Snake venom is a precious commodity.
From antivenom for snakebites to cancer treatments and the latest research on neurological diseases, venom is being used in a wide variety of applications.
And George Van Horn has been collecting it for these uses for nearly 40 years.
The owner of Reptile World Serpentarium in St. Cloud, Fl., Van Horn is passionate about snakes and besides exhibiting more than 50 species, keeps hundreds for the sole purpose of extracting venom.
Twice a day he allows the public to view through safety glass that allows a peek at his high tech venom extraction room.
“You see this. These are fangs,” Van Horn said as he rolled carefully opened the mouth of a large eastern coral snake.
The tiny fangs were in the front of the snake’s mouth and destroy the commonly held myth that coral snakes are rear-fanged snakes that must “chew” on a person to inject venom.
“They are elapids just like cobras and they have the same skull structure. I don’t know where these rumors came from but they are persistent,” Van Horn said.
He went on to say that most coral snake bites result from people picking them up and it is often young men.
“Women typically don’t go around picking up venomous snakes. And a coral snake has a very dangerous venom that is difficult to treat so people shouldn’t fool with them,” he said.
He uses a specially designed snake stick to hold down the heads of the bigger snakes he extracts venom from but can’t do it with the corals due to their small skull. That means he grabs them quickly from behind, a method that is without question risky but is best for the long term health of the snake.
“We keep them around a long time and have to watch out for their well-being,” he said.
The venom collecting shows daily at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. are worth the price of admission but so are the snakes on display.
From a five foot long Florida cottonmouth to a 14 foot long king cobra, a black mamba and a beautiful eastern diamondback/canebrake (timber) rattler hybrid there is a lot to see.
Snakes are part of nature whether you like it or not and if you venture into the great outdoors it is best to learn to respect them and get educated so you can handle any encounter that comes your way.
Reptile World Serpentarium is a great place to to learn about snakes and see the unique practice of venom collection.
For more information go to www.reptileworldserpentarium.com.
Canis rufus, the red wolf is one of the most endangered mammals in the world.
Declared extinct in the wild in 1980, they faced hybridization with more adaptable coyotes. Now a number of scientists believe the species is actually a fertile hybrid of gray wolf and coyote to begin with but the red wolf at this point is still declared a unique species.
The Texas Zoo is one of the first in the nation to take part in the captive breeding program that has produced offspring that have been stocked at several locations in the Southeast including North Carolina’s Alligator National Wildlife Refuge.
The wolves there are kept in a spacious, naturalistic enclosure where with a good camera with a solid telephoto lens and fast shutter speed you have a good shot at capturing images like the one above.
The first photo I ever had published was a pair of red wolves dating back to 1992 in a now defunct newspaper called The Opportunity Valley News. I actually took the photo the year before while I was a junior in high school.
One of the best parts of the wolf exhibit is that it is located close to a coyote exhibit. Coyotes are often mistaken to be wolves and here you can see a clear contrast and also note the similarities.
The vast majority of the animals at the Texas Zoo are Texas natives but there are also tigers and other exotics now included to give some variety for visitors.
If you are ever near Victoria, TX which is situated off of I-59 between Houston and Corpus Christi, stop by and see the red wolves and the other wild creatures that call it home.
It’s got a nice collection of animals and charm the size of the Lone Star State.
The smell of southern fried seafood hit my nostrils as the car doors opened.
As I walked over to open the door for my then girlfriend (now wife) Lisa, the pleasant aroma hit every hunger button I had. Visions of shrimp and sausage gumbo danced in my head.
Then as Lisa stepped out of the car I heard something move in the tall cane behind us.
As we fixed our eyes toward the racket a huge mud-covered animal emerged.
At first in the dim light at the back end of the parking lot I thought it was a young steer as cattle are common in any pasture, wood lot or in the case chunk of marsh next to the restaurant.
But it was no steer.
This was a hog, one that weighed well beyond 500 pounds.
It grunted heavily when it saw us (we were only 10 steps away) and then went on about its business of rooting up the ground.
The area the animal came from is a piece of marsh probably in the 300 acre range next to a large refinery facility. This is bordered by a large chip channel and a whole bunch of industrial buildings and homes.
