This photo of a huge snake is a scary reminder about swimming in Central Texas

UPDATE Thursday 4:46 p.m.: Texas Parks and Wildlife has updated its original Facebook post, writing, “There has been some discussion about what type of snake this is. The picture quality makes it hard to say for sure but it’s likely not a cottonmouth, but rather a type of non-venomous watersnake. Waternakes are abundant in Texas waters. A good resource for identifying snakes you see in the wild is the iNaturalist citizen science site at http://www.inaturalist.org/projects/herps-of-texas. You can also learn more about Texas snakes athttp://bit.ly/SnakeFacts.”

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This winter may be uncharacteristically warm in Central Texas, but you may want to think twice about swimming in any of our local waterways.

Texas Parks and Wildlife posted a photo of a massive cottonmouth snake in Yegua Creek near Lake Somerville, east of Austin, on Sunday.

"Dangerous curves going for a swim in the Yegua Creek Sunday afternoon. Looks like this Cottonmouth is not missing many meals," TPWD wrote on Facebook. Photo via Texas Parks and Wildlife / Facebook
“Dangerous curves going for a swim in the Yegua Creek Sunday afternoon. Looks like this Cottonmouth is not missing many meals,” TPWD wrote on Facebook. Photo via Texas Parks and Wildlife / Facebook

The Lake Somerville Birch Creek State Park branch of TPWD wrote, “Looks like this Cottonmouth is not missing any meals” on its Facebook page.

Texans may know cottonmouths (also known as water moccasins) as the dark-colored, sometimes entirely black venomous snakes with startlingly white skin on the inside of their mouths. They mostly live in moist habitats like swamps, lakes and rivers, and contrary to popular opinion, they actually can bite you underwater, according to TPWD’s website. So you’ll definitely want to keep an eye out for these guys if you plan on taking a dip anytime soon.

According to TPWD, only 7 percent of all Texas snakebite cases involve cottonmouths, and less than 1 percent of all snakebite-related deaths in the United States have been caused by cottonmouths.

On TPWD’s education page about snakes and their places in the environment, the agency writes:

Snakes are a natural and integral component of the ecosystem. As predators, they are invaluable for their role in maintaining the balance of nature by helping to keep populations of their prey in check. Their prey consists of everything from earthworms to rabbits, and this includes other snakes. Snakes are especially important in the control of rodents. Bull snakes can be a farmer’s best friend.

The agency also notes that snakes are generally shy and don’t bother humans unless we bother them, and urges you to not kill a snake you come across in the wild because of the valuable function they serve in the environment. TPWD details what to do when you encounter a venomous snake and how to avoid running into one.

New York Times says ‘coolness factor’ is behind East Austin gentrification

The New York Times reported Tuesday on an issue that has been central to Austin’s development and growth for years — the gentrification of a rapidly developing East Austin.

The East Village Austin, at left, is a mixed-use building incorporating downtown condo living with retail space at 1200 E. 11th St. It is juxtaposed with J & J Drug Store across the street which has been in the area for many years and the building is currently for sale or lease. East Austin has seen a surge in retail business the past two years and some experts see that growth as important to creating a healthier economic climate for Austin’s overall economy. Others express concern concern that the gentrification of East Austin could make housing unaffordable for many current residents, and change the area’s culture. RALPH BARRERA / AMERICAN-STATESMAN
East Austin has seen a surge in retail business the past two years and some experts see that growth as important to creating a healthier economic climate for Austin’s overall economy. RALPH BARRERA / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Hip restaurants and bars, huge apartment complexes and up-and-coming startups have made themselves cozily at home in the streets east of Interstate 35, an area which was previously known, as the New York Times puts it, as “a place to avoid after dark.”

The publication primarily approaches the east side’s shift from the perspective of those involved in development projects: a commercial real estate agent who asked himself five years ago “Has East Austin finally arrived?” after a female coworker told him she was renting a house in the area and felt safe enough to ride her bike to and from work; an investor in the neighborhood who says the main reason it continues to draw people is “the coolness factor”; Capital Metro vice president who plays a major role in the organization’s massive and controversial Plaza Saltillo project.

