Texas Is Mulling a Ban on Pouring Gasoline into Rattlesnake Burrows

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Tigerhawkvok
At some unknown point in the not-too-distant past, after the advent of the internal combustion engine, human beings discovered that pouring volatile chemicals into underground burrows made it much, much easier to hunt rattlesnakes and other critters.

The practice, aptly called "gassing," caught on and has been in use in Texas ever since.

"What people do is take gasoline or kerosene or other noxious substance and pour enough of it down into an animal burrow to create a vapor that forces them out," said Texas Parks & Wildlife spokesman Mike Cox. "That's the main idea: it messes up the atmosphere enough inside the burrow to force them to come out."

See also: Texas Sure Seems Hellbent on Killing Off the Endangered Prairie Chicken

Sounds brilliant, you're no doubt thinking. Surely there can't be any drawbacks.

Alas, TPWD says there are. It turns out pouring gasoline underground tends to damage delicate ecosystems, contaminate water and indiscriminately kill things, not just the rattlesnakes and gopher tortoises being targeted, but also lizards, toads, other less loathsome snakes, many of them endangered.

Even if the practice were less indiscriminate, it would still be harmful, Cox said. "When you start tampering with the pieces in the ecosystem it leads to a cascading effect that leads to worse and worse [damage] for the environment."

That's why, when the Texas Parks & Wildlife Commission meets on January 23, it will consider joining 30 other states by enacting a full or partial gassing ban.

Rattlesnakes aren't the only animals people gas, but they've been getting the most attention since TPWD proposed the new rule last month in large part because of events like the "World's Largest Rattlesnake Roundup" in Sweetwater, Texas. An organizer told the Austin American-Statesman that a ban on gassing would kill that event.

YouTube footage of people actually gassing rattlesnakes is disappointingly hard to find, but here's a National Geographic clip describing Sweetwater's festival:

Cox says comments given at public hearings this week in Fort Worth and Houston have been mostly positive. One expects that will change once officials reach Sweetwater next Friday.

Send your story tips to the author, Eric Nicholson.


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68 comments
greg
greg

Rattlesnakes, and all snakes, kill rats and mice, which are much more of a

threat to humans than they are. People who indiscriminately kill snakes are

bad for the environment, and lots of them just like to kill things....

kduble
kduble

Gasoline percolates into the ground water and eventually into our reservoirs!

rusknative
rusknative

I just use carb cleaner or starter fluid...toluene vaporizes quickly and does not leave residual fluid polution.  snakes do not like it at all.

Pecos45
Pecos45

Gasoline poured down a hole KILLS whatever is down there, not just snakes. And it stays there to kill whatever unfortunate animal crawls down into it.

I have been on snake hunts, and I have killed a lot of rattlesnakes, but I realized a few years ago that this practice doesn't discriminate. It kills everything down in the hole. I thin, they should have stopped it years ago.

roo_ster
roo_ster

Meh, what a waste of bureaucritter time and taxpayer dollars.


The snakes breed fast enough such that they will replace their numbers posthaste after the fun & games in Sweetwater.  My kiddos learned a bunch about rattlers at Sweetwater in a very short time.  And we all were entertained by the antics of the showmen.


FTR, venomous snakes around my home eat lead, due to small children walking about.  The non-venomous are welcome and get left alone and fill the void left by the venomous.  Out in the bush, Jake & I leave each other alone.

fracquestions
fracquestions

For all the ignorant comments being made let me set the record straight.


First, water moccasins are NOT aggressive except when defending a nest. They are curious, but they will retreat when confronted unless they have no other option.


Second, you are highly unlikely to be killed by a snakebite. On a bad year in the US about 25-30,000 people are bitten by venomous snakes, only about 20-25% of which result in venom releases (because snakes use venom to kill what they eat, and they don't eat humans.) Of those bitten, the average is about 2 snakebite deaths annually in a typical year and about 8-9 in a bad year. Most snakebite deaths occur from anaphylactic shock, rather than from poisoning, because the victim suffers an allergic reaction.


Third, snakes serve a very noble purpose in our ecosystem - they eat a lot of disease-carrying vermin (unfortunately, they don't eat enough conservatives) that would otherwise directly harm humans, such as mice, rats and small mammals. Without them rabies and many other very unhealthy diseases would be rampant.


Fourth, there is nothing as cowardly or less beneficial as the Sweetwater Rattlesnake Roundup.


