Ahhh, spring. Trees are budding, wildflowers blooming, butterflies emerging and the grass is greening up.
And the snakes are crawling.
Calls about reptiles in backyards — and front yards, houses and attics — are popping up about as fast as oak catkins are falling. Ed Lessard, president of the South Texas Herpetology Association, stays busy answering the phone this time of year.
“I had five calls yesterday,” Lessard said on a recent warm day. The calls concerned other reptiles, too — frogs, lizards and tortoises — but snakes present the most concern to gardeners just venturing outdoors to trim and plant after a winter that left landscapes in need of work.
Spring is when snakes emerge from burmation, a reptilian equivalent of hibernation, said Tom Regnerof Town Lake Construction in Austin. “They wake up and establish new homes,” he said, adding he receives calls about snakes from March through August.
One small rattlesnake might have been hunting for a home or food when Kerrville resident Carolyn Roup spotted it under a trailing rosemary bush she was trimming. “I had had laryngitis for 12 days, but I managed to attract my husband’s attention,” Roup said. John Roup caught the snake with special tongs and put it in a plastic tub.
Lessard’s advice to people who see snakes: Do not panic.
“Snakes are very beneficial, so we tell people to leave them alone. Some people will. Some will prefer that we just come get it. If the snake is in the grass in their backyard, and they have small kids and are not sure what kind of snake it is, we will probably go.”
In addition to finding snakes in flower beds and around rocks, gardeners might be surprised to find the reptiles cozying up to the compost pile. If the pile is heating properly, snakes will crawl on top to get warm, especially on cool mornings, Regner said.
Deter them by surrounding the pile with silt fencing, a black fabric used for erosion control. It’s available in 2-foot heights at home improvement stores.
Snakes do not dig, so they won’t go under it, Regner said.
You also can put an electric wire around the pile. Snakes will recoil when they touch it.
Another option is to bury a 10-gallon, smooth-sided bucket in the ground near the compost heap. If a snake falls in, it won’t be able to get out. Use a stick to raise the handle and carry the bucket away.
Most of Lessard’s calls are about diamondback rattlesnakes and rat snakes, which resemble the rattler. The rat snake is grayish when young and turns black as it ages. Older rat snakes also sport a red hue between their scales.
“But if you see that, you are too close for most people’s benefit,” Lessard said.
The rat snake is one of few Texas snakes that climbs trees. It goes searching for birds, which make up about half its diet.
Lessard says if the snake is in a tree, some 20 feet high, it is harmless to people.
The “harmless” label is not a no-bite guarantee. Although a venomous snake has never bitten him, not so for rat snakes.
“I have gone out of a second-story window to catch one on a limb. I try to grab them by the head, but the Texas rat snake will get you quicker than you can get them.”
Lessard has not been bitten by a venomous snake in his 30 years of handling them. Snake catchers use special tongs or hooks, never bare hands. They put the snakes into large buckets with ventilated tops.
“It’s a matter of having respect for them,” he said.
Barbara Elmore is a gardener and writer in Fredericksburg. Her garden and home newsletter is available at www.digandletdig.com.
IF YOU SEE A SNAKE
Stop moving if you hear a snake, then back away from it slowly. An added warning: Rattlesnakes are learning not to rattle. “The ones that don’t get caught are learning to be quiet,” said Tom Regner, who removes snakes from residences in Austin.
Recognize venomous snakes. Texas has four types: rattlesnakes, copperheads, coral snakes and cottonmouth water moccasins. Residents in and around San Antonio are most likely to see the coral snake and the rattlesnake.
Clean up: Get rid of weeds, boards, and junk, which attract rats, lizards and frogs. “Snakes will go where there is warmth, shelter, and to look for animals to eat,” Regner said.
Removal: If you need help removing a snake, call the City of San Antonio information line at 311 or 210-207-6000. Or visit the South Texas Herpetology Association Web site, www.kingsnake.com/stha. STHA volunteers do not charge for snake removal. They do accept donations to cover transportation costs. In Austin, Regner can be reached through his Web site, www.batspecialist.com, to give estimates for snake removal.
By Barbara Elmore – Special to the Express-News
Web Posted: 04/10/2010 12:00 CDT
A colony of bats have taken up residence in the roof at Akins High School in South Austin. Students say the smell is so bad it’s making people nauseous.
Air purifiers have been installed and three classes were moved out of the Fine Arts Building Monday because of the bats.
“Just walking into the dressing room, you just start gagging it’s so bad. From all of the bats urinating, dying, it smells like something dead,” said Akins student Crystal Hale.
About 100 bats tested positive for rabies in Travis County last year, according to the Department of State Health Services.