Obviously that huge hog, perhaps a domestic set free to graze years ago as used to be common in southeastern Texas. It does not take hogs to go back to their wild origins and integrate into any purely feral hog populations.
This was not the only time I came across evidence of monster hogs in the area.
Early in my writing career a man told me had located a really big black boar in a wood lot behind the Vidor, TX Wal Mart and wanted to know if I wanted to tag along with he and his dogs to catch it.
Two weeks later a letter arrives in the mail with a photo of the hog they killed, all 400 pounds of it. I later drove by the area to inspect and saw the 20 acre wood lot the beast had lived in amongst a city of 10,000.
Both of the aforementioned hogs were boars and large, solitary ones that can find enough woods to hang out during the day and vacant field, cattle pastures (common in southern cities) right of ways along highlines and drainage canals can thrive
Throw in the aforementioned practice of allowing domestic hog breeds like Yorkshires and Durocs feed on open range with cattle and you have an even bigger chance of huge hogs showing up. Hogs show little regard for fencing and also need no help from man to survive beyond captivity.
As hogs push deeper into urban territory, certain individuals will find these sanctuary areas that will allow them to grow to epic proportions.
Animal control offices throughout the South (and as far north as New Jersey) are contending with hogs now on a daily basis but monsters like these are unlikely to participate in any trapping program they initiate.
Without the gun as an option in these urban sanctuaries, those hogs with the genetic code to grow huge will, dethroning the coyote as the apex of city-dwelling wildlife.
Young pigs will provide coyotes food but the ones I am writing might just decide to make coyote their food.
They are able and in some cases totally willing. Chester Moore, Jr.
Are feral hogs the new coyote?
In other words, have they become the latest large wild creature living quite cozily within the city limits of the largest cities in the nation?
The answer is “yes”.
Right now there are sizable feral hog populations Dallas-Forth Worth and Houston in my home state of Texas and also around Baton Rouge, La. and a number of sizable metro areas in Florida.
I believe what we are about to see is cities harboring some absolutely monster-sized hogs.
In the past I have written and lectured on what I call “Monster Hogs” which are any weighing more than 500 pounds. Such animals are few and far between but some of our cities offer all of the right ingredients to make it happen.
There is adequate habitat, food and cover and large boars in particular which tend to be solitary are great at remaining hidden. They may in fact possess more “intelligence” than any wild animal in North America.
Add to this a lack of hunting pressure.
Hogs are popular with hunters and in fact, have superseded whitetail deer as the most harvested animal in Texas with a whopping 750,000 new killed annually according to Texas AgriLife. Louisiana and Florida also support a huge hog hunting culture.
The fact that firing guns in city limits is a no-no will give hogs with monster genes the opportunity to live to maximum potential.
This is where it will get interesting.
Sightings will be elusive but these creatures will be seen perhaps in schoolyards near children or eating Fifi” the poodle as granny takes it for a stroll in the park.
We are fielding increasing reports from shocked citizens seeing normal-sized hogs in greenbelts and suburbs but how will the public react to seeing a boar just shy of average grizzly proportions(600 pounds) strolling down main street?
More to come… Chester Moore, Jr.
Most of mammals we see where I live Southeast Texas would be considered of the common garden variety.
Whitetail deer, raccoons, opossums and squirrels are the most frequently seen creatures that thrive in our woodlands, prairies, marshes and urban areas.
In fact, these animals are common sightings throughout North America
There are however some really strange mammals in the region that are very rarely seen by human eyes and yet they can live in suburban backyards.
Take the eastern mole for example.
These burrowing mammals have tiny eyes but they cannot see and spend almost all of their time underground.
According to the Mammals of Texas, “…moles feed largely on earthworms and grubs, although beetles, spiders, centipedes, insect larvae and pupae, and vegetable matter may also be eaten. In captivity, they have consumed mice, small birds, and ground beef.
“The average daily food consumption is about 32 percent of the body weight of the animal, although a mole can consume more than 66 percent of its body weight in 18 hours. Active prey is killed by crushing it against the sides of the burrow with the front feet or by piling loose earth on the victim and biting it while thus held. Captive moles kill earthworms by biting them rapidly in several places, often nearly cutting the worm in two.”
The saliva of males contains a type of toxin that paralyzes worms and insects. And if that is not weird enough, they can move as quickly backwards as they can forwards.
