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Posts Tagged ‘snake’

More catching up

December 18th, 2009

Ok, I’m typing again. The best thing about spacing, facing and tweeting is that it forces me to write, which I’ve always thought something should be doing.
June is the end of snake mating season so that traffic slows down a bit on the Snake Removal front, but then in August all the little babies begin to hatch (or gravid females of some species will give live birth) so Aug-Nov is the busiest time of the year for that.

It’s also the busiest time of the Snake Encounter year, with libraries, parties, fairs and festivals – and usually a museum here or there being among the possibilities. Libraries in particular have their Summer reading programs, and since I’m willing to travel farther than most, you never know what far flung Texas town I’ll be in next. Generally speaking, my library shows are usually rather significant violations of the fire code (room capacity) but Fire Marshals, men who aren’t afraid of burning buildings, are rarely as calm about snakes. Don’t think I’ve ever had one in my audience.

In late August I boarded the Carnival Conquest for a trip to Jamaica, Grand Cayman and Cozumel. A buddy of mine (I was best man at his wedding) in Houston had a marriage that lasted less than two years, so I went along in her place (with her blessing) on what was supposed to be their 2nd Anniversary cruise. All in all it was amazing, and I befriended and hung out with a group of closeup magicians that were on board. Usually they only have one, but the other three were going from there to other ships the following week.

I also met the ship’s acupuncturist, who did a great workshop on intro to Chi Gong, and I had a session with him later. Pretty cool.

The timing was a challenge, being gone for a week during peak season, and cell time (and internet time) at sea both cost a fortune, but it was a worthy experience. In Cozumel we took an excursion and I swam with stingrays, and one big female was thrashing around when any of our group tried to hold her for a photo op (including the guides that knew her) but I gave her Reiki and she promptly went to sleep in my arms. She didn’t move a muscle for several minutes until I gently let her swim away, which she did VERY slowly as if in a trance. The guides were freaking out.

In Grand Cayman we snorkeled the wreck of the Cali, a ship that was a sailing vessel and later an engine driven ship, later unwisely converted to Diesel. This stressed the boat so bad during a full power attempt to beach her to escape an oncoming hurricane, that the seams began to give way and let water into her holds – which were filled with a huge shipment of rice. The rice met the water and expanded – making the Cali the only seagoing vessel ever sunk by rice. The port authority later declared it a hazard and ordered it destroyed, but the military types who brought the explosives got it wrong by a decimal point, and blew her to smithereens. It blew out almost every window facing the port, and impaled her mast deep in the ground quite a ways onshore. Very interesting wreck to explore, and the sea life there is gorgeous.

All in all the Snake Removal season continued a decline that has pretty much mirrored the economic news, with more and more people deciding that if it costs money to fix, maybe that snake problem isn’t so bad after all, or being duped into cheaper alternatives like snake repellents, which do not work – but have a powerful placebo effect. You rarely see a snake in the same place twice anyway (from his point of view, you’re HUGE) so you put out a smelly powder and don’t see him there again – and you think it worked. Usually, your footsteps (he can feel them through the ground) are what drove him off instead – if indeed he was even still around when you did it.

Meanwhile, some members of our government are trying to legislate people like me out of existence, proposing a ban on what is apparently a growing list of constrictors that would make it illegal for me to transport my animals to many of the places where I do my shows. The day may come when I’ll have to decide upon a venue to work for and put down roots. That’ll be sad for a lot of clients who have booked me year after year because, they say, I’m their most requested performer. I’ll create an alternative show with more magic, more stories, more media and fewer snakes, but some cities are so clueless about all of this that bans on “all constrictor snakes” are being considered or even enacted. The smallest baby corn snakes that couldn’t constrict your pinkie hard enough to turn it pink – are constrictors.

October I was performing almost every Friday and Saturday night at Screams, the Halloween park in Waxahachie on the grounds of the Scarborough Faire Renaissance Festival. I was the new kid on the block and was strictly busking, but the response was good enough that I expect bigger things for next year.

November is birthday month for Julie, my son Daryl, Julie’s dad, several of my friends – and me.

And December, my usual slowest month, did at least have Discovery Science Place the first weekend. There’s a day camp show in late Dec, and I did walkaround at a couple of parties. At least, for now, everyone is still eating.