I know at least twenty people, some who have been bitten multiple times, and none of them ever suffered any major damage. Most fully recovered WITHOUT TREATMENT in 4-8 weeks after some swelling and pain. I do not know of anybody I know personally who has died from a snakebite, and one guy I know was in a canoe race and paddled an additional 230+ miles to the finish line after being envenomated by a water moccasin while portaging a log jam where he was bitten in the lower back while dragging their team canoe over a downed tree.


I go places where I measure my speed in "snakes per minute", and I photograph them from as close as a foot, but none has ever attempted to bite me other than a broadbanded watersnake that apparently did not like being handled. The only class of "snakes" in the United States that I truly fear are of the species known as "Republicans."

ozonelarryb
ozonelarryb

Why not send in the Parks SWAT team.

paulpsycho78
paulpsycho78

TCEQ has about 3 guys in f150s right now for the entire state on this...no need to worry

slimtoml
slimtoml

Set the record straight!!!  They DO NOT SPRAY GASOLINE in the snake dens, they just spray  the fumes from the gas and it only last a short while. No harm is done to any creature.

holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

There are so many feral hog in Texas now, they are forcing the rattlesnake to adapt.  

They stopped rattling like they used to.

To a hog, it's a dinner bell.

Hogs love to eat rattlesnakes.

bmarvel
bmarvel topcommenter

Gassing and killing off rattlesnakes is good for everyone:  a great boost for the rodent population, a splendid opportunity for west Texas men to prove their virility to west Texas women who know otherwise, and a boon to local hospital emergency rooms that make tens of thousands of dollars off drunken snakebite victims.  

By the way, Eric, your lead photo is a sidewinder -- a Mojave native -- not our own Western Diamondback, target of the brave snakecatchers. 

P1Gunter
P1Gunter

Ok, to be clear. In Texas it would be illegal to put gasoline in the burrow of a poisonous animal but it's totally legal to pump thousands of gallons of toxic chemicals underground during fracking? Makes total sense.

bmarvel
bmarvel topcommenter

@fracquestionsfracquestions -- Snakebite is rarely fatal, but it is no fun and it is very expensive. A surprisingly large number of victims are bitten by snakes they are trying to kill, or by snakes they thought were dead. (They are, but that biting reflex lasts for quite a while.)

Moccasins do not have "nests" to defend. They give birth to live young, like Copperheads and Rattlesnakes Unlike the similar-looking water snakes, which go thrashing off through the underbrush or drop into the water, moccasins will stand their ground and face an intruder. They will not chase a human.

The "snake hunts" are an exercise in yahooism, a sad remnant of our yokel days when bear-baiting was considered entertainment. Some folks imagine that no harm is done, that the snakes reproduce fast enough to replace themselves. In fact, it's getting harder to find rattlesnakes and even veteran hunters complain that they have to travel farther afield to find the snakes. Add this to the devastating effect the Texas drouth has had on all snakes, and you have the makings of an explosion in the rodent population

 But maybe the folks in Sweetwater just like rodents.

  



gm0622
gm0622

@fracquestions 

OK you can hug all of the snakes that you want.

I trust Rattlers, they give a warning.

Copperheads and Cottenmouths, They get a 410

bmarvel
bmarvel topcommenter

@primi_timpano Perhaps the rattlesnake roundup people would consider sponsoring a fire-any stomp.

rusknative
rusknative

@primi_timpanoThey eat dead snakes pretty well.  Dead snakes support the ants.

fracquestions
fracquestions

@slimtoml If you believe the bullshit you just stated, then why don't you breathe the fumes from gasoline and prove to us all how "safe" it is and how unaffected you will be? Or, are you too cowardly to back up your words with actions?


Breathing benzene is anything BUT safe and harmless. Benzene is a know carcinogen and exposure to benzene causes many human and animal adverse health effects, as well as death. Your statement is one based purely in ignorance or stupidity - you will have to tell us which it is.

bmarvel
bmarvel topcommenter

@slimtoml 

Slim -- the latest research shows gas fumes are actually very healthy for animals. it gives them strong bones and teeth and helps build strong bodies 12 ways. Why not take a good whiff next time you fill 'er up?

rusknative
rusknative

@holmantxThat is why Michelle is so outgoing....she loves to eat rattlesnakes.

ruddski
ruddski

But they, like all other earthly creatures, will never adapt to any changes in climate, don't ya know.

rusknative
rusknative

@P1GunterFRACK THE SNAKES, SAVE THE PLANET, NEW ENERGY POLICY, MAKE AUTOS RUN ON DEAD SNAKE.