AISD officials say they’re not aware of anyone who has gotten sick from the bats at Akins HS.
Health officials say bats should not be handled because of the risk of rabies.
However, experts say just smelling bat feces can make people sick, if they’re exposed to it for extended periods of time.
“Being in the building everyday, it shows up as other things, like allergies, tiredness, feeling sick, run down,” said Tom Regner, a bat control expert with Townlake Construction.
An AISD spokeswoman says Akins has had a bat problem since it opened in 2000. Regner says that’s more than enough time to get the problem under control.
“It should not take 10 years and a typical bat proofing job for us takes about five or six days.”
Akins Principal Daniel Girard says custodial staff are trying to clean up the mess and the bats do not pose a health hazard to students.
A private pest control company is also doing an assessment of the campus.
Updated: Tuesday, 26 Jan 2010, 6:29 PM CST
Published : Tuesday, 26 Jan 2010, 12:49 PM CST
Something about the way the sunlight did not reach all the way to the rocky ground but rather reflected off a shape — a shape that, however still, was obviously alive — gave my step pause in the bright spring day. I was hiking a trail that runs alongside the spring-fed Pedernales River after some bounding over the sluices and rocky outcroppings of the falls at Pedernales Falls State Park.
“Look at that,” I exclaimed to the friend that followed behind me, myself only just processing what I was seeing.
Two large western diamondback rattlesnakes, stretched each to full length next to a ledge of rock. Silent, unmoving and yet connected, intent … suddenly I realized they were mating. The two rattlesnakes were mating. I stood there breathless for several moments, astounded by the beauty in nature’s inert ferocity. It was as if I was watching an ancient ritual, a union so primeval that a prehistoric mind would instantly have created a myth around the event.
So of course I had to make a joke.
“Crikey!” I said, channeling the accent of that famous vexer of wildlife. “That one’s a jumbo!”
Yet I remained transfixed, with a clear view of the eyes of the nearer of the pair. She looked at me, her triangular head coldly appraising my slightest quiver. My friend moved around them in a wide circle, unsuccessfully seeking a good angle for a photograph. I could see her mate watching the motion.
Nothing but the tip of a black and white striped tail moved, and when it stopped, there was no evidence that the snakes had altered their position in the slightest. Both of us were well away from the snakes and what I felt was not fear, but a thrilling exuberance. While, for some of you Texans, the sound of a venomous pit viper bestowing its eponymous warning may be commonplace, even routine — to a gal from a state lacking poisonous anything (no venomous snakes, no fire ants, no brown recluses or deadly jellies), it was a rite of passage. For the snakes, it marked a countdown to six or so months from now, when a dozen or more rattlesnake young, equipped with venom from birth, will spill into the Pedernales River habitat.
Of course, snakes can be found on trails and many other locations in Texas, and spring being prime time for snake activity, I decided to ask an expert about how to be safe with snakes. Tom Regner, owner of Town Lake Construction LLC, has specialized in the humane removal of bats, birds, snakes, and many other animals from Austin property since 1993. He was kind enough to speak with me about what home and business owners (and yes, hikers and bikers) can do to prevent encounters with snakes, and what one should do upon encountering a snake.
“Snakes nest in large colonies,” Tom informed me, “and they will get displaced by construction and move to where they weren’t last year. The first thing you’ll want to do is check woodpiles, under decks, and garbage cans to get those areas cleared.”
And if you do find snakes?
“Well, most pest companies don’t do snakes. But you can call the police, and they will help, at least to watch the snake or call a wildlife control company like ourselves. You can’t assume a snake is venomous — there are only four types of venomous snake in Texas.”
That’s plenty for me. What are some good rules for keeping a place snake-free?
“One, prevent a snake problem by removing shelter areas. Two, seal up gaps and cracks in your home or deck. Three, eliminate feeding areas. And four, we’re on call 24/7 to handle any problems.”
What does someone do until you get there?
“Most everyone who gets bit — close to 90 percent — was messing with the snake.”
I take his answer to mean, don’t mess with the snake. What do you do with the snakes you catch?
Tom deadpanned, “We put them in your neighbor’s yard.”
I laugh nervously.
He continues, “We do keep them pretty close. Rattlesnakes, for example, are a territorial species, so we don’t want to put one in another snake’s territory. So we don’t go a long distance and I do have a couple of local drop-offs. The problem is, a lot of the snakes people find get killed. They’re all good snakes, we don’t get into: this one is good, that one is bad. They’re all good, and if you kill them, you’ll have problems with other pests.”
What was the strangest removal you’ve performed?
