Texas Rat Snake (Pantherophis obsoleta lindheimeri)


     The Texas rat snake is one of the most commonly encountered species of non-venomous snake in North Texas and this is especially true for the Dallas Fort Worth area.  These are large snakes capable of growing more than 77 inches (2 m) in total body length.  The largest individual recorded measured 86 inches (2.18 m).  Despite their size, Texas rat snakes are non-venomous and pose no threat to humans.  This species is highly adaptable to a wide range of environments including forest, grasslands, suburban areas, and even locations within an urban setting. 


     The presence of this snake in any setting near human habitation is a strong indicator that rodents such as rats and mice are also in the vicinity.  These snakes are effective and efficient predators of disease spreading rodents.  Diseases such as the plague and Hantavirus can be fatal to humans and have been identified from rodent nest in the Tarrant County.  Fortunately, snakes are immune to these and do not transmit the illnesses to people. Asides from disease, rats and mice are responsible for damage to buildings, crops, and homes.  Because of the benefit this snake serves, it should not be killed or molested.


      Texas rat snakes are excellent climbers and there have been occasional reports of Texas rat snakes climbing the sides of brick walls on buildings.  This can be the result of the snake detecting the presence of rodents, which often seek shelter in attics.  This species will also climb trees in pursuit of eggs, birds, and squirrels. In many rural areas where poultry are maintained this snake has earned the common name ‘chicken snake’.  This is due to the snake’s enthusiasm for freshly laid chicken eggs and chicks.


     Texas rat snakes use constriction to kill their prey.  Upon encountering a prey item, the snake strikes out, secures a grip with its teeth and immediately wraps its body around the animal.  Once the coils are around the animal, the snake flexes its muscles as the prey exhales.  This prevents the prey from inhaling another breath and it eventually dies of suffocation.  Once the prey is dead and unable to resist, fight back or present a health risk to the snake, the rat snake begins to feed.


     Texas rat snakes are bold and ready to defend themselves from perceived threats.  When approached they may vibrate their tail; raise the front portion of their body off the ground in an ‘S’ shaped configuration, hiss and sometimes strike.  Striking and biting are often a last resort after being harassed.  If the snake is grabbed it will usually bite and smear fecal matter onto its captor.  The wound caused from the small needle-like teeth of this species to the hand is superficial at most.  Often the bite mark is gone within a day or two.


     As seen in the photographs adults specimens can be somewhat variable in coloration from one location to the next. Specimens found in the eastern portion of the state often bear a dark gray base coloration while those encountered in the oak woodlands of central Texas display a more yellowish tint.  Despite the regional variations in color, the flesh between the scales of this snake is reddish orange.


     Unfortunately, this beneficial and harmless species is often confused with venomous snakes such as copperheads, cottonmouths and western diamondback rattlesnakes.  Because of its size, this species has also been the source of many ‘boa and python’ sightings. This is not because Texas rat snakes are difficult snakes to identify, but instead because the individual making the claim is not familiar with snakes native to Texas. 


Texas: Montague County                                                                                  Texas: Tarrant County: Arlington

Photograph by Carl J. Franklin                                                                                 Photograph by Carl J. Franklin 





Texas: Navarro County                                                                                    Texas: Hood County (recently hit by an automobile)

Photograph by Carl J. Franklin                                                                                        Photograph by Carl J. Franklin 




Albino Specimen from Texas: Tarrant County                                                  Texas: Wise County (juvenile specimen)

Photograph by Matt Vaughan                                                                                        Photograph by Michael Smith     



Young adult male from Texas: Wise County                                                    Adult after consuming a golf ball that was placed in a hen house.

Photograph by Carl J. Franklin                                                                                  Texas: Wise County.  Photograph by Carl J. Franklin