On the Road

February 9th, 2009

This one was really grueling. 3175 miles in 8 days. Stops in Glendale AZ, Glendale CA, Anaheim, Huntington Beach and Laguna Beach, CA; and on the return trip in Quartzite, Glendale – and during our Big Detour through Sedona,  Flagstaff and Albuquerque. It was my privilege and responsibility to be traveling with Julie, Charley (the dog) Alley (cat) four lizards and a dozen snakes.

We rented a big passenger van this time, thinking we’d need the extra space and some room for one of us to sleep while the other drove. Bad idea. 14 mpg on the highway (ouch) and the seats weigh a good 200 pounds each. There’s hardware to remove if you want the floor space too. Worst of all, we were told it had rear climate control, when it in fact had only rear FAN control, and all of the airflow was concentrated on the driver side, so managing the resulting rear temperature zones was extremely problematic the entire trip.

Speaking of which, the departure from Dallas went normally (read late) enough, but a bit west of Weatherford the antenna began to ice up. Shortly thereafter we saw the first of a dozen 18-wheelers we would find lying on their sides as the stretch of I-20 before us was a solid sheet of ice all the way to Odessa.

Among these big rigs who seemed to have forgotten that the rubber side is supposed to stay on the bottom, the last was stretched all the way across both lanes ahead of us. I eased down the left lane past at least a dozen more trucks lined up down the right, and cautiously approached the front of the line. As the overturned rig finally came into view (hard to see with the rubber side pointing toward you in a heavy freezing rain at night) I carefully got out of the van to investigate. The ice under my feet was at least an inch thick. The driver was just climbing out and I was able to confirm that he was okay and 911 had been called.

I then checked to see if there might be a way I could sneak past his cab, going somewhat off the road, to escape. The other drivers said, “We would if we could!” and helped guide us around him. I’ll bet everyone else was trapped there for at least a couple more hours. As it turned out, we didn’t have the time to spare.

On top of having to maintain a top speed of 40 mph for all of those miles, the rain was freezing on the windshield faster than the defroster could keep up with. We had to stop about every 30 miles to let the melting catch up. The antenna just got thicker and thicker. At a few points we had to use a canned de-icer to free the wipers when they froze over too thickly. We only lost traction once, but that brief moment will sure put your heart in your throat. I was carrying very precious cargo.

We thought the extra space in the big van would facilitate a sleeping area for one of us in the back while the other drove, but this night would have none of that. The dog liked it though. More room to stretch out than he was used to.

Beyond the ice we took a short, fitful, shell-shocked nap together (which helped a little) and made our way through New Mexico and Arizona. An old friend of mine lives north of Phoenix in Glendale, so we stopped there for a brief break and headed off for the other Glendale – the one in California and the site of my first interview.

Ryan Ray still has the show up on We were scheduled to be there at 5pm for a 6pm show. We arrived at that very spot at 4:55. It was entirely apropos to do a show under conditions of sleep deprivation in front of a logo that says, “Wake Up!” Check it out – it’s very California. The full name is “Wake Up! Explore Your Passion” and Ryan was interviewing me as an example of someone who gave up the normal career path to pursue a dream. Tell me about it.

Then followed the trip from Glendale to Anaheim. I’m not sure which was worse, the ice – or the 5. Californians are generally a very friendly bunch – until they get behind the wheel. More aggressive than Dallas, more even than Houston. Almost apocalyptic. After that of course, a hotel room about three hundred yards from the entrance to Disneyland is the perfect peaceful and serene environment for recovering from 30 hours of low-level ambient trauma.

Loading in is a pretty big deal for us. It takes four trips with the four wheel dolly at least. If someone raises an eyebrow I just offer, “What can I say? We pack heavy.” That always works.

That was Wednesday night, and fortunately all I had on the books for Thursday was a late morning meeting with Tania (she was awesome) to hammer out the last-minute details, and a quick late afternoon introduction to the meeting of the museum’s board of directors (including Anaheim’s Mayor Curt Pringle) featuring Aussie the Carpet Python, Capone the Tegu and yours truly. That left more time for recovery, including a great meal of sushi and miso to help reset our nerves.

Friday I did something I don’t normally agree to do. Three shows in three hours. I need time between to reset and regroup, but the logistics demanded the schedule we did, and I’m nothing if not a team player. But when the last kid left (I let them greet me and pet Neon on the way out) I had to admit that I was really wiped.

