Texas Rat Snake
Pantherophis obsoleta lindheimeri
The Texas rat snake intergrades with other subspecies of rat snakes like the black rat snake, so the species exact range boundaries are impossible to determine.
These snakes are generalists when it comes to habitat, they are found in a wide variety of habitats from swamps or swampy areas, to woods or forests, stream valleys, grasslands, rocky canyons.
They are even found in urban areas such as Dallas, Fort Worth, or Houston, The presence of oak trees, and most probably rodents are the single most important factor influencing their occurrence in any habitat.
The Texas rat snake is a long, slender medium to large snake capable of reaching lengths of 4 to 5 ft (121 to 152 cm). Their temperament is rather aggressive, and it will defend themselves by striking, biting and smearing their attacker with a foul smelling musk from their cloaca.
Sometimes they will vibrate their tails trying to imitate a rattlesnake sound. On average these rat snakes will reach between 10 and 15 years of age but some specimens may live more than 20 years.
The species varies greatly both in color and patterning throughout extensive their range. However, Texas rat snakes usually have a yellow or tan upper body, covered from head to tail with brown to olive-green, irregular blotching.
In some specimens is possible to find some orange or red speckling. In the northern parts of their range, they tend to be darker, while southern individuals will have more yellow and be lighter colored.
For instance, some specimens found in Sabine County are blackish with some white spots, which reflects the intergrade with the darker black rat snake. Their belly is usually solid white or gray in color.
To easily distinguish the Texas rat snake from other rat snakes we need to look to their head since they are the only species with a solid grey head.
There are also some amazing color variations found in the wild such as high orange, albinos, hypomelanistic and leucistic. These morphs are regularly bred in captivity and become quite popular in the pet trade.
Taxonomy / Etymology
Up until early 2000's both Old and New World rat snakes were commonly classified in the same genus, Elaphe.
But in nowadays American rat snakes are considered much more closely related to king snakes such as the California kingsnake than to the Old World rat snake species.
The species epithet lindheimeri was given to honor Jacob Lindheimer Ferdinand a German-American naturalist, who was the first to collect a Texas rat snake specimen in New Braunfels, Texas.
Diet / Feeding
Texas rat snakes have quite a voracious appetite eating mostly rodents, squirrels and birds.
Adult specimens feed mostly on rats and mice but will have no problem taking down birds and their eggs. As for juvenile snakes, they eat mostly pinkies, soft-bodied insects or frogs.
These snakes are very agile climbers, and capable of reaching bird nests found in trees or other high spots very easily. They are very adaptable and capable of swimming with ease in search of prey.
The Texas rat snake is a non-venomous snake, they subdue and kill their prey by constriction, squeezing it until it dies. The Texas rat snake like other snakes species tends to be found around hen houses hunting rodents, chicken eggs or chicks which leads them to be sometimes called the chicken snake.
Like all snakes, they play an important role in their ecosystem by keeping the rodent population at a low level. This makes these snakes quite welcome on farms because they help control the rodent population.
Like other rat snakes, they use their sight and the Jacobson's organ inside their mouth to detect prey.
The Texas rat snake breeds in the spring, shortly after emerging from their winter hibernation. They are egg layers females will lay from 5 to 20 eggs per clutch.
The eggs are laid in a moist and secluded place such as such as tree hollows or under a rock. The eggs are left unattended until they hatch in August or September.
The hatchlings are about 12 to 18 inches long and are lighter in color than the adult snakes, but they have an equally aggressive behavior.
Conservation / Threats
The Texas rat snake has not yet been assessed for the IUCN Red List. But due to the lack of knowledge and fear of snakes, Texas rat snakes are still victims of human persecution when mistaken with other venomous snakes like copperheads.
Did You Know?
Because of the "Mojave toxin" the Mojave rattlesnake venom is regarded as the most toxic of any rattlesnake.