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Recent Rains Bring More Than Floods: Watch For Snakes, Wildfires, West Nile Virus


FORT WORTH — Buster Tuggle was atop his house, reaching into the long branches of a cottonwood with a trimmer, unaware of a water moccasin wrapped around a nearby branch.

Tuggle, 61, owner of Hare’s Nursery in Arlington, also didn’t see the snake when he sawed it in two, along with an armful of tree limbs. His sister Joyce was the first to see it when it smacked on the ground next to her.

“His head was attached to the end I was at, and he was still trying to bite,” Joyce, who quickly grabbed a hoe to finish off the intruder, told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

The almost 17 inches of rain last month may not have produced that kind of drama in every encounter, but a lot of people have found an array of critters in their yards, garages and homes that have never visited before.

Snakes. Wildfires. Allergies. West Nile Virus.

Summer could bring its own menacing, pesky problems as North Texas dries out. Grass is already extremely tall along highways and in parks and other public spaces. And the vegetation, fed by moisture-rich soil, likely will continue to grow for weeks.

As spring turns to summer, the grass could become a serious fire hazard if the region experiences a prolonged dry spell, officials said.

And health care officials are warning that the tall grass and large pockets of standing water could cause havoc for sufferers of grass and mold allergies and also create a spike in West Nile Virus and other mosquito-borne illnesses.

Area cities and other governments say they likely won't be able to cut the grass quick enough to eliminate the hazards.

No rain is in the Dallas-Fort Worth forecast for the next week or so, and temperatures are expected to climb into the 90s. Turtles, frogs, earthworms, rabbits and many others, along with the predators — snakes, bobcats, coyotes — that follow them have been in unusually close proximity to homeowners.

Experts say the appearance of snakes and other wildlife will be temporary. Of course, be cautious, they say, but it’s not a Planet of the Snakes invasion due to deep-sea atomic testing. “When floodwaters rise, you're going to see a lot of animals,” said Misty Wellner, a former naturalist with the River Legacy Living Science Center in Arlington and now its volunteer manager. “When you have a disaster like this, they’re going to move to dry land, just like we are.”

Residential areas are typically well drained with modern storm sewer systems, and animals may look for temporary homes in those areas while their usual habitat is under water, said Derek Broman, Texas Parks and Wildlife urban wildlife biologist based at Joe Pool Lake.

“This is a 500-year flood, so none of the current generation of animals is used to this,” he said. “As things start to recede, a lot of the animals should go back into hiding. A lot of the animals don't want to be out in the open. Some of the higher grasses might be providing cover for some of those animals for the time being.”

Snakes are showing up with greater frequency in Haslet, Mayor Bob Golden said. “Typically, they are being swept downstream in the floodplain areas of the city, so most of the increased activity is in those locations. We have no reported bites.”

The animal services department that serves Colleyville, Keller and Southlake “is answering about four snake calls a day in the three-city area,” Colleyville spokeswoman Mona Gandy said. “Typically they would get two a day.”

Roanoke police warned residents that it has taken several calls recently about snakes.

Water moccasins, or cottonmouths, prefer to live near water, not in it, said herpetologist Diane Barber, curator of ectotherms (cold-blooded animals) at the Fort Worth Zoo. They might climb to a low branch to get out of water.

Rat snakes and other harmless varieties will climb a tree when they think a bird egg meal awaits, she said.

The Western cottonmouth is among the four most dangerously poisonous, along with the Western diamondback rattlesnake, the copperhead and the coral snake — the smallest, most colorful of the lot, with the most potent venom, Barber said.

Dr. Ketan Trivedi, emergency department medical director at Methodist Mansfield Medical Center, which has treated two snake bites in recent days, reminds people to wear boots and long pants and be careful around bushes when reaching for things.

If bitten, he said, don't waste time going online to try to identify the snake. Instead, go to the emergency room of a full-service hospital. You likely would be put on painkillers and kept overnight.

Even if bitten by a harmless snake, go to an emergency room to have the wound cleaned and to get antibiotics, as well as a tetanus shot. Both the snake’s teeth and your skin have bacteria that can cause infection.

[This is an AP Member Exchange shared by the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.]