Welcome to South Texas!: A Few Things That Might Kill You, and More That Won’t

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Texas isn’t quite the Wild West it sometimes looks like in the movies. I mean, I never rode a horse to school, and I didn’t own cowboy boots until I was an adult. But there are some things that Hollywood gets right. We’ve got some really amazing wildlife and it can be scary if you don’t know what you’re looking at. I offer the following rundown on some of my favorites with the disclaimer that I’m not a doctor. The information provided is just from my own personal experience (and some minimal Wikipedia searching). Don’t take any of this as medical advice.  If a bite, sting, or other injury looks scary, PLEASE go see a doctor.

That said, here are a few dangerous—and not so dangerous—critters you can expect to run into from time to time here in South Texas:

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Scorpions

They can range in color from light to dark brown, even black. They all have a poisonous sting, but it is rarely an issue for healthy adults. Small children and pets need to watch out, as a sting can be more significant for them. If you live in an area of new construction where their natural habitat is being disturbed, you will probably see more scorpions. Scorpions are nocturnal and like cool spots, so be sure to shake out your shoes, and if you’ve seen scorpions around your home, shake out your blankets before you crawl into bed.  

Orb weaver

Spiders

We have A LOT of spiders in Texas! My personal favorite is the orb weaver. She’s BIG and yellow and scary looking. She makes gigantic webs and eats all the bugs. You will not be surprised by this spider, as her size and her web make her highly visible. She’s also basically harmless to humans and would be very happy if we just left her alone.

Here in Texas we have two varieties of venomous spiders: (1) the black widow; and (2) the brown recluse. Most people know how to identify the black widow by the red hourglass shape on her abdomen. Brown recluse spiders have a brown fiddle shape on their head, though San Antonio is not technically in brown recluse territory. My general rule with spiders is the same regardless of whether I get close enough to see what pictures they have on their bodies: leave them alone! Don’t stick your hands into dark spaces (e.g., behind that electrical box or into that wooden pallet) without looking first. And if you see a spider and aren’t sure what kind it is, just walk around it. Spiders eat bugs. I hate bugs. Therefore, I love spiders.  

Fire ants

These are like ants on steroids. You can identify them because their heads are copper brown and their body is darker. Although not technically deadly, fire ant bites are far more painful than regular ant bites and should be avoided at all costs. Keep an eye on that giant pile of dirt your kid wants to kick over. Chances are good it’s an ant mound and the innocent kick will send ants scurrying like crazy.

Snakes

The most commonly seen are rattlesnakes, coral snakes, water snakes, and rat snakes. They are all cold-blooded and will most likely come out when they need to warm up.

  • Coral snakes: You may have learned the following poem as a kid: “Red touches black, safe for Jack. Red touches yellow, kills a fellow.” I could never keep it straight, but fortunately it doesn’t matter here. If you see a red, black, and yellow snake, it’s a coral snake. They are venomous. They also would really rather avoid you if at all possible. The only live one I’ve seen here was really unhappy as he scurried right under my lawn mower.  
  • Rattlesnakes are venomous. Rattlesnakes are also loud. They will tell you quite clearly when you near them. Pay attention to your surroundings, give them a wide berth, and all is well.
  • Rat snakes are super scary looking. They are also super harmless to us. We have sago palm trees in our backyard, and just about every summer a rat snake will curl up in one of the larger sago palms for a few days.  
  • Water snakes live in ponds around here and are often confused with the much rarer cottonmouth. If you see a snake in a pond, it’s probably a harmless water snake. There are a few ways to tell water snakes and cottonmouths apart, including looking at their eyes and the vertical bars on their face. Personally, I’m not getting that close to a snake. So, when in doubt, just move away.  
  • As a bonus, sometimes we get Texas blind snakes in our pool. Texas blind snakes are tiny. Curled up, they are about the size of a quarter. They’re actually cute, as much as a snake can be considered “cute.” They are literally so small that they cannot open their mouths to bite you. You may have seen one and not even realized it, as they can be very easily mistaken for earthworms.

Roaches

They’re gross, but they can’t hurt you. The only way a roach can kill you is via the heart attack you suffer upon seeing it fly across the room. Yes, here in Texas, we have roaches that fly. Yes, that is just as terrifying as it sounds. No, having roaches says absolutely nothing about your ability to keep a clean home. Your home can be spotless and you will still get roaches. Unless you have snakes. And scorpions. Those suckers love a good roach lunch.  

My son feeding the vermin.

Cicadas

Cicadas are totally harmless, but also totally creepy. That deafening screeching you hear in your backyard? That’s probably cicadas. Those husks that look like dead prehistoric bugs on the side of your house? Those are cicadas. Besides being disconcerting, though, cicadas are the least of your worries.

Deer

And then we come to the worst offenders. Deer are literally vermin in many parts of Texas. They roam free through many neighborhoods, eating flowers and herbs indiscriminately. There are plants that are touted as “deer proof.” I don’t believe it after I watched our neighborhood herd plow through all of my herbs. Supposedly thorny or “fuzzy” plants are also safe from them, but I remain skeptical.

Kids love deer. They want to feed them and watch those big brown eyes and talk about how cute they are. When deer know your house is an open buffet, however, they will come back. So think carefully before you invite Bambi over for lunch.

Heat 

The heat in Texas has a life all of its own. We celebrate a “cold front” when it drops to 90°F. Don’t take the heat for granted. Wear sunblock. Put sunscreen on your kids and pets. Drink more water than you think you need. Find a water source to sit in during the worst of the hot season. Fortunately, we are lucky enough to have several nearby. From floating the river, visiting a community swimming pool, or checking out any of the many splash pads or water parks in and near San Antonio, you’re never too far from a spot to cool off.

To sum up, I offer this advice.: Snakes, spiders, and most other traditionally “scary” fauna would very much prefer you leave them alone. Be aware of your surroundings, give them space, and you’ll have very little to worry about. No matter how good of a housekeeper you are (or hire), you will likely see some kind of pest in your house. It’s just a reality that we live with and is no commentary on your abilities. Deer look cute but are pure evil if you love plants. Cicada look evil but are totally harmless. Don’t underestimate the heat. Welcome to Texas, y’all!

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Shanti
Shanti is the product of recovering hippie parents. She’s a lifelong Texan, born in El Paso, with stops in Lubbock and Austin for college, before settling in San Antonio. She met her husband when she was 18. They both married and divorced other people before they realized it was meant to be. She now works as an attorney practicing primarily family law, and he designs HVAC for commercial buildings. They are raising twin tornadoes affectionately known as the Aliens, along with a rotating menagerie of dogs and cats. In her free time, she is involved in local nonprofits, runs, and grows a (sometime) thriving vegetable garden.