Texas rat snake – top facts about this fascinating creature – Technology Org

Texas rat snake is a relatively big snake. Luckily, it is not venomous. However, this reptile has some tricks up its sleeve to appear more dangerous than it really is.

The Texas rat snake (Pantherophis obsoletus lindheimeri).

The Texas rat snake (Pantherophis obsoletus lindheimeri). Image credit: Patrick Feller via Flickr, CC BY 2.0

For most of us, who are not familiar with this species, meeting one could be a stressful experience. This article will explain where this snake can be found, how to recognize it, what are its typical patterns of behavior, and whether it can be kept as a pet.

Where do Texas rat snakes live?

As their name suggests, Texas rat snakes are most often found in the US state of Texas. However, the presence of this species also extends into Louisiana, Arkansas and Oklahoma. They are also known under the name of the western rat snake.

Historically, the first specimen was collected and scientifically described in New Braunfels, Texas by the German-American naturalist Ferdinand Jacob Lindheimer. That is why the scientific name of the Texas rat snake – Pantherophis obsoletus lindheimeri – contains an epithet associated with the scientist’s name.

This species is the largest and the most common of all snakes in its native region. Despite their large size, they are excellent climbers and according to some reports can even climb up a brick wall. That is why these animals are often found in old barns, sheds, and similar non-residential buildings.

Because of their excellent climbing abilities, Texas rat snakes like to spend their time in trees, in swamps and forests, in general. But they are adapted to different kinds of environments and that is why it is possible to encounter rat snakes in suburban and urban areas.

Texas rat snakes are good swimmers, too. In winter, they hibernate.

A Texas rat snake.

A Texas rat snake. Image credit: Tom Spinker via Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Are Texas rat snakes dangerous?

For such a large snake species, they are relatively quiet and even timid. There is a reason for that: Texas rat snakes are non venomous and do not have sharp fangs, and therefore lack defensive measures against predators. That is why not fully grown specimens become targets for many predators, including other snakes and humans.

Even when they reach maturity, humans still pose significant danger to this animal, mainly because it is not easy to distinguish Texas rat snakes from some venomous species.

However, the temperament of this snake is considered extremely variable. Even juveniles less than a year old can bite when they feel a threat, even when in most cases they are very tranquil. Adult specimens can be aggressive, opening their jaw and biting when approached.

Texas Rat Snake, Pantherophis obsoletus lindheimeri.

Texas Rat Snake, Pantherophis obsoletus lindheimeri. Image credit: Dawson via Wikimedia, CC BY-SA 2.5texas

What do Texas rat snakes eat?

They like to eat, and eat a lot, with a huge appetite. Their preferred diet consists of rodents – such as mice and rats – and also birds and their eggs. It can also devour lizards, frogs, and insects. As they lack venom, Texas rat snakes subdue (suffocate) their prey using constriction, trapping animals into one or two loops formed of its body until the prey loses any vital signs. Then, snakes swallow the prey whole.

This snake is known to eat chicken eggs – that is why it is sometimes called a chicken snake.

Identification: How do you recognize a Texas rat snake?

These snakes are relatively long, but not the largest of all snake species. Adults typically reach 42 to 72 inches in length. The largest recorded specimen was 86-inch long.

Their colors and patterns can be very different. Brown, yellow, or tan are the most common colors. Brown or olive-green blotches are visible along the entire body. Specimens from northern regions tend to be darker. Its head is solid gray, and this feature can be used to distinguish them from other rat species.

Texas rat snake (Elaphe obsoleta lindheimeri) hiding between stones.

Texas rat snake (Elaphe obsoleta lindheimeri) hiding between stones. Image credit: Nongbri Family Pix via Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The key visual features of the Texas rat snake are:

  • Large head, solid-gray in color
  • Relatively long, slender body
  • Large head, similar to the triangle in shape
  • Typical colors: brown, yellow, olive-green, or tan body, belly light-colored

When started, they may freeze and coil their body. In most cases, they aim to avoid confrontation with a potential predator and usually flee quickly. If further threaten, they may raise their heads and open their mouths widely, or even make their tails vibrate producing a sound somewhat similar to rattlesnakes, this way mimicking their venomous relatives.

If cornered, Texas rat snakes can become aggressive and are known for their ability to stand their ground. They can also spread an awful-smelling substance around them to repel predators.

Some specimens display leucism – partial loss of pigmentation, similar to albinism. These specimens usually appear white with a reddish hue (entire body).

Can you keep a pet Texas rat snake?

It is possible to keep a Texas rat snake as a pet. In captivity, these animals usually become docile over time. Adults need enclosures at least 0.2 cubic meters (7.4 cubic feet) in size, preferably even larger.

This species likes substrate made from wood shavings such as aspen and cypress. Oily woods should be avoided due to their negative health impacts on the animal. Also you should keep in mind that Texas rat snakes need a lot of sunlight – at least 12 hours a day. That is why their enclosures should contain heat lamps.

Texas rat snakes kept as pets need to be fed every 5 to 7 days. Mice and rats are the most suitable type of food for these reptiles, but the diet can be diversified if the owner wishes it to be more similar to the natural variety. Under proper care, Texas rat snakes grown in captivity should have a lifespan of at least 10 years.


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