Texas Rat Snake Facts

Texas Rat Snake Profile

There are a lot of scary snakes in Texas. It’s where rattlesnake boots come from, and cottonmouths and copperheads are widespread and feared.

There are at least 15 species of dangerous snake in Texas, but one of the largest and most abundant is also the least dangerous. Yet, the Texas rat snake might be the most successful of them all. 

The Texas rate snake is a nonvenomous subspecies of the western or black rat snake, and from the largest snake family, Colubridae. While predominantly found in Texas, it can also appear in Louisiana, Arkansas and Oklahoma.

Texas Rat Snake

Texas Rat Snake Facts Overview

Habitat: Rocky, wooded, prairie, often arboreal
Location: Texas
Lifespan: Up to 15 years in captivity
Size: Up to 1.5m (5ft) 
Weight: 2.2kg (5lb)
Colour: Usually cream to yellow with dark patterns
Diet: Rats, young birds, lizards.
Predators: Raptors, mink, other mammalian carnivores
Top Speed: Unknown
No. of Species: 1
Conservation Status: Least Concern (IUCN)

The Texas rat snake is a ferocious fighter, but with no venom, it relies entirely on mimicking its more dangerous peers to deter predators.

But it’s large size and powerful build allow it to put up a good fight when cornered, and it will do so aggressively.

This same strength and energy are what allow it to climb walls, break into lofts and barns, and thrive on a number of small animals in both rural and urban environments. 

Interesting Texas Rat Snake Facts

1. They might not be a valid subspecies

The Western rat snake also know as the black rat snake, Pantherophis obsoletus, is native to North America and is distributed in various populations all over the Southern States. But while multiple subspecies are discussed, many breed with one another, making their distinctions not only impossible but also somewhat meaningless and leading to many experts rejecting the subspecies entirely. 

There are, however, different colour morphs, which give us a nice easy way to group them, though not a very taxonomically useful one. 

The Texas rat snake, one of the morphs, and in some records, a subspecies known as P.o.lindheimeri, is a pretty-coloured version typically with dark patches contrasted on a creamy yellow background. Their distinguishing colouration is the solid grey head, different from other morphs of the Western rat snake. 

These are the most commonly encountered snakes in Texas, and while the state is home to some highly dangerous serpents like the Diamondback and Mojave rattlesnakes, this one is entirely harmless and non-venomous. 

Texas Rat Snake on grass

2. Some are white

While the Texas rat snake might not be a valid subspecies, it’s certainly a recognized colour morph, but even these morphs have their variants. 

Rat snakes are well known for exhibiting albinism, or lack of pigment. In some of their offspring, the occasional white variety shows up, and while this isn’t usually anything to worry about, it’s definitely a point of curiosity for researchers studying the condition, as the snakes’ eyes don’t appear to be affected. 

In this case, rather than being called albinism, it’s known as leucism, and this is a point of interest for geneticists and neuroanatomists. 1

3. Texas rate snakes can grow up to 5ft

The Texas rat snake is a large snake for the USA and is can reach up to 5ft in length. As they are nonvenomous, their size and power helps them hunt prey.

They kill by constriction and will prey upon rats, mice, lizards, frogs, birds and insects. They will also consume eggs, as well as any chickens that might be laying them!

4. They’re aggressive, but harmless to humans

Despite having little to back it up with, these snakes aren’t afraid to show off with threat displays, mouth gaping, and enthusiastic biting if cornered or handled. 

Living around so many venomous rattlers, this species has also picked up the habit of waving its tail in an intimidating manner, mimicking the threat of much more dangerous species. 

5. They strike fast 

When compared in lab tests against far more dangerous snakes like the local vipers, these snakes were recorded striking at an average speed of around 10km/h; almost exactly the same speed as the infamous cottonmouth and the Western rattlesnakes. 

While the Texas rat snake has the slowest velocity of the three, it has the highest acceleration – and made our fastest snakes in the world list.

This goes to show that it isn’t just the venomous snakes who benefit from fast strike speed. Any snake that has to ambush live prey needs to act faster than its victim can react, and when a startled rat can activate fleeing muscles in as little time as 200 milliseconds, a strike that completes in under 100 milliseconds will hit before the snake’s lunch has time to even think. 2

6. They can be stinky

Striking fast is also a pretty good deterrent for any animal with a healthy wariness around snakes. Its lightning speed would certainly make predators a little uncomfortable, but if threats don’t work, the Texas rat snake can make itself unpalatable in other ways. 

Coiled into a defensive S-pose, the snake can then rattle the end of its tail, mimicking even further the more frightening, rattling, relatives in the area. 

While it has no toxins at the front end, the back end can release a musk that is said to smell like burning rubber and other foul odours. This musk can be spread by the tail for added effect, making would-be predators and snake handlers alike gag. 3

7. They can climb trees

These are some of the largest and most abundant snakes in Texas, and they’re adaptable, too. 

They’re comfortable on the ground, but they’re also excellent climbers and can scale a vertical wall if there’s enough grip. 

Its primary food is rats, hence the name, so being able to match the agility of its prey and meet them on their turf is a useful adaptation. But they’re also good at breaking into barns and stealing eggs from chickens. 

Texas rat snake in tree

8. They can fight with birds

If a bird is brave enough to pick one up after all this, the fight is still far from over. Rat snakes are quick to bite and do so repeatedly.

They’re long and powerful snakes who don’t give up easily, and fights between them and attacking birds have been seen to go on into epic battles. 4

9. They’re good at pest control

A large snake has a large appetite and one with an abundance as great as this puts significant downward pressure on its ecosystem. 

And it’s not just on rats: this snake will take frogs, lizards, insects, birds and anything else inside the size bracket of its meal plan.

They are found in the wild, and rural areas, and equally happy in urban environments, where their taste for rats is fantastic for keeping rodent numbers down. 5

Texas Rat Snake Fact-File Summary

Scientific Classification

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Reptilia
Order: Squamata
Family: Colubridae
Genus: Pantherophis
Species: Pantherophis Obsoletus
Subspecies: Pantherophis Obsoletus Lindheimeri

Fact Sources & References

  1. Asier Ullate-Agote (2021), “Characterization of the Leucistic Texas Rat Snake Pantherophis obsoletus”, frontiers.
  2. Susan Milius (2016), “Plain ol’ Texas rat snakes basically match vipers for speed”, Science News.
  3. Texas Rat Snake”, Texas Sugar Land.
  4. Western Rat Snake”, iNaturalist.
  5. Texas Parks and Wildlife (2023), “Texas Rat Snake (Wild Things)”, YouTube.