The Texas rat snake (Elaphe obsoleta lindheimeri) is a 3.5-6’ long, semi-arboreal snake primarily native to Texas, Oklahoma, and Louisiana. They prefer forested habitats, but are highly adaptable and can also be found in swamps, bayous, stream valleys, rocky canyons, and urban areas.
Texas rat snakes have slender, muscular bodies and an oval head, covered in smooth scales. Wild-type (“normal”) Texas rat snakes have a gray, brown, yellow, or orange base color with dark brown/black blotches down their back. The lips and underside are pale and may be lightly patterned. Alternative colors and patterns are available among captive-bred individuals.
Captive-bred Texas rat snakes can make lively, fun pets, and are fairly easy to care for. When cared for well, they can live up to 20 years or more.
Minimum terrarium size for Texas rat snakes
The absolute minimum terrarium size for a single Texas rat snake is 48”L x 24”W x 24”H. Of course, larger is always better, especially for particularly large individuals! Extra climbing room is particularly appreciated, as Texas rat snakes are proficient climbers.
Cohabitation (keeping multiple rat snakes in one enclosure) is not recommended, as Texas rat snakes are not a social species, and keeping them together causes unnecessary stress.
Do Texas rat snakes need UVB?
Technically they can survive without it, but we still recommend providing appropriate UVB lighting for Texas rat snakes. UVB lighting helps provide a clear day/night cycle, provides all of the vitamin D that your pet needs, strengthens the immune system, facilitates better digestion, and other benefits.
The best UVB bulbs for Texas rat snakes are:
For best results, house the UVB bulbs in a reflective fixture. Position the lamp on the same side of the terrarium as the heat lamp, about 9-11” above the basking area if over mesh, and 12-14” above the basking area if not.
UVB is blocked by glass and plastic, so placing the terrarium in front of a window doesn’t count as “free UVB” — in fact it can make your terrarium too hot due to the greenhouse effect. Don’t forget to replace your bulb every 12 months!
Lights should be on for about 13 hours/day during summer and 11 hours/day during winter in order to encourage natural hormonal cycling. All lamps should be turned off at night.
Best temperature for Texas rat snakes
Like other reptiles, rat snakes are cold-blooded, which means that they rely on external temperatures to manage their own body temperature and metabolism. A reptile’s enclosure should offer a range of temperatures to allow them to thermoregulate effectively.
Specifically speaking, Texas rat snakes should have a basking area temperature of 86°F. On the other side of the enclosure, the temperature should be around 75°F. Measure these temperatures with digital probe thermometers, with the probes placed on the basking surface as well as the cool zone.
Provide heat for your snake with at least two halogen flood heat bulbs, placed close together over the basking branch to evenly heat the snake’s entire body. Do not use ceramic heat emitters (CHEs), red bulbs, or blue bulbs, as these are not as effective.
Best humidity levels for Texas rat snakes
Texas rat snakes aren’t particular about their humidity needs, but they do need a certain amount of moisture present in their environment to keep them well hydrated and help them shed properly. One of the must-haves in your enclosure will be a humid hide placed on the cool side, lined with moistened sphagnum moss. You will also need a water bowl/tub large enough for the snake to easily soak its entire body. Texas rat snakes are great swimmers, so larger is likely to be appreciated.
If you live in a dry climate, occasionally mixing water into the substrate to make it slightly moist is a good way to help maintain comfortable humidity levels for your pet.
Best substrate for Texas rat snakes
Providing a thick layer of naturalistic substrate (“bedding”) will help cushion your snake’s body, provide a potential burrowing medium, and also helps make your enclosure more attractive! We recommend the following substrates for Texas rat snakes:
Substrate should be 2-4” deep and completely replaced every 3-4 months. Remove poop and urates daily, along with contaminated substrate.
How to decorate a Texas rat snake terrarium
An empty terrarium makes for a bored Texas rat snake, reducing its quality of life. Keep your pet entertained and engaged with its environment with the strategic use of décor items that encourage it to exercise natural behaviors! Because Texas rat snakes are proficient at both climbing and swimming, ideally their environment should allow for both of these behaviors.
At bare minimum you will need at least two hiding places on the ground and a branch or two for it to climb on. However, it’s best to include other items such as:
What to feed to a Texas rat snake
Texas rat snakes are carnivorous, which means that they need to eat whole animal prey in order to get the right nutrition. Here is a basic feeding schedule based on snake size:
- Hatchlings should be fed once every 5-7 days.
- Juveniles should be fed once every 7-10 days.
- Adults should be fed once every 10-14 days.
Prey items should be around 10% of the snake’s weight and/or no more than 1.5x its width at its widest point. Although live prey can be offered, it’s best to use frozen whenever possible. Prey should be thawed in a BPA-free plastic bag in warm water until it reaches ~100°F, then use a pair of soft-tipped feeding tweezers to offer it to your snake.
One of the keys to great nutrition is variety, so aside from offering mice and rats, quail, chicks, quail eggs, chicken eggs, and feeder lizards can also be used to add diversity to your snake’s diet.
Rat snakes can survive without dietary supplements, but using them every once in a while can help prevent your snake from developing a nutritional deficiency, helping it live healthier. We recommend Repashy Calcium Plus LoD, lightly dusted on the prey item before offering.
How to handle your Texas rat snake
Reptiles generally don’t appreciate petting and handling in the same way that dogs and cats do. That being said, Texas rat snakes generally tolerate human interaction pretty well, especially when captive-bred.
When picking up your snake, be gentle and try to pick it up from the side or below rather than from above. Support as much of its body as possible, and NEVER pick it up by its tail, as this can damage its spine! Note that juvenile rat snakes are more defensive and panicky than adults, and while they may strike defensively, their bite is unlikely to cause more than minor discomfort at worst.
*This care sheet contains only very basic information. Although it’s a good introduction, please further your research with high-quality sources. The more you know, the better you will be able to care for your pet!
"Texas Rat Snake 01" by TexasEagle is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0