If the mole isn’t odd enough for you than let me introduce you to the shrew.
These mouse-sized insectivores are arguably the most voracious predators on the planet and East Texas has two varieties: the southern short-tailed shrew and the least shrew.
According to the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection, shrews have an extremely high metabolic rate. This rapid conversion of food to energy requires that these animals consume up to their own body weight in food every day.
“The highly social and gregarious least shrew often cooperates in building burrows or nests, which are sometimes shared with other least shrews during the nesting and wintering seasons. The species uses the runways and burrows of moles, voles and other small mammals but will make its own runways in soft, loose soil. Tunnels under the snow provide protection from wind and intense cold, allowing least shrews to remain active all winter.
Least shrews rely mainly on their senses of touch and smell. Sight and hearing are not well developed.
The least shrew only lives a short time, usually a little over a year.
God created many amazing creatures and although the big ones get most of the media attention, those on the small side are just as interesting.
Hollywood gets lots of things wrong.
And one of the most glaring examples are references to wildlife in films. There are countless examples like CGI whitetail deer with elk antlers and any number of animals shown in the wrong country.
The following is a short list from horror movies that show there were no wildlife experts among the crew. “Could’ve been a skunk”—In the 1978 classic “Halloween”, killer Michael Myers is believed to have visited his old house and when his doctor and the sheriff find a half-eaten German shepherd, they blamed it on a skunk.
Skunks might be able to kill a dog by giving it rabies but there is no skunk big and bad enough to kill a full grown German shepherd and eat it.
It’s a great movie but it boggles the mind to think of that line getting the green light.
Armadillos in Transylvania—In 1931’s groundbreaking movie “Dracula” starring Bela Lugosi, we are introduced to the count’s creepy, gothic castle.
In the castle are rats, bats and…armadillos.
Yes, armadillos, the nine-banded variety to be exact.
Apparently someone thought what would put that movie over the edge is a North American armored mammal. Yeah, that’s the ticket.
Oh and there was an opossum too. No Grizzly Here—The 1970s produced lots of killer animal movies in the wake of “Jaws”. One I liked as a kid was “Grizzly”, about-you guessed it a killer grizzly bear.
When they figure out a killer bear is in the park, they are amazed because someone allegedly caught all of the grizzlies and relocated them as if grizzlies can’t move long distances. And also as if they would know if they caught all of the grizzlies. Night of the Lepus—A movie about giant, carnivorous rabbits. Nothing else to say. Chester Moore, Jr.
The cottonmouth is the most feared snake of the American South.
With a reputation for a short temper, this stout pit viper often flashes the white of its mouth to say “Don’t Tread On Me”.
Wise people don’t.
I have dealt with cottonmouths on hundreds of occasions and actually found some of them to be quite docile but the one in this photo was not.
It rose up about a foot of the ground in an almost cobra-like stance. Actually it was sort of a cross between a western diamondback rattlesnake’s “s” position and a cobra.
The snake in question is the biggest I have ever worked with and is nearly four feet in length.
Another interesting thing about this particular snake is that unlike most cottonmouths I have worked with, it did not want to maintain its position and lash out. It lunged at me while conducting the photo shoot and kept advancing forward.
One of the things that continually amazes me about the amazing creatures the Lord graced us with is individuality. Most people, including those into wildlife, look at snakes as all one in the same. A snake is a snake is a snake…or something like that.
In reality there are vast differences among individuals in a population and also from region to region. The cottonmouths I encounter in the Pinewoods of East Texas do not tend to be as aggressive as the ones along the Texas coast.
In addition it is virtually impossible to get those I find along the Interstate 12 corridor in East Texas/Southwest Louisiana to show their white mouth while the ones just north and south of there do it frequently.
One of the intriguing things as a journalist pursuing wildlife is that we cannot interview them like I might a wildlife biologist so we spend as much time in the field as possible shooting photos and videos to capture a profile of a given species. Chester Moore, Jr.
A beautiful herd of longhorn cattle made their way across a bluebonnet covered meadow.
Walking down a trail from an oak thicket, one particularly massive bull stopped and glared at us so I felt obliged to jump out of the truck and shoot photos.