Soo, I loaded up the van again (they all needed a water dish rotation, and that’s easier to do in the hotel room) and got that and a few more details squared away. A quickie nap and we were off to Huntington Beach to do Real Orange for KOCE, followed by a fast trip to Laguna Beach to put those animals in Chris Trela’s office so we could see that marvelous production of “Around the World in 80 Days” at Laguna Playhouse. Great stuff.

Saturday was a bit less hectic, with shows at 11, 1 and 3 for the general public. Julie was there to help with video and after show interactions. Hope the annual show idea works out. We love Muzeo and would be thrilled to be involved in what is bound to be a great future for this innovative approach to the fostering a local interest in the arts.

Then it was Sunday. We got mostly packed up and Chris treated us to brunch at a bakery/café in Downtown Disney. Perfect weather, excellent meal. I’ve always understood why people live in California, I just remain somewhat confused as to how.

It was of course, the day of The Big Game (I understand you can’t use the S-Word without written permission from the NFL these days) but the ticket cues at The Resort were very full. By the time we were on the road again, it was almost game time. We averted a complete mess on the 19 (thanks to Chris again) and took the 57 to the 10 (that’s how they say it there) and we were off – headed East.

We found The Big Game on an AM radio station, but that began a big AM surfing series as we crossed Eastern California, otherwise known as the lunar surface. We got a leg up on that problem from a great guy named Ed that we found at the California Visitor Center in San Bernardino at the 10 and Route 66. He downloaded and printed a list of stations across the regions we were headed through while we browsed the excellent info exhibits. They’ve really put some effort and money into revamping their Info Centers. This one is first class.

We managed to hear most of The Big Game. We were rooting for the Arizona Cardinals, so the game itself was a little stressful, especially when a channel would fade out during an exciting drive. By nightfall we were thinking rest stop and the one we found had an RV parked there, watching the game. We parked next to him and caught Arizona’s last big touchdown play on his big screen through the window. Sweet.

Our next stop was in Quartzite AZ for a meal. Too bad the rock shops you’d expect to find in a town of that name were all closed, but we found a great little bar and grille called The Yacht Club, which made a mean fish ‘n chips. The crowd was understandably subdued, but they had a lot to be proud of in their Cards for making it as close as they did. They almost won The Big Game, and our Cowboys who were expected to do that didn’t even make the playoffs.

By the time we made Phoenix, it was 4 am. A bed and a shower gave us the resolve to take The Big Detour. Sedona, AZ. I’ve always wanted to see the area – felt it calling to me, you could say. Extra rental fees, fuel, mounting incidental expenses and all – we were going.

That’s a whole other story. It’ll be my next entry.  Lots of pics.

Muzeo – Anaheim CA

February 7th, 2009

Wow.  These guys are a class act.

Brand new (only a year old) this museum of the arts is bridging gaps between the art lover and the uninitiated in ways few have ever thought of, and now I’m a part of that.  Very cool.

Like their current exhibit, “The Color of Rock” featuring the art of Philip Burke.   His vivid portraits of rock legends make compelling artwork meaningful to people who might not ordinarily seek out this kind of museum.

Their next exhibit will explore the world of movie monsters.  The big hall will be full of animatronics from Australia.  It starts later this month.

Meanwhile, they made the very bold move involved in hiring a snake handling comic magician (I prefer prestidigitating herpetological humorist) to perform at a museum of the arts.   On Friday they had sponsors funding local schools to see the show (three of them back to back – whew) followed by three shows for the general public on Saturday.   Responses were excellent, and there are discussions in the works for making this an annual event, with lots more schools getting to see the show and more time to generate excitement with the general public.

Director Peter Comisky was as congenial and professional as ever, and special kudos to Events Manager Tania Aguilar, who made everything go smoothly without breaking a sweat.  She is one sharp cookie.  I even got to meet Anaheim’s Mayor Curt Pringle, who is on the museum’s board of directors.   Great guy.

Julie and I were also treated to a night of theater after my fourth appearance on Real Orange, the nightly news show on Orange County’s PBS affiliate.  Good to see Ed Arnold (a recent Golden Mike winner) and co-host Ann Pulice again.  They’re a lot of fun – and very good at what they do.

