Elaphe obsoleta linheimeri (Texas Ratsnake)
Written by Troy Hibbitts
Common Names: Texas Ratsnake, Chicken Snake, Lindheimer, Lindy
Scientific Name: Elaphe obsoleta linheimeri
Range: From southeastern Louisiana and perhaps extreme southwestern Missisissippi, west to the vicinity of San Angelo, Texas. It is found north to south-central Kansas (intergrade populations), and south to just north of Brownsville, Texas. Intergrades with the nominate race (E.o.obsoleta) can be found in a band from south-central Kansas, south through central and southern Oklahoma and into northeastern Texas and northern Louisiana.
Habitat: This subspecies is found from the bayous of Louisiana through the prairies and hill country of Central Texas. It can also be found in cities such as Dallas, Fort Worth, or Houston. The single most important factor influencing the occurrence of this snake is the prescence of oak trees (and presumably rodents).
Behavior: Often considered to be one of the meanest snakes alive (by Texans), it is true that this subspecies often reacts defensively by aggressively biting. However, some individuals can be fairly docile (only biting if you move too fast), and captive-raised specimens that have been handled are usually fairly tame. In the wild, this species is a voracious predator on rodents of all sizes, with large adults being able to take prey up to the size of a fox squirrel (Sciurus niger). Neonate Texas ratsnake are born large enough to feed readily on fuzzy size mice, and in the wild where they are better able to control thier body temperatures, probably eat larger prey. Texas Ratsnakes also prey on birds and bird eggs; some individuals frequent chicken coops in search of eggs and chicks. Texas Ratsnakes are skilled climbers, able to climb vertical trunks of trees by clinging to cracks in the bark. They are also capable swimmers - I have found numerous snakes resting in hollow trees a mile or more out into East Texas lakes. Texas Ratsnakes breed in the spring, shortly after emerging from winter hibernation, and lay clutches of 5 to 20 eggs, which hatch in August or September.
Size: Hatchlings are usually from 12-18" in length; adults range from 42-72" (3.5 - 6 feet). The record length for this subspecies is 86" (7'2"); perhaps slightly more.
Hatchlings of this subspecies are similar to the typical hatchlings found in all members of this species; however, they typically have browner blotches than those found in other subspecies. Adults of this subspecies typically have a dark gray head with white lips and 25-38 dark brown to black dorsal blotches, with corresponding smaller lateral blotches. The ground color may range from a brown or slate color only slightly lighter than the blotches (particularly in forest populations) to a yellowish or orangish brown color that can be quite attractive. The skin between the scales is usually reddish. The throat and ventral surface of the neck is white, and the ventral scales are marked with indistinct gray checkering. Populations from the eastern woodlands tend to be darker than populations from the Texas Hill Country; however, there is considerable individual variation, and I have seen very dark specimens from around Abeline, Texas, and fairly bright specimens from the vicinity of Tyler, Texas.
Intergrades with Black Ratsnakes tend to be almost unicolored; sometimes being a solid brown color. Other intergrades will show white instead of reddish skin between the scales.
In the western portion of the Texas Hill Country, the Texas Ratsnake follows river bottom habitat into the range of the Baird's Ratsnake (E. bairdi). In these areas, the Baird's Rat is generally found on the drier, rocky hillsides and the Texas Rat is generally found amongst the oaks and pecans of the river bottoms. However, the two species occassionally hybridize, with hybrids usually showing intermediate blotch pattern (narrower than in linheimeri, wider than in bairdi). As adults, these hybrids typically resemble one parent type or the other. These hybrids are apparently fairly rare.
Owing to its aggressive nature, Texas Ratsnakes have not been breed in captivity with quite the same enthusiam as Cornsnakes. However, there are several beautiful captive varieties being bred today.
Leucistic - perhaps single most beautiful captive-cultivar found in all the ratsnakes, the leucistic Texas Ratsnake, with every scale completely snow white but with blue-black eyes, is indeed an impressive animal.
Amelanistic - typically a yellowish snake, without the distinctive white borders to its blotches as would be found in a cornsnake. The ground color is usually a faded yellow, and the dorsal blotches range from a faded orange to a pale red color.
High Orange - selectively bred Texas Ratsnakes to emphasize the orange/yellow background color.
Scaleless - an interesting variety not being bred in the captive breeding industry. These snakes lack dorsal scales but have ventral scales. They must be hand shed; one of the two known individuals must be force fed (as an adult!). Not a true captive cultivar, but mentioned here as a curiosity.