We were at YO Ranch Headquarters near Mountain Home in Kerr County and had just completed granting a “Wild Wish” for a little boy named Amos who got to encounter a giraffe and many other exotic animals at the legendary ranch.
“Wild Wishes” is a program that grants exotic animal encounters to kids who have a terminal illness or have lost a parent or sibling.
Amos and two other wish kids who accompanied us followed me and another chaperone out to photograph the massive bull when we noticed something in the bushes. Hiding under the shade of a live oak was a massive bison. The longhorns were cool but this was awesome!
This thing was easily in the 2,000 pound range and gave us a real thrill as buffalos were the topic of conversation riding down the road. “Wild Wishes” grants exotic animal encounters for children who have lost a parent or sibling or who have a terminal illness and to think that the Lord granted us this chance to see such an amazing animal together was humbling to say the least.
Then it got better.
From behind another tree stood up something big and white. At first it looked like a bull but when it turned around chills ran up and down my spine. This was no bull. It was a white buffalo.
The Great White Buffalo!
As I snapped photos, the majestic bison looked us square in the eye and then retreated into the oaks as we stood blown away.
All three of the kids knew about the legend of the white buffalo and its importance to Native American culture and so did I of course. And I could not help but sing a chorus of my friend Ted Nugent’s “The Great White Buffalo”.
We had no idea such a creature existed on the huge ranch and would not have seen it if we had not decided to pull over and photograph the longhorns.
I have no question the Lord had His hand on this encounter and so did the kids who were excited beyond measure. They had seen something that until then only seemed like a legend.
I have had many incredible wildlife encounters and this one ranks right up there with seeing great whites in the Pacific. This was a lifelong dream come true and I got to share it with three very special kids and a friend who is as big a buffalo fan as I am.
Part of my love of bison comes from knowing their tragic history and the great conservation efforts that saved them.
According to the Texas Bison Association, Bison were hunted in various ways. Before the Indians rode horseback, they would encircle the herd with tribe members on foot. By getting the animals to mill within the ring they formed, Indians were able to fire large volleys of arrows into the herd until they downed an adequate number of animals.”
“In the 16th Century, when horses were acquired by the Plains Indians, bison hunting became easier. The Indians used other methods to harvest the mighty buffalo: stampeding herds over a cliff, driving the animals into a large natural trap, or into bogs or blind canyons. The most famous hunting technique was the “horse surround.” Several hundred riders would form semicircles on two sides of the herd, then move in until they created a circle around its entirety. As pressure was applied by the oncoming riders, the bison would begin to get confused, start milling and eventually stampeded into a frenzied milling mass. At this point, riders would move in and begin the slaughter with showers of arrows or plunging lances.”
Then came wholesale slaughter of bison by European settlers that was as much to wipe out the Plains tribes that relied on them as it was to sell bison parts. What was once a herd of millions was reduced to less than 1,000 by the late 1800s.
According to the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department, legendary rancher Charles Goodnight started the remnants of the herd on his JA Ranch in the Texas Panhandle in 1878, in attempts to save the animals that had meant so much to him.
“It was actually his wife that influenced the cattle and business tycoon to preserve them, before they disappeared, so that future generations might be able to see and appreciate these special creatures.”
“Somehow, against the odds, a herd of genetic-related Southern bison have managed to survive the decades since, and now, we all benefit from the Goodnights’ vision. When the bison were initially donated to TPWD and moved to Caprock Canyons State Park in 1997, it was discovered that their DNA was different, and feature genetics that are not shared by any other bison in North America. In fact, the Official Texas State Bison Herd at Caprock represents the last remaining examples of the Southern Plains variety.”
Now YO Ranch Headquarters and other ranches proudly raise bison and they are flourishing right here in the Lone Star State on private land and at Caprock Canyons State Park. Without ranchers and hunters, there would likely be no bison today.
As we walked back to the trucks, the moms, grandmas and dads were excited for the kids (and this big kid) who just encountered something special.. They got to see all of this go down but one thing they did not see were its eyes.
We started into the eyes of the white buffalo.
None of us may ever be the same.
We locked eyes with a legend. Chester Moore, Jr.
The dim moonlight illuminated the trees just enough to make out the edge of the forest. A strange sense of forebode overcame me as I gazed into the blackness.