My friend Christopher Trela (he was at the Discovery Science Center when we first played there) is now the PR Director for Laguna Playhouse in Laguna Beach, where we caught an absolutely delightful and consistently hilarious performance of Jules Vernes’ “Around the World in Eighty Days” done by five amazing actors doing 36 different parts.  It was wonderful.  Best time I’ve had at the theater in years.

That was on Friday.  The first interview was in Glendale on Thursday (at the end of a 30 hour odyssey that included an ice storm from Weatherford to Odessa, TX) for a thoroughly California show called “Wake Up! Explore Your Passion” with Ryan Ray.  His co-host was a psychic intuitive, he and his replacement tech guy were more than a little snake phobic going into it, and the whole thing was quite a hoot to do.  Check it out at

Then followed the drive from Glendale to Anaheim.   Californians are a friendly bunch as a rule – except when they’re behind the wheel.  Worse than Dallas, worse than Houston even.  Almost apocalyptic.   I swear three different drivers saw the plates and said, “Kill the Texans!”  They almost did.  We were pretty shell-shocked by the time we made it to the hotel.  When we move into a room, it’s a pretty big production, so by the time that was done we were almost too tired to sleep.

But we did recover, and we truly hope to be back here next year for a bigger and better event.

The long road trip included a pretty significant detour that I’ll report on in my next blog entry.

Brake for snakes!

Off to California again

January 18th, 2009

Yep, loadin’ up the van (one doesn’t fly with fourteen snakes, four lizards, a cat, maybe the dog…) and headin’ off to Orange County again – this time for Muzeo in Anaheim.  My old friend Peter Comisky from Australia, who was at the Discovery Science Center a few years ago when I did shows there, is now at Muzeo and I’m looking forward to working with him again.  Delightful fellow.

Lots of logistics to be worked out.  Julie’s horse Jake will be staying at the wonderful Stone Canyon Ranch in Glenn Heights, owned by our friend Dr. David McFadden. (Need dental implants?  Apparently he’s the man.  We’re talking the ranch that teeth built).  Jake has been part of a herd with only one horse for several months now, so we’re expecting him to enjoy having a little equine companionship again.

The dog question is probably the toughest.  Charley is the same age as my son Alex (his middle name – all his friends call him by his first name, Daryl) so he’s sixteen years old, and as much as he adores road trips I can’t help thinking it might be his last, and therein lies the rub.  Would the journey hasten his leaving us?  He can hardly hear these days, and his solemn duty is to guard Julie (ever since I told him to do so before a trip I made without her a few years ago) so would it be more stressful for him to have us out of sight for a week?  Big decision.

Given access to enough water and if they’re fed before we leave, the snakes that aren’t in the show can stay behind.  Of course, we can’t turn down the thermostat like normal people would, but that’s a cost of doing what we do.

The lizards are another matter so they’re coming along too – including the Bearded Dragon, the African Plated, and the Leopard Gecko that are not in the show.   Can’t wait to explain all that to the checkpoint people at the CA border, who always ask if you are bringing in any pets.

I have a friend in Phoenix so we can stay there on the way, but it’s a long haul to get there in one day.   It’s January, so in all probability everywhere we stop the van will have to keep running to provide heat or we’ll have to move everyone indoors for the duration of whatever stop we make.  It keeps things interesting.

Before the trip, there’s North Park Center Mall in Dallas next Saturday, and a photo shoot to do tomorrow.   That doesn’t leave much time to nail down the remaining details.  Come to think of it, back to work!

Snake Removal

June 11th, 2008

I’ve been busy with Snake Removal calls lately, and thought it was about time to address that issue here. I joined the team in 1994 as a Field Herpetologist. A good friend’s mom had seen a tiny classified ad for that job title with an 800 number, and today I’m Senior Field Herpetologist and VP Marketing for Snake Removal, Inc. We’re based in Galesburg, IL and we’re the only nationwide company specializing exclusively in snake problems. With a team of experienced field staff across the country we currently cover 26 states coast to coast with site service, and can assist almost anyone anywhere with accurate information and solution strategies over the phone.

