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Rat Snake

This non-venomous serpent has a taste for eggs - and it can climb almost anything.

By Sheryl Smith-Rodgers

"Nana, there's a snake in the chicken pen!"

Unperturbed, Marge Miller dismissed her grandson's report as she headed out to gather eggs on her family's farm near Eustace. "Probably just a stick," she thought to herself. But what she found made Miller turn around and dash for a camera.

In a nest, a rather large "chicken snake" had its mouth around an entire egg. Later that year, Miller was aghast when she spotted the same species in her kitchen - high up, intertwined in window blinds.

Such agility, not to mention an appetite for eggs, birds, rodents and other small mammals, characterizes the Texas rat snake (Elaphe obsoleta lindheimeri), found in the eastern two-thirds of the state. Aggressive but non-venomous, this reptile hisses, strikes and vibrates its tail like a rattlesnake when cornered. Inflicted bites typically heal in a day or two. If picked up, a rat snake sprays a putrid musk from its anal glands.

Visually, some may also confuse a rat snake's markings - dark gray head with olive brown splotches against a yellowish tan body - for those of a rattler. Hefty lengths can intimidate, too. Most rat snakes range in length from 3.5 to 6 feet; records measure 7-plus feet. While most serpents are circular in shape, rat snakes have a flattened underside and outward-projecting belly scales. They use their unique body shape like cleats to scale trees, cliffs, walls ... and sometimes kitchen windows.

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