“A python in a movie theater, a megaplex. The theater had just opened, and the owner had a disgruntled employee leave a 10-foot reticulated python in the theater. We found it within about 10 minutes of getting there. We just got lucky. Although when I was told it was a python, I thought it would be, you know, a smaller one, not like something you would find in the jungle!”
What happened with that snake?
“That one we sold to a pet store. Sometimes with snakes and raccoons and other animals, we’ll contact Austin Wildlife Rescue. It’s a volunteer-based organization, and they’re really great — more people should know about them.”
Town Lake Construction can safely and humanely remove bats, birds, snakes and other animals as well as advise new builders and architects on how to minimize or remove habitats. Tom Regner and his staff can be reached at 444-5955.
Austin Wildlife Rescue can help if you find an injured or orphaned wild animal and maintains a 24-hour hotline for help with wild animals at 472-WILD.
By Alexandria Dobkowski
Our March 12th Luncheon at the Crowne Plaza will feature Tom Regner of Town Lake Construction LLC who will discuss “Bat & Bird Abatement”. In this presentation Tom Regner, owner of Town Lake Construction, LLC, will discuss the types of architectural details that are common roosting areas for bats and pest birds, available products and proven methods used in the bat and bird abatement industry . He will also discuss the health risks and liabilities often associated with leaving a bat or bird problem unchecked and how to protect yourself as a home/business owner, property manager or architect/engineer.
A native of Texas, Tom moved to Austin with a BA in Industrial Technology from the University of Houston. He worked as a project manager until he started Town Lake Construction, LLC in 1993. He has 25 years of experience in construction project management and over 18 years experience in wildlife control, specializing in bat and bird exclusion. A seasoned public speaker, Tom has lectured on Texas wildlife control issues and methods to such groups as the Lions Club, BBB of Bastrop, the Del Valley School District and now AAFAME.
Member $22 if paid online or at the door and $25 if invoice requested.
Non-Member $28.00 paid online or at the door.
Please be advised that reservations are due by Monday 3-10-08
Q: Behind our house is a multi-unit complex. A small bat colony has been there for years. Last month a man closed up the opening so the bats cannot get out. It’s probably too late, but I saw foam on the ground so maybe they are trying to get out. Can someone look into this or tell me whom to notify? -Nancy Lackey
A: Notify the Austin/Travis County Health and Human Services environmental and consumer health unit (972-6124). “We handle bats and respond to live bat calls,” says spokeswoman Cecilia Fedorov. Dial 311 to report animal cruelty to animals.
Your question turned up some interesting bat facts. Some bats winter here and, if residing in a building, probably have more than one entrance and exit. Bats are non-game animals. Because the complex owner seeks to remove them from a home occupied by people, no laws are being violated.
Professional bat excluders such as Tom Regner, 444-5955, can be hired.
A list is available from Bat Conservation International, 327-9721 or batcon.org
By Jane Greig
The most common species of bats in Central Texas is the Mexican free-tailed bat. The migratory mammal is an important animal, as each night it consumes almost its body weight of agricultural pests such as moths, flying ants, weevils, stinkbugs and ground beetles.
Bats can become a nuisance when they roost in large numbers in residences and buildings. Costly damage can occur if bat colonies are left unchecked for an extended period of time. Most damage results from bat urine and droppings, commonly known as “guano.”
Town Lake Construction specializes in the removal of bats from commercial and residential buildings. The specialists were in Lampasas last week to remove bats from a building owned by Todd and Nona Jane Briggs and his sister, Kay Briggs, at the corner of Western and Fourth streets, which houses Busy Bee Laundromat.
Tom Regner, owner of Town Lake Construction, said the company follows a procedure to ensure complete removal of all roosting bats from buildings, including initial inspection to determine the scope of infestation and identification of obvious entry points. On larger projects, crew members will survey a building at dusk when bats emerge, to determine exit and entry points, Regner added.
“Bats love to roost in these old limestone buildings,” he said. “We remove the bats in a humane manner.”
Secondary exit and entry points are sealed with caulking guns, Regner said.
“Then we install customized exclusion devices at all major entry and exit points,” Regner said. The device resembles a window screen with netting that enables bats to leave but not get back inside.
“The bats are not captured, killed or physically removed, but the bats that once occupied the building must find another location to roost.”
Several days after exclusion devices are installed, roosting bats will have left a building in search of food and water, Regner added.
“At this point, we come back, remove the exclusion devices and permanently seal the points of entry,” the bat specialist said. “If necessary, custom-made vacuums will be used to extract existing bat guano accumulations, and after that is removed all affected areas will be treated with an organic biocide to remove odor and neutralize any harmful bacteria.”
