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Wild Thing

Red-bellied Recluse

The WESTERN MUD SNAKE'S flashy colors belie its shy nature

Few things sound as scary — and silly — as a snake, tail in mouth ouroboros-style, rolling down the road like a bicycle tire. As is true with many an old wives’ tale, the “hoop snake” myth has some basis in truth — the Western mud snake does have a tendency to lie in a circular coil.

But you’ll never see this colorful snake rolling down the road, whether to chase people or to escape from danger. In fact, you’ll be lucky if you see one at all.

This seems odd for a couple of reasons. First, the mud snake is, to put it delicately, not small. These heavy-bodied serpents typically reach 30-48 inches, though they can grow as large as 81 inches in length. Second, while their glossy black backs may not draw a lot of attention, the vibrant red (or pink) and black checkerboard pattern that covers their bellies and runs up their sides is distinctive — and quite flashy. What makes them so difficult to find?

The mud snake’s large size and vivid coloration are offset by both its habits and its habitat. Mud snakes are nocturnal and highly aquatic. While they occasionally bask in early morning sun, they spend most of the day dormant, hidden in mud-bank burrows among dense forest vegetation near still or slow-moving water. At night, they emerge — sometimes to cross over to adjacent aquatic habitats, but primarily to hunt.

While they have been known to eat tadpoles, frogs, salamanders or fish, their preferred diet consists of amphiumas and sirens — elongated eel-like amphibians that writhe and coil into a ball when disturbed. The mud snake prods its prey with a long, spine-like scale at the tip of its tail, causing the amphiumas to uncoil. Then the snake’s muscular head, jaw and neck help it catch and subdue its slippery meal.

Mud snakes are nonvenomous and rarely bite when handled, though they have been known to press the hardened tip of their tail against their captor’s skin, leading to their other nickname, “horn snakes.” The single subspecies found in Texas, Farancia a. reinwardtii, is restricted to the wetter portions in the eastern third of the state.

 MuhammadAns | stock.adobe.com

Common Name:

Western mud snake, hoop snake, horn snake

Scientific Name:

Farancia a. reinwardtii


Mudbanks near water in dense forest areas


Amphiumas, sirens, salamanders, frogs

Did you know?

The tail tip is sharper on young mudsnakes than it is on adults.

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