With all of our field herpers handling a radius of 150 miles, it’s impossible to do site service work on an emergency basis. Scheduled service happens at the earliest mutually possible time within a 24-96 hour framework, so a distraught caller with a message like “I’m looking at a snake right now, get over here immediately!” is let down as gently as possible by a rather elaborate voice mail system. It explains (in my voice) what we do (inspect, remove, evaluate, educate and provide situation specific, long term solutions) and what we don’t do (emergency on-site service, treat with ‘repellents’) and even includes our pricing structure.

As you can imagine, this position created more than a few interesting stories.

As the senior guy, I get flown to anywhere the need is large and the closest current staffer is too far away. A power company in New England flew me in over a rat snake. Problem was, the power station had bus assemblies that separated large amounts of power from one another – but were made of pipes that were hollow at the ends. Birds nesting in these were safe, and then a natural offshoot of that situation – a Rat snake climbing to raid the nest in the end of assembly A – also no big deal.

However, said snake climbing across to raid the nest in assembly B – big problems. Fried snake (they had a picture – he was a crispy critter) and thousands of homes without power. Enter the expert to assess the surrounding area and formulate prevention strategies.

I’ve been in sweltering hot attics and wet, muddy crawlspaces to remove snakes, so the client can move out of the hotel room and back into the house. It’s not a job too many people are lining up for, and fewer still can actually do it. Our minimum requirements are ten years’ experience in the field, and knowing the local snakes like the back of your hand. This leads to gaps in our nationwide coverage, but fortunately we have an inexpensive solution available for callers who are out of range.

The challenge when it comes to fixing a snake problem is getting accurate information, which is harder to do than it sounds. Most of the “common knowledge” about snakes and their behavior is completely incorrect, yet has been around so long that very few know the difference. Snake “repellents” are a good example. A major home improvement store chain will tell you the repellent they carry is a best seller, but even they don’t seem to know that it doesn’t work. It’s a combination of mothballs and sulfur – the two most popular wives’ tales – right behind lime, kerosene, diesel fuel, chicken blood and horsehair rope.

If a snake repellent were actually proven to work, we’d sell and recommend it. Meanwhile, as problems go, snake problems are generally quite fixable, given the correct information and procedures to follow. That’s why we created an inexpensive alternative to on-site service. Everything we teach homeowners when we are physically there, specific to the snake species native to their particular area, can be imparted over the phone in about 45 minutes. This service includes access to us for questions that arise after the consultation (at no additional charge) ditto for emailed digital photos, whether for snake identifications or for features on the property that need to be addressed.

The cool thing about the telephone snake consultation is that it CAN be done on an emergency basis. That caller who is looking at a snake when they call can be told exactly what can safely be done to diffuse the situation without injury to humans or damage to property.

That’s one of the reasons we went to a voice mail system to handle the huge volume of incoming calls. Many people are in an extreme state of agitation when they call in, and back when we had operators, we used to burn through them at an alarming rate. They weren’t herpetologists and couldn’t answer many of the questions people wanted addressed, and sometimes callers would literally interrupt themselves with shotgun blasts – because they thought they heard a snake in the attic (and now they had a new sunroof).

It is not safe to try to kill the animal. Eight out of ten snakebite victims were trying to kill the snake at the time. The other two were usually white males with a drinking problem. With the cost of treating an envenomation currently over forty thousand dollars in the US, it’s definitely something to avoid. Venom isn’t meant for self defense, it’s meant for getting lunch. It’s meant for getting lunch to stop running away. They only use venom in self defense when they perceive that something is trying to kill them.

Besides, most of the snakes people freak out over are extremely beneficial to mankind, eating rats and mice that chew through wires and burn down homes, or contaminate food supplies and spread disease. One dead snake can mean hundreds of live rats. As wild animals go, how many perform such a service for humans? Rabbits and squirrels are cute, but what have they done for you lately?

We always safely relocate the snakes to unpopulated areas just far enough away that the client won’t be seeing them again. The only exceptions would be cases involving escaped exotics – which should never be released into the wild. They are found proper placement with experienced keepers.

To contact Snake Removal, Inc. call 1-800-339-9470 and follow the prompts.  You won’t get a live operator, but the live person who calls you back shortly will be a bona fide expert.

Meanwhile, here are some free tips:

1. Do Not try to kill the snake. Get a picture instead. Lots of folks own digital cameras (at least the ones on their cellphones) these days but few seem to realize that a snake sighting is one of the very best reasons to use them. When it comes to snakes, a picture is worth two thousand words.

