Spring is in the air and snakes are in the grass – and the flower beds, beside the creek or slicing through the neighborhood pond.
Encouraged by pleasant weather, empty bellies and age-old desire, snakes have been particularly active around Dallas and across North Texas this year, an alarming thought to those who putter outdoors.
"Judging from the calls we're getting, this has been a particularly busy year," said Dr. Jon Campbell, chairman of the biology department at the University of Texas at Arlington and a world-renowned expert on snakes.
"This time of year, almost every year, we get a lot of calls. But this year is particularly busy because we had good rain at the right time."
Despite those notions of snakes basking on hot rocks in the full desert sun, well, they actually prefer things cooler, Campbell said.
So for the snake, spring is the time to eat, drink and scare the bejesus out of us.
"For the last four or five months, they've been underground, or holed up somewhere, so when spring comes, they're hungry and they're out looking for food," Campbell said.
Once their hunger is sated, that second elemental urge kicks in. Yep, the snakes are out to beget more snakes.
Trouble is, the search for love brings the occasional brush with people, who tend in general to be snake averse.
But the best action to take, when you see a snake, is to do nothing at all.
"Any snake you see, just leave it alone," said Brett Johnson, an urban wildlife biologist with Texas Parks and Wildlife in Cedar Hill – which, incidentally, might well be snake central in the Dallas area.
"We've had a bunch of reports about nonvenomous water snakes," Johnson said. "But for a lot of people, any snake they see in the water is a water moccasin."
Likewise, the relatively common Texas rat snake has the unfortunate tendency to shake its tail when threatened, which leads people to think they've found a Western diamondback rattlesnake, also native to Dallas, Tarrant and neighboring counties.
"And rat snakes, they can have a little bit of an attitude," Johnson said, "and they'll start snapping at you."
So back off.
Unfortunately, certain folks have a hard time doing that.
"We have more problems with adults than kids – specifically males in their late teens and early 20s, or the gung-ho guy who feels he has to protect his family," Johnson said.
The majority of snake bites occur, Campbell added, when "people mess with them or try to kill them."
It's safer to leave snakes alone, he said. Besides, snakes are valuable to the ecosystem, gobbling down critters like rats and mice that can cause a lot more problems.
Still, each year, people haul snakes to the herpetologists at UTA to be identified.
"I bet well over 95 percent of the snakes brought in are nonvenomous," he said. "The most common we see might be the Texas rat snake, because it's common, it's conspicuous and it's big."
That said, North Texas has its share of venomous snakes, including the copperhead, the water moccasin or cottonmouth, the Western diamondback rattler, a pygmy rattlesnake found in western Tarrant County and the occasional coral snake.
The good news is that the Texas spring is fleeting, and with temperatures already in the 90s, the snakes will soon limit their travels to the cool of the evening – out of sight, out of mind.
"Snakes are a lot like we are," Johnson said. "They try to stay out of the heat of the day."