James_the_P3
James_the_P3

@P1GunterWell if you encased the burrow in drilling cement before pouring the noxious chemicals in, it's probably be okay.

fracquestions
fracquestions

@bmarvel@fracquestions Well, I did not mean to imply that moccasins set up house somewhere. I was merely using the term "nest" as a metaphor to say that when birthing their young they are more protective than normal and may become "aggressive."


Snakebite treatment probably is expensive for those who seek it, but many people do nothing and recover without a problem. Most doctors don't have a clue how to treat snakebites anyway, and may, in fact, do the wrong thing. I carry Betadine to clean the wound area to prevent bacterial infection, which is the worst problem most people would ahve from a snakebite.


For the record, I would much rather be bitten and envenomated by a water moccasin than be bitten by a diamondback watersnake, which is filled with bacterial and which may cause an amputation because of gangrene. Those snakes are VERY aggressive and cause much more hard than moccasins.


Generally, I agree with everything you stated above, especailly the part about bites by dead snakes. Heads that have been cut off have been known to bite and inject venom from reflex action more than 6 hours after the beheading. The proper thing to do if a venomous snake (other than perhaps a coral snake, which has no fangs) is killed is to cut off its head and then bury the head several inches beneath the surface to make sure it cannot bite anything or anyone.

fracquestions
fracquestions

@gm0622 There is not one recorded death by a copperhead in the state of Texas, and only a small handful of copperhead bite deaths in the entire nation in the history of medical records. Copperheads are about the least offensive and dangerous of all snakes.


Those of us who spend a LOT of time around snakes know that they are generally harmless to humans, and those who don't know much about snakes shoot them with their 410's.

holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

@ruddski 

Just the snakes, cockroaches and Liberals will survive.

but then again that's kinda redundant.

bmarvel
bmarvel topcommenter

@holmantx@bmarvel"just call animal control."

And they'll get rid of these pesky rattlesnake hunters?

P1Gunter
P1Gunter

@James_the_P3@P1Gunter Dude, it's gasoline though. I just stopped in to by a pack of cigarettes from the 7-11 at the White Rock Spillway. How much gasoline do you think is spilled there on the ground daily, washed into the stormsewer, and ends up in the ecosystem? There's also a QT across the street and by my count 4 other gas stations within a mile of the lake and ultimately that gas ends up in our ecosystem and water supply. It just seems like a very arbitrary line.

fracquestions
fracquestions

@rusknative Limbs get amputated when people treat snakebites wrongly, such as applying tourniquets that trap venom in a localized area resulting in severe dermal necrosis and gangrene.


Recently, a good friend in Oklahoma stepped on a copperhead and was bitten twice while walking on her farm. By the time she got to a doctor some two hours later she was told she had received a dry bite. In fact, she got a full venom release that went completely untreated. For about two months she could not wear a shoe because of the swelling and tenderness, but after that her leg and foot returned to normal. It was not amputated because the venom flow was not restricted.


Of the people I know personally who have been bitten and envenomated not one has ever had an amputation. In Boy Scouts, they taught us a lot of wrong things to do about snakebites, which is probably why there used to be a lot more amputations than there are today.


Over 20 years ago the AMA told us to throw away and stop using those "cut and suck" snakebite kits because they do more damage than good. I carry a Sawyer extractor, but it is only good within the first few seconds after which time the venom goes subcutaneous and cannot be sucked out by ANY method. I carry my Sawyer for insect bites and stings. I carry a bottle of Betadine for snakebites because I am much more concerned about bacterial injuries than I am about venom.


If you want to use ignorant rants to debate the issue, then I suggest you take it up with Dr. David T. Roberts at the Dallas Zoo. David is one of the world's leading experts on snake bites, spider bites and scorpion stings. Almost everything I know about the proper treatment of these things came from David, who was THE specialist called upon by the US military services to advise doctors how to treat injuries caused by snakes, spiders and scorpions during Operation Desert Storm and Operation Desert Shield. I am fairly certain he knows more about this issue than you!

rusknative
rusknative

@fracquestions@gm0622I am with the 410 conservative crowd. You need a DEATH to determine that poisonous snakes will HURT you.????.You .never saw a limb amputated from putrified flesh from venom?  Must have NEVER been a Boy Scout.  I use a 20 guage as I am a poor shot.

rusknative
rusknative

@fracquestions@holmantx@ruddskiWhen that happened last, the dinosaurs died off and the cockroaches lived...Imagine progressive liberals with ability to think for themselves and to not meddle with other people's lives...would be marvelous.  John Lennon was a musician, nothing more...but his wife Oko....she was a snake.

fracquestions
fracquestions

@holmantx@ruddski And, it will be a better world, too!