2. The fastest snake in the US goes about 6.5 mph. A human who has seen the snake can usually do 15.

3. Your footsteps are your best way to avoid a direct confrontation. A snake can feel a mouse walking by, so ordinary human footsteps are very big and loud to them. In the snake’s world, everything too big to eat is trying to eat him. From his point of view, even a child is a towering predator. A seven foot snake is an inch tall. I always tell kids, if you see a snake, take two steps back – and go play somewhere else.

4. Don’t grab the shovel, grab the camera. Get the picture. Keep your distance, but the snake can only strike half its body length.

5. In an emergency situation involving a snakebite, proper first aid is: Go To The Hospital. No cutting, no sucking, no ice, no heat, no tourniquets, no whiskey, no stun guns. All of these will make the problem worse. The sooner the antivenom is administered in the ER, the better – but even delayed treatment will save tissue if not a life. In the US, the antivenom is the same for the bite of a Copperhead, Water Moccasin or Rattlesnake, but that digital picture will help the ER decide how much (it’s really expensive) to administer initially. Also, a few Rattlesnake species have a neurotoxic component, and knowing which one was involved will help them decide if they need to have airway support ready and waiting.

6. Coral snake bites are another matter. They’ve stopped making the antivenom for it in the US. With less than 1% of venomous snakebites in the US involving this species, it seems there’s no profit in it. The 100% effective way to avoid being the victim of a Coral snake bite: If you see a Coral snake, even though it’s very pretty, DO NOT PICK IT UP.

7. If you know that the bite is from a non-venomous snake, apply hydrogen peroxide topically. In most cases, there won’t even be a scar to show for it in a couple of days.

8. Armed with all of this new knowledge, take a deep breath.  Snakes are as natural on planet Earth as butterflies and hummingbirds.  When you have some of the food chain, you have all of the food chain.  If you refuse to let the fear feed on your previous collection of popular misinformation, it will lose its power and melt away.

9. Brake for Snakes.

Texas Coral Snake!

May 19th, 2008

I got an interesting call from a family that had seen my show three years in a row. Having learned from me that most people who are bitten were trying kill the snake at the time, they had a Texas Coral snake (Micrurus tener) waiting for me in a trash can, and could I please remove it?

I knew when they said that, what part of Dallas they were calling from. In all my years herping Dallas County, the only other Micrurus I’ve personally encountered in the wild was only 500 yards away from this family’s home, in a now closed property called Camp El Har. It’s a little North of Duncanville (across I-20) and East of Spur 408. The area is called Cedar Vista. Very green and beautiful, with cedar brakes and higher elevations than most of the county.

As a kid, my church sent us there annually, and as an older kid I was also a counselor there. More recently I’ve performed there, but stopped hearing from them a couple of years ago. It’s really sad now to know why.

Anyway, the Coral snake in question had already been named “Freddie” by Mason, one of the five great kids in the family. Channel 5 ran a story about it, here’s the link, though I don’t know how long it will keep working:

As usual, they interviewed me for 45 minutes and used 8 seconds or so of it, but the story was pretty well done. Of course, they played up the “deadly snakes in Dallas” angle, but failed to use the stinger – that all of the antivenom for this species was made three years ago, because production stopped in 2005. No money in it. Only 1% of venomous snakebites in the US annually are from this species. That’s no wonder – it’s a shy, reclusive animal that is rarely seen, and to get bitten by one, you basically have to pick it up.

Don’t pick it up.

Drop for drop, it’s very similar to a cobra bite, and with all the remaining antivenom on the shelves across the country expiring this October, the alternative may end up being left on a ventilator for days while the central nervous system recovers from the paralyzing effects of an envenomation. Very scary thought.

The story added that the bite, “left little time for survival” which they did not get from me. The onset of any symptoms at all can sometimes take hours or even days, which is one of the problems, as some victims tend to assume the bite failed to deliver any venom. Then later when they discover they’re in trouble, they find themselves unable to speak, and later to even breathe on their own. Not good.

In the D/FW Metroplex, none of the mimics range this far North (for the Mexican Milk snake) or West (for the Louisiana Milk snake) so EVERY red, yellow and black banded snake will be the Texas Coral snake – there’s no need to remember the little rhyme.

Just don’t pick it up.Texas Coral snake, Micurus tener