ID Guide to RATSNAKES Found in Texas! (5 species)
There are 5 types of rat snakes that live in Texas.
But before we begin, I wanted to define exactly what I mean when I say “rat snake.”
First, rat snakes are members of the family Colubridae, and most of the species in North America are in the genus Pantherophis.
Second, they are constrictors, and their favorite prey is rodents, such as mice and rats. As you can probably guess, this is how they get the name RAT snakes. 🙂 Because of their affinity for rodents, you can often find rat snakes in Texas near barns and abandoned buildings where their favorite food tends to hang out.
Lastly, rat snakes are non-venomous and mostly docile, although they can become defensive when threatened or grabbed. In fact, certain types of rat snakes are some of the most popular snakes kept as pets.
Enjoy! I hope you learn how to identify the different types of rat snakes that live in Texas!
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#1. Great Plains Ratsnake
- Pantherophis emoryi
- Adults range from 36 to 60 inches long.
- Coloration is light gray or tan with dark gray, brown, or green-gray blotching down its back.
- A spear-shaped mark on the head and stripes on the sides of the head that meet to form a point between the eyes.
- Also sometimes called Emory’s Rat Snake, Brown Rat Snake, or Chicken Snake.
Great Plains Ratsnakes can be found in Texas in open woodlands, rocky, wooded hillsides, semi-arid regions, and agricultural areas. Being nocturnal, they are hard to find and spend most of their days in old mammal burrows or under rocks, logs, boards, and other cover objects.
This species prefers to prey on rodents but may also consume small birds, lizards, and frogs. They are also known to hunt bats and are sometimes found near caves hunting them! Like other rat snakes, they’re constrictors and use their strong coils to suffocate prey before eating it.
When disturbed, the Great Plains Ratsnake will curl up and vibrate its tail which sounds remarkably like a rattlesnake when done in dry leaf litter. Though they’re considered non-aggressive and docile, they may strike if grabbed.
#2. Western Ratsnake
- Pantherophis obsoletus
- Adults range from 42 to 72 inches in length though individuals up to 101 inches have been recorded.
- Adults are gray to pale brown to yellowish with black, brown, or gray blotches.
- Also commonly called the Texas Ratsnake!
Western Ratsnakes occupy various habitats in Texas, including agricultural areas, dense woodlands, forested river valleys, and rocky hillsides. They’re excellent climbers and are found often in trees, and will frequently use cavities in trees for shelter.
Western Ratsnakes are active hunters and constrictors preying on small mammals, nestling birds, bird eggs, tree frogs, and lizards. They suffocate larger prey with their coils but often swallow smaller prey without constriction.
When disturbed, these snakes often freeze to avoid detection. If harassed, they will raise their heads and vibrate their tails to mimic a rattlesnake. And if they continue to be provoked or grabbed, they will strike their attacker as a last defense.
This species is susceptible to habitat destruction, fragmentation, and alteration. They’ve also been impacted by Snake Fungal Disease and are sometimes mistaken for rattlesnakes and killed.
#3. Baird’s Ratsnake
- Pantherophis bairdi
- Adults range from 25 to 44 inches in length.
- Coloration is orange, bright yellow, or dark salmon with four stripes from the neck to the tail.
- The underside is gray to yellow, darkening near the tail.
This ratsnake is named for American zoologist Spencer Fullerton Baird, the first curator of the Smithsonian Institution. They are excellent at climbing trees, old buildings, and cliff faces.
Baird’s Ratsnakes ONLY live in southwest Texas!
In general, they are tough to find in the wild. You can try looking in semi-arid rocky habitats, including desert scrub, pine forest, wooded canyons, grass uplands, road-cut bluffs, and desert lowlands. Habitats with plenty of rocky cover, rock crevices, caves, and sheer canyon walls are preferred. They’re occasionally found sheltering in crevices and eaves of ranch outbuildings.
They’re considered to be a non-aggressive and docile species. While they are listed as a species of least concern on the IUCN Red List, they are protected in Big Bend National Park.
#4. Trans-Pecos Rat Snake
- Bogertophis subocularis
- Adults are 36 to 54 inches in length.
- Coloration is yellow or tan with black or dark-brown H-shaped markings down the back.
- Large, light-colored round eyes with black pupils and pink tongue.
This highly nocturnal species is rarely spotted during the day in western Texas. They occupy desert flats, brushy slopes, and rocky outcrops and prefer areas with deep rock crevices to shelter and hibernate.
Trans-Pecos Ratsnakes primarily feed on rodents but will also consume birds and lizards. In addition, individuals have been reported to eat bats occasionally.
These snakes are incredibly docile, non-aggressive, and easy to handle. Because of these features, they’re often raised in captivity.
#5. Slowinski’s Corn Snake
- Pantherophis slowinskii
- Adults may grow up to 72 inches.
- Coloration is grayish-brown with large, alternating chocolate-brown blotches, which are often bordered in black.
- Spear-shaped marking on the head, dark bar through the eye and down the jawline onto the neck.
Slowinski’s Corn Snake wasn’t recognized as a species until 2002!
They were long believed to be a hybrid of the Red Cornsnake and the Great Plains Ratsnake. The species was named for American herpetologist Joseph Bruno Slowinski.
Slowinski’s Corn Snakes are hard to find in eastern Texas since they are nocturnal, highly secretive, and spend a lot of time in trees. Because of these facts, relatively little is known about their behavior, habitat, and population trends. So if you ever see one, consider yourself lucky!
These rat snakes are believed to do most of their hunting in trees and feed primarily on small mammals and birds. They’re constrictors like other ratsnake species, and they use a combination of ambush hunting and active foraging.
Do you need additional help identifying snakes?
Try this field guide!
Which of these rat snakes have you seen before in Texas?
Leave a comment below!