As I neared a crossroads, something jumped out of the ditch and made its way through the tall grass. Standing about 20 inches at the shoulder, the creature had large, erect ears and pale, gray skin.
Perhaps, I had finally encountered the legendary “chupacabra”.
I have maintained the “chupacabras” seen on many video clips and photos shared on social media are coyotes or foxes with a very bad case of mange.
However, as I pulled over, grabbed my flashlight and ran to the woods edge, my rational explanation wasn’t resonating. I was alone, without a gun, on a dark, country road and looking for a “chupacabra”.
To top things off my flashlight was dying and so was my cell phone.
Sounds like a good start for a horror movie, doesn’t it?
As I pressed toward the woodline, a nasty growl came my direction. Followed by aggressive barks, I could tell there was a canine not happy with my presence. I inched a little closer and could make out a set of blue eyes illuminated by my dim flashlight. A creepy silhouette of a thin animal with tall ears peaking from a behind the tree looking at me, hit my curiosity factor so I moved closer.
At this point, the animal moved and started barking again. Aggressive barks.
It was time for me to go. I may be curious but I am not stupid.
I returned this morning slowly cruising alone the road as a thin layer of mist on the ground began to dissipate.
And about 50 yards from where I left it the night before was the mysterious animal. I quickly shot a few photos with my cell phone as it stood silhouetted in the forest. I could only make out the shape until it moved into an open patch of light.
I could see that it was a dog (mutt) of some sort with short hair that was coming off in large patches. It even had a tiny collar on.
If coyotes and foxes make up the bulk of “chupacabra” sightings, now the domestic dog can join the ranks.
“Chupacabras” are not monsters. They are simply sick animals and in this case I have feeling it was a sick animal dumped off in the woods so the owners would not have to deal with it. Either that or it escaped from somewhere and made a long haul to this stretch of road.
I doubt that though as it hung around the same spot I saw it last night. That’s a sign of an abandoned dog.
I knew what I was looking at was a canine of some sort all along but how many people would be able to tell during a brief sighting under the moonlight?
In this case the “chupacabra” was more like Frankenstein’s monster than some sort of evil being from beyond as some bloggers claim. It’s circumstance was at least partially man-made and it was just doing what it had to do to stay alive.
In this case I was the like the angry mob that drove the monster to the windmill, only with a flashlight instead of a torch. I did however back off and let nature take its course.
After all, Frankenstein’s monster fought back and I had no desire to end up bitten by a chupacabra-one wearing a collar or not. Chester Moore, Jr.
Last week readers Andy Allen and Reggie Begelton captured this video of a large manta ray swimming a mile west of the Sabine Jetties, just off the beach at Sea Rim State Park out of Sabine Pass, TX.
Manta rays are present in the Gulf of Mexico but sightings are rare and sightings with a mile of the beach are virtually unheard of in Texas.
According to Wikipedia, swimming behavior in mantas differs across habitats: when travelling over deep water, they swim at a constant rate in a straight line, while further inshore they usually bask or swim idly around. Mantas may travel alone or in groups of up to 50. They may associate with other fish species as well as sea birds and marine mammals. Mantas sometimes breach, leaping partially or entirely out of the water. Individuals in a group may make aerial jumps one after the other. These leaps come in three forms: forward leaps where the fish lands head first, similar jumps with a tail first re-entry or somersault. The reason for breaching is not known; possible explanations include mating rituals, birthing, communication, or the removal of parasites and remora.
“Manta rays have broad heads, triangular pectoral fins, and horn-shaped cephalic fins located on either side of their mouths. They have horizontally flattened bodies with eyes on the sides of their heads behind the cephalic fins, and gill slits on their ventral surfaces. Their tails lack skeletal support and are shorter than their disc-like bodies. The dorsal fins are small and at the base of the tail.”
“The largest mantas can reach 1,350 kg (2,980 lb). In both species the width is approximately 2.2 times the length of the body; M. birostris reaches at least 7 m (23 ft) in width while M. alfredi reaches about 5.5 m (18 ft). Dorsally, mantas are typically black or dark in color with pale markings on their “shoulders”. Ventrally, they are usually white or pale with distinctive dark markings by which individual mantas can be recognized. All-black color morphs are known to exist. The skin is covered in mucus which protects it from infection.” Chester Moore, Jr.