything was lined up just right for a lot of snake sightings, snake invasions and general snake terrorism. The weather and general environmental conditions affect snake reproduction, especially on the female snake, which in turn affects the whole population. So, 2012 is setting up a snake explosion for 2013 if things all keep working like they have until now.
It goes something like this: average rainfall conditions provide access to an abundant food supply, female snakes gorge and have extra body fat and reserves, these healthily females mate and produce larger clutches of eggs, average clutches are 10-15 eggs, healthy clutches are 17-22 eggs. Average rainfalls also ensure a better hatch ratio, dry conditions and overly wet conditions decrees the number of eggs that will actually hatch.
While all snakes are born from eggs, some species, such as copperhead snakes and rattlesnakes, incubate their eggs internally. The eggs hatch inside the mother and babies emerge as live young. These species are "ovoviviparous." Many other snakes, including rat snakes and king snakes, lay eggs. These are "oviparous."
As it happens the same environmental forces that produce lots of young snakes also produce lots of young snake food, lizards and frogs, compounding the likelihood that 2013 will be a snake bumper crop. McKinney, Texas is home to a wider diversity of snakes and lizards than any other state in the union. No native lizards are venomous. Most native snakes are also non-venomous (or, in some cases, slightly venomous to their prey, but essentially non-venomous to humans). Only two families of snakes, one containing coral snakes, the other pit vipers such as rattlesnakes, copperheads, and cottonmouths, are venomous.
Rural hospitals in North Texas are experiencing a substantial increase in snakebite patients this season. Some hospitals have already seen more patients than they typically do in an entire year. Most of the bites are from copperhead snakes, which are rarely fatal.
One 10-year-old girl near Granbury though is recovering from being bitten by two rattlesnakes at the same time, one on each foot. “I did not see anything,” said Courtney Elswick. “I just heard a rattle and hiss.” Elswick was bitten as she jumped out of her father’s truck in the driveway of his rural home northwest of Granbury. She spent five days in the hospital, and now is using a walker and a wheelchair to get around. Her right foot is blistered, and bruised where a baby rattlesnake bit her. Her left foot is also swollen, where a larger snake bit her. Hospitals typically start to see bites in the late spring and summer months as snakes start to move around.
The numbers have spiked though in the last few months. Graham Regional Medical Center, where Burgess went, said it has treated six patients. Palo Pinto General Hospital in Mineral Wells has treated nine. It usually sees five in an entire year. Weatherford Regional Medical Center has already had 20, including nine in May, and eight in June. It only saw 19 all of last year. The spike in snake bites will continue the rest of this year and into next year.
Mark and Susan Griffin are owners of A All Animal Control in McKinney. They are wildlife management professionals, certified renovators and licensed falconers.