Texas Rat Snake (Elaphe obsoleta lindheimeri)

One Mean Snake...

Herpetologists agree that E. obsoleta lindheimeri is one of the meanest snakes ever found in the wild. This refers more to its disposition than to its ability to inflict serious injury.

When this snake is approached by a human or an animal, it does not always run the other way, like most snakes tend to do. Instead, it may boldly initiate an attack by approaching, or by coiling up, assuming a striking position, and vibrating the tip of its tail, making a sound vaguely  like that of a rattlesnake. As soon as its quarry is within reach, it strikes and bites, making a loud hissing sound in the process. Its strike is amazingly accurate, and it rarely misses its intended target. 

Fortunately for the human (and for your pet dog) the theatrics of the snake's behavior are much worse than its actual bite. Often, it makes no attempt to sink its teeth and merely pokes with its nose. On other occasions, it grasps the skin only momentarily, then releases and retreats. Sometimes, though, it