READ: New York Times gets in line for Franklin Barbecue a little late

The Times’ article also addresses Austin City Council’s debate over affordability and the efforts of some neighborhood groups to encourage responsible development.

READ: Commentary: 12th and Chicon — a story of gentrification

Close to the end of the story, Jose Valera, chairman of the East Cesar Chavez Neighborhood Planning Team, “laments the speed at which gentrification is transforming the neighborhood.” As one real estate agent puts it, “We’re almost out of developable sites downtown, and the only direction to grow is east.” Read the full article here.

Related stories:

Texas 3rd in number of hate groups, with handful near Austin, Southern Poverty Law Center finds

Photo by Larry Kolvoord AMERICAN-STATESMAN..11/11/06....NAZI RALLY.....Members of the national Scialist Movement (Nazis) march through the State Capitol Building at the conclusion of their rally on the south steps of the Capitol Saturday, November 11, 2006. About 20 Nazis demonstrated against illegal immigration including Charles Wilson, center, saluting Hitler as he walks through the rotunda. Police took the Nazis through the rotunda and through the Capitol annex to a basement parking lot to keep them from having contact with counter protestors.
In this file photo from November 2006, Neo-Nazi supporters march through the State Capitol to protest against illegal immigration. Larry Kolvoord AMERICAN-STATESMAN 2006

Texas has as many as 55 hate groups, including several in Central Texas, as the nation saw the number of such groups rise in 2016 for the second year in a row, according to a Southern Poverty Law Center tally released Wednesday.

A census report by the nonprofit group, which has spent decades monitoring hate groups and extremists in the United States, said the number of hate groups operating in 2016 rose to 917, which was up from 892 the previous year.

Texas placed third among the top five states with the most hate groups in 2016:

  1. California: 79
  2. Florida: 63
  3. Texas: 55
  4. New York: 47
  5. Pennsylvania: 40

The SPLC published an interactive map of the hate groups under its watch. A handful of groups operate in Central Texas, according to the map, including:

  • The Daily Stormer, which the SPLC lists as a neo-Nazi group
  • Power of Prophecy, a fundamentalist Christian group the SPLC has accused of being anti-Semitic
  • Southern National Congress, which is listed by the SPLC as a neo-Confederate group
  • the Nation of Islam, which the SPLC considers to be a black separatist group

The SPLC report cited Donald Trump’s successful bid for the White House as a factor in energizing radical right-wing groups and fostering anti-Muslim speech and vandalism.

“The increase in anti-Muslim hate was fueled by Trump’s incendiary rhetoric, including his campaign pledge to bar Muslims from entering the United States,” a statement from the SPLC on Wednesday said.

“The growth has been accompanied by a rash of crimes targeting Muslims, including an arson that destroyed a mosque in Victoria, Texas, just hours after the Trump administration announced an executive order suspending travel from some predominantly Muslim countries,” the statement said.

The SPLC also said it measured a “near-tripling” of anti-Muslim hate groups, from 34 such groups in 2015 to 101 last year.

Here’s how to get free breakfast tacos this morning

If you ran out of the house this morning without breakfast, you did it on the right day.

RALPH BARRERA / AMERICAN-STATESMAN
RALPH BARRERA / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Starting at 9 a.m. Favor will be delivering two free Taco Cabana breakfast tacos to anyone who orders through the delivery service’s app for free. Favor encourages those who receive the free tacos to tip their delivery person.

The promotion will include one bacon and egg taco and one potato and egg taco. From Favor:

Limit one Free Breakfast Taco Special per customer (includes 2 tacos). No additions, no substitutions. Supplies are limited, and delivery times may be longer than normal. Promotion available 2/15/17 in Austin at 9am, while supplies last!

EXPLORE: Take a taco tour around Austin

Single women are likely to find a marriage-material man in Austin — but single guys aren’t as lucky

Happy Valentine’s Day, Austin — we’ve got good news and bad news.

The good news: All the single ladies in Austin are in luck, because according to a new study, Austin is one of the best places in the country to find a man who’s “marriage material.” That may mean different things for different people, but according to Trulia, your potential husband is a man who is in his 30s, has a college degree and works at least 40 hours a week. Austin is the fourth-best city to find such men, behind San Francisco, San Jose and Seattle.

