Texas long-nosed snake

Rhinocheilus lecontei tessellatus

23 July 2007, Baylor County, Texas

Non-venomous; not aggressive; rarely bites even if handled roughly; its small teeth injure only the most sensitive skin. As a defense against predators (including humans who attempt to handle it) this snake often discharges foul-smelling matter from its cloaca and musk glands, then smears the discharge on the handler's hands by squirming and wriggling.  It may also discharge small quantities of blood from its nostrils and cloaca, much as horned lizards squirt blood from the corners of their eyes.  This species preys on terrestrial lizards, but will also take small snakes, insects, and even mammalian prey such as pocket mice and the like, when available.

John wrote: This is a 12 inch snake from Baylor Co., TX.  It is very easy to handle.  I suspect it is either a milk or king, but the color banding throws me.  It has more of an orange than red and saddle more than band.  See photos.   JHR

This just happens to be a Texas long-nosed snake (Rhinocheilus lecontei tessellatus), a non-venomous reptile common to central and west Texas, south New Mexico, Arizona, and California, but almost never found in Texas east of the Crosstimbers or along the Gulf coast.  Baylor County, where this specimen was found, is in north central Texas, just east of the panhandle, but west of the Crosstimbers. One would not be at all surprised to find this species in that locale. I was very pleased to see John's photos, because (1) the snake was still alive--many of the photos I receive of this species are post mortem--and (2) he took the time to photograph a number of important anatomical features, including lateral views as well as dorsal ones, and excellent closeup shots of the head.

No other species has the coloration this specimen exhibits, wherein the black saddles and reddish lateral upward-pointing spearheads are so thoroughly impregnated with white spots.  Note also that the black saddles terminate, near the belly line, in blunt black spots--sort of like stirrups.  The belly is usually white or cream colored, as in this specimen. Some who see this snake may mistake it for a Texas coral snake (Micrurus fulvius tener), because it has the same colors--red, yellow, and black--and also because the yellow touches the red (remember the rhyme? "Red touch black, friend of Jack, but red touch yellow, kill a fellow!") I suppose, as a result, a number of these harmless serpents have been slain with abandon. If you follow the link, above, you will note that the coral snake's yellow markings are in narrow, but very distinct and continuous bands that extend entirely around the snake's body. The yellow markings on the body of the Texas long-nosed snake are thin, discontinuous margins that edge a portion of the red saddles along the snake's spine, and do not extend down the snake's sides. Thus, they are not comparable to the yellow bands of the Texas coral snake. Another feature that distinguishes the Texas long-nosed snake from the Texas coral snake is the colorations of their respective noses. The Texas long-nosed snake has a red nose, like Rudolph the famous reindeer, while the nose of the Texas coral snake is black.

In the juvenile the white-spotted pattern on the lateral body may be absent altogether, though in this juvenile the spots are present on the sides.  In mature specimens a portion of the black saddle is almost always entirely black, absent the white spots along the spine, yet studded with them laterally.  The orange spaces between the black saddles are also unicolored across the spine, but are marginally dotted with white or yellowish spots.

Cephalic coloration and anatomy are definitive for the species.   In the typical R. lecontei tessellatus specimen, the nose is orange or pink from its tip to the anterior margin of the eye, whereupon a band of black stretches from mouthline to mouthline, over the head, enclosing the eye save a small patch of orange posterior to it (which patch is sometimes absent or diminutive, but clearly present in the photo below). Directly posterior to this black band lies a narrow band of orange, tinged in white or yellowish spots.

The anatomy of this snake's head features a long snout (hence its name) specially suited for digging in sand and soil.  However, its prey--the terrestrial lizards inhabiting arid desert and similar habitats--is quite able to escape when stalked in the daytime. Consequently, this snake confines the majority of its hunting to the nocturnal hours, when its prey is less active.  Many thanks to John and Meaghan for these photos!!!

 

 

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