With a toast to John Lennon, imagine there's no conservatives. It's easy if you try!

rusknative
rusknative

@bmarvel@holmantx well, I stand by rat poison...also takes out a lot of feral cats and their flea population....heck, snakes must be OK with a lot of Americans...they elected on as President and a Bunch of them in the Senate.

bmarvel
bmarvel topcommenter

@James_the_P3@bmarvel@holmantxJames -- you're probably right about the identity of the river. But there are few records of the Cottonmouth being found in the Nueces (the Diamondback watersnake is very abundant there). And moccasins never swarm, as depicted in the book and the TV series. A lot of herpetologists got a big laugh over that.

I defer to nobody on my admiration for McMurtry, and "Lonesome Dove" is a fine read. But it's about as reliable a guide to snake behavior as it is to Volkswagen maintenance

bmarvel
bmarvel topcommenter

@holmantxI'm sure it is. Don't touch the fangs, by the way. They can have tiny, dried remnants of venom.

Bullsnakes don't have rattles. But they do vibrate their (striped) tails, which, in dried brush, can fool an antelope or cow or coyote -- or the non-too-bright rattlesnake hunter.

As you no doubt gather, I'm against killing snakes of any kind under most circumstances. Their danger is exaggerated and few people have the presence of mind or knowledge to distinguish a poisonous from a harmless snake. Plus, the number of snake handlers who have made a painful or deadly mistake -- including experienced herpetologists and zoo-keepers --should warn everybody: Hands off.  

holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

@bmarvel @holmantx 

Bull snakes don't have rattlers and since the head of the water moccasin is in ajar on my desk let me see . . . yep, it's a cotton mouth all right.

either that or Bmarvel.

James_the_P3
James_the_P3

@bmarvel@holmantxMy recollection is that Sean O'Brien is killed by water moccasins in the Nueces, not the Red, River.  And I'm reasonably certain there are water moccasins in the Nueces.  Of course, there are water moccasins in the Red, too, east of the 100th Meridian.


And for the record, I'm speaking of the book only--I've never seen the miniseries.

bmarvel
bmarvel topcommenter

@holmantx@bmarvelThose "water moccasins" are more likely water snakes, ill-tempered  but harmless snakes that are, except to experts, indistinguishable from the poisonous moccasin. Moccasins have an elliptical pupil, if you want to get that close; both are dark, heavy-bodied snakes that hang around water and are enthusiastic fish-eaters. In all my years of snake watching here in Dallas, I've seen one moccaain and hundreds of water snakes.

I've seen dozens of water moccasins elsewhere, however. They do not chase people. They will stand their ground, however, and open their mouths wide so you can see the white lining -- hence "cotton mouths." {One of the rare comic moments in "Lonesome Dove" was provided by a swarm of "deadly" watersnakes in the Red River out in West Texas, where there are no moccasins.} 

As for the barbaric and destructive "sport" of rattlesnake hunting, I guess it might be a way to impress a girl friend, if she isn't particularly bright. If one really needs to impress her.

I've seen those roundups. There's always some doofus who brings in a bullsnake under the impression he's got him a rattler. You can hear the rats and gophers cheer for miles.

Think of a snake -- all snakes -- as highly mobile rodent traps, the kind you can't buy in a hardware store at any price. Surely anybody raised court in the country can understand that.

holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

@bmarvel @holmantx 

in a few days.

And in this town?  They'd prefer taking the caller prisoner than the rattler.  In Dallas, I think you'll find more Copperhead than rattlesnake.

Water moccasins are more dangerous only because they get pissed off and will chase you.  And they tend to get all tangled up in your stringer which is tied onto your waste when wade fishing.  It's quite a thrill to lift up your stringer to see why the fish are suddenly slapping your leg and see three water moccasins wrapped around the fish.

And pouring gas down a hole is cheating.

You gather up a small mirror, a broom handle with a bent nail on the end and a tow sack.  Walk along an arroyo or dry creek bed and shine the mirror into the stratified rock formation overhangs and you find them - a bunch of them - way up in there sleeping.  Then you reach in there with the stick and yank them out.  Your second baseman or girl friend puts them in the tow sack.  In fact a big den you can smell 'em.  They stink.

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