Even though there are plenty of guys meeting this criteria in Austin, your odds of bagging one aren’t great: According to the study, there are more single women than single men in Austin.

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Pam and Chris LeBlanc smooch at the Puppy Love mural outside Mud Puppies on East Riverside Drive.

The bad news: Single male Austinites aren’t as fortunate as the women. In fact, you’ll probably have to move to the Eastern Seaboard — somewhere like D.C. suburb Silver Springs, Md., Atlanta or Raleigh, N.C. — to find a marriage-material woman. The study claims the woman of your dreams is in her 40s, has at least a graduate degree, works at least 40 hours a week and may have been married before (but you don’t mind).

The study goes on to break down, city-by-city, the number of single adults in different age groups (20s, 30s and 40s), the number of single adults who work more or less than 40 hours a week, the number of single adults who have gone to college or graduate school and the number of single adults who have never been married.

So if you’re wondering why you’re still single, blame the data — or you can use the data to your advantage to up your odds of finding love. You can even take a quiz and answer a few questions to find out where you can find the man or woman of your dreams, if the criteria listed above aren’t your thing.

PHOTO: Austin swans get in formation just in time for Valentine’s Day

Love is in the air, and on the water, in Austin, Texas.

As the sun rises on the city of Austin, people run and cycle along the boardwalk over Lady Bird Lake while others fish nearby. With sunny skies, temperatures are expected to reach a high of 92 Monday, March 14, 2016. LAURA SKELDING/AMERICAN-STATESMAN
As the sun rises on the city of Austin, people run and cycle along the boardwalk over Lady Bird Lake while others fish nearby. With sunny skies, temperatures are expected to reach a high of 92 Monday, March 14, 2016. LAURA SKELDING/AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Wendy Martinez emailed the American-Statesman a photo of a rare moment she captured while hiking near Lady Bird Lake Saturday afternoon. The picture shows two swans huddled together, with their necks forming a heart.

“We were so lucky to have run into the swans that day.  You never know where they are going to be!” Martinez said of the encounter. “Most mornings they can be found in front of the row club by Austin High.  I also pointed out to my daughter that for years one of the swans was alone and in just the last year he/she found a partner.  It is lovely to see them daily swimming around the lake!”

swan
Contributed to AMERICAN-STATESMAN by WENDY MARTINEZ

Check out a few ways to spend your Valetine’s Day in Austin here.

Texas taco expert takes issue with state’s official dish

Chili, who? Although the (beanless) spicy, meat entrée was named the official dish of Texas in 1977, 40 years later, not everyone is convinced.

CAPTION TK FO RDINING GUIDE One of Veracruz All Natural’s specialty tacos. The Austin-based food truck is expanding into a brick-and-mortar location in La Frontera this spring. Contributed
One of Veracruz All Natural’s specialty tacos. The Austin-based food truck is expanding into a brick-and-mortar location in La Frontera this spring. (Contributed)

Taco advocate Mando Rayo spoke with the Texas Standard last week to speak on a cause close to both his heart and stomach: making tacos the state dish of Texas.

“People here eat tacos five days a week. Tacos were here before Texas was Texas,” Rayo said. When asked by the Texas Standard to “make the case” for tacos as the state food of Texas, Rayo’s main point is “You can make anything into a taco. You can make a chili taco. You can make a barbecue taco.” He also speaks of the history behind the dish saying, “Tacos were not imported here. They’re from here. They’re from this land. They’re from the people.”

So what is Rayo’s plan for getting the official dish changed to tacos? “We’ll start with a Change.org petition… we’ll get the signatures. Then we got to go find a hungry legislator that loves tacos. If you’re out there, give me a call.”

There is always one other option, of course…

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EXPLORE: Take a taco tour around Austin

Live chat: Q and A about Texas’ rise of improper relationships between teachers and students

David Thompson, an education professor at the University of Texas at San Antonio, along with UTSA doctoral fellow and former human resources director Catherine Robert joins the American-Statesman at noon Monday for a Facebook Live discussion on the growing problem of improper teacher-student relationships.