Bat guano fetches high prices. In Austin, a small bag or one pint can sell for more than $8.
Many people have a misunderstanding about bats, Regner said.
“Bats have been killed, but that is not necessary,” he said. “Bats being migratory are a federally protected species. Persons may be fined up to $10,000 for poisoning or killing bats.” There reportedly are exclusions for people who exterminate bats on their own property, however.
On rare occasions, persons have been bitten by a rabid bat. The latest research indicates that only ½ of 1 percent of the bat population ever contracts rabies. Over the last 50 years only 18 people have died from bat-contracted rabies. Most bites from rabid bats occur when someone picks up a sick, “downed” bat without proper hand protection.
Regner said children or adults should never handle a downed bat.
“If it is essential that you handle a bat, wear heavy leather work gloves,” the bat specialist said. “Like most wild animals, bats will bite to protect themselves. However, bats are not ‘gnawing rodents’ and cannot bite you through heavy work gloves.”
Town Lake Construction has more than 22 years of experience. Some recent bat removal projects include the Texas State Library Archives, Foley’s Department Store and Austin-Bergstrom International Airport.
“The Lampasas bat removal is a typical medium-size job,” Regner said.
“It may be a medium job to Town Lake Construction, but if you have bats in your building, it is a very big problem,” said Nona Jane Briggs.
The bat-removal company can be reached at (512) 444-5955 or online at www.batspecialist.com. The company also specializes in removal of snakes and nuisance birds such as pigeons.
By Mat Taylor
Lampasas Dispatch Record
Tom Regner’s reputation as a bat conservationist has earned him the nickname “Batman.” Witty remarks such as “Hey, Batman where’s Robin?” don’t phase him. It comes with his line of work.
Regner’s company, Town Lake Construction, specializes in removing bats from buildings and preventing their return as well as doing maintenance and construction in high-rise structures. About 25 percent of his business is devoted to bats and he employs three bat specialists.
A conservationist at heart, Regner’s interest in bats began when a development company he worked for in the early ‘80s bought an apartment building that was home to a bat colony. He worked to safely evict the unwanted flying tenants in that building and his dedication to bats took flight.
After encountering several bat colonies on construction projects, he sought out Bat Conservation International (BCI), an Austin-based organization dedicated to conserving bat habitats and providing bat-related education and research.
Regner says Barbara French, science officer for BCI, was an important influence. She taught him how to remove bats from a major construction project. “Barbara was very helpful in providing me with information on how to safely handle the bat situation.”
Working with French and BCI, Regner began using a method called exclusion. It employs a special caulk that does not trap bats inside buildings or use poisons. It allows the bats to safely exit the building and prevents them from returning. This is a permanent and cost-effective way to remove bats from buildings, Regner says.
When they’re removing bats, Regner and his team might spend the day strapped in harnesses similar to the ones used by window washers. “It is essential to be fearless of heights, bats, and working in extreme weather,” adds Regner. “It is not all that pretty, but indeed rewarding to care for the animals.”
When Regner has successfully removed bats from a building without harming them or the building’s structure, he feels his job has been well done. “Many times, pest control companies end up killing the bats, or damage the building itself,” he says. “We attempt to not harm either one.”
Regner’s most memorable project has been working on a 12-floor building downtown. “Every horizontal column on every floor had bats,” he says. “It took a month to finish.”
Regner’s latest foray into the world of bats involves much smaller buildings. He’s creating a line of bat houses. The typical house is 2-feet wide, 3-feet tall and about 41/2 inches deep. The rectangular houses have layers inside arranged like a sandwich. These bat houses can hold about 200 bats.
If the houses take off, they are set to be included in BCI’s catalog. Regner may prove once again that bats can be good for business.
By Evelyn Valdez
Special Sections Writer
Two black swans trying to nest near the Town Lake shoreline are experiencing their ups and downs as the waters rise and fall.
The female is due to lay her eggs any day now. To prepare, they are frantically arranging branches, weeds and flotsam on a small island about 40 feet from shore. But the effort likely will prove futile. As the lake rises, their nest is destined to become submerged.
At the shoreline, an octagon-shaped nest made of wood and plastic foam floats on the water, tied to concrete pilings. It is the creation of Tom Regner, who resides in an East Austin apartment complex at 1818 Lakeshore Blvd. South, which fronts the area of the lake the swans call home.
Regner hopes the swans will take to his floating nest, which will rise and fall with the lake level, before the waters destroy their island nest and another attempt by the swans to produce offspring.
“We’re going to have to do it gradually,” said Regner, who has an educational background in behavioral science. “Animals won’t take to drastic changes most of the time.”