Watch the first half of the chat here.

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Former Westlake High School teacher Haeli Wey pleaded guilty to two counts of improper relationship with a student. RALPH BARRERA/AMERICAN-STATAESMAN

A Statesman investigation, the first of its kind, found that less than half of Texas teachers who lost their teaching licenses after allegations of having improper relationships with students were ever criminally charged, let alone saw jail time. In those cases where charges never occurred, very little information is readily available to the public, including which school the alleged incident happened or the age of the victim. In some cases, school district officials will go so far as to hide the information from the public and law enforcement agencies, prosecutors and state officials have said.

READ: Surge in improper student-teacher relationships prompts state inquiry

Cracking down on the number of improper teacher-student relationships and penalizing school officials who try to hide such wrongdoings have been the priority for lawmakers this legislative session. Cases of improper teacher-student relationships have climbed 80 percent in the last eight years, according to the Texas Education Agency. During his state of the state address last week, Gov. Greg Abbott said, “Teachers who assault children should lose their license and they should go to jail.”

 

UFO houses, Tesla charging stations and 385 acres: What $9.24 million gets you at one Austin ranch

 

Do you like the prospect of living out your cowboy fantasies by owning a Texas cattle ranch? Do you have an affinity for UFOs? And are you worth millions of dollars?

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Courtesy of Yates Cattle and Conservation Ranch

Even if you’re not a millionaire or billionaire, you’ll still want to check out the Yates Cattle and Conservation Ranch, priced at a cool $9,240,000. Located 15 minutes from downtown Austin, the ranch features a dwelling resembling a flying saucer (one of about 100 in the world), along with a barn that includes a Tesla charging station, a modular house, and other cool things.

The ranch sits on more than 385 acres of land with gleaming lakes, streams, trails and more.

RELATED: Austin billionaire DeJoria sells Dripping Springs ranch

Also, the place is just minutes away from Salt Lick BBQ and near MoPac, so it’s definitely easy to cruise down and enjoy all of what Austin has to offer.

Check out the pictures here:

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Courtesy of Yates Cattle and Conservation Ranch
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Courtesy of Yates Cattle and Conservation Ranch
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Courtesy of Yates Cattle and Conservation Ranch
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Courtesy of Yates Cattle and Conservation Ranch
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Courtesy of Yates Cattle and Conservation Ranch

 

READ: Austin, Texas named best place to live in America

(h/t to Curbed Austin)

This traffic jam photo will make you feel way better about Austin traffic

Ask any Austin resident what the worst thing about the city is, and we’ll bet more than half of them will have the same answer: The traffic straight-up sucks. Interstate 35 was previously ranked the worst road in Texas (although it was surpassed by a Houston roadway), and people feel have really strong feelings about I-35 and MoPac (namely, the MoPac Improvement Project).

UPDATED CAPTION FOR 042916: MoPac Boulevard typically backs up for morning commuters. Mayor Steve Adler noted the road saw reduced travel times when President Barack Obama visited in March because so many workers stayed home. *** The morning commute into Austin has slowed considerably for motorists as a lane reduction on the northbound side of Mopac Blvd (Loop 1) between Cesar Chavez and Enfield Rd. has caused backups for miles. RALPH BARRERA/ AMERICAN-STATESMAN
RALPH BARRERA/ AMERICAN-STATESMAN

But this might make you feel a little bit better about Austin traffic: Last week, a Brazilian radio station posted a photo on Facebook of a traffic jam in São Paulo, and let’s just say it’s … pretty brutal.

OK, first of all, this looks like a literal nightmare. It looks like that Rush Hour game that your parents bought you to keep you entertained (in the car, of all places) where you had to get your little red car out of the traffic jam.

Y'know, this game. Photo: Thinkfun
Y’know, this game. Photo: Thinkfun

Second of all, how did this even happen? According to the translated version of the Facebook photo, a light was broken at the intersection after a storm that caused flooding and fallen trees in the area.

So, Austinites, just be thankful you weren’t stuck in this.

[h/t Buzzfeed]