The design of the floating nest was based on one created for swans at the San Antonio Zoo, he said.
The two swans are part of the original population of 16 swans – eight black, eight white – that were donated in 1988 by a local photographer. The swans’ wings were clipped to keep them from flying away.
Their inaugural launch on Town Lake was such a big deal that then-Mayor Frank Cooksey issued a proclamation declaring the lake “Swan Lake” for the day.
Last year, floods had so ravaged the Colorado River that the swans never had a chance to build a nest on Town Lake, Regner said. Two years ago, their shoreline nest was destroyed by vandals.
After the eggs were destroyed, the female black swan sat on a sterile duck egg for more than 21/2 months, as if it were her own, said Brooke Monfort, Regner’s girlfriend.
“They get sad,” said Monfort, who often feeds the swans from the shoreline pier. “You can tell. They console each other.”
Regner and Monfort said they know of only two other black swans on the lake nesting near Zilker Park.
When Regner floated his nest for the first time Saturday, the swans approached but didn’t climb on it. The octagon box is filled with materials that Regner removed from the island nest.
The female swan is expected to lay her eggs this month. The incubation period is two months.
By Stuart Eskenazi
Austin’s building boom apparently has been a boom to the few critter-control companies that catch snakes for panicked homeowners.
Although there is no tally to prove the snake population in Central Texas is actually up this spring, there is an anecdotal evidence of a sharp increase in human-snake encounters.
Those close encounters of the serpentine kind are occurring far more often than just a few years ago, likely because of a number of factors, including the construction binge that is displacing rather than killing the reptiles outright, according to biologists and animal control experts.
“I’ve seen a 40 percent increase in the number of calls from residences and business over the past few years,” said Tom Regner, whose Austin business specializes in relocating nuisance bats, birds and snakes. “I now get a couple hundred calls a year, and I don’t even promote the snake part of the business.”
In most neighborhoods, the one thing clearly more common than snakes is the fear of them – a reflexive terror that many acknowledge to be irrational. Of the 115 species of snakes in Texas, only four poisonous species inhabit the Austin area.
That doesn’t mean people should be cavalier when they stumble across a slithering reptile.
Earlier this week, a gardener working in the Vineyard Bay area off RM 620 was bitten on the hand by a diamondback rattlesnake, said Thomas Deba of Greater Austin Pest Control, who was called to apprehend the perpetrator. The gardener was hospitalized overnight for observation, Deba said.
And late Thursday, a 16-year-old Austin boy was bitten twice on his toes by an unidentified snake while walking to his truck to get dry clothes after swimming with friends in the Adamsville area, a Brackenridge Hospital official said.
“There were puncture wounds, and his foot hurt up to the ankle, so there probably was some venom injected, but not much,” hospital spokesman Stephanie Elsea said. “He’s going to be fine, and he says he’s going to remember to wear shoes when outside.”
It is common for snakes – especially large, older snakes – to not inject much or any venom when striking at humans because the attack is done in fear rather than in an effort to kill prey, experts say. Also, snake fangs are fragile and often will not penetrate even canvas tennis shoes.
Austin hospitals treat five to 10 victims of venomous snake bites a year, and that number does not seem to be rising, said Dr. John Blewett, director of the emergency room at St. David’s Hospital.
Deaths from snakebites are very rare in the United States, with about 15 per year, experts say. Outdoor Life magazine recently noted that, by comparison, dog bites cause about 20 deaths annually and bee stings about 100.
Experts agree that construction generally forces snakes to find new places to live. A mild winter and early spring might also be responsible for a higher survival rate of young snakes, which are finding a plethora of food because frogs and insects also fared well over the winter.
Regner, the relocation specialist who runs Town Lake Construction, said he was surprised that during a recent three-hour canoe trip on the Colorado River below the Montopolis Bridge he saw 13 snakes, three of them cottonmouths.
The only problem snake is an angry cottonmouth, he said, “I’ve had them chase me across a river and go out of their way to attack me.”
Regner learned about snakes as a youth in Houston when Hurricane Carla struck, leaving dozens of dead snakes, including cottonmouths and copperheads, washed up on his parent’s property.
“I collected them in a bag and left them in the garage,” he recalled. “The problem was that about half were just stunned, and when the warmth revived them, it took about a week to find all of them in our house.”
The depth of some people’s snake phobias still amazes him.
“When I realized the regular pest-control guys were scared, I said, “This is good for my business,’ and they refer their snake problems to me,” Regner said. “You can’t believe the calls I get from folks with a small snake in their yards, and they want it removed.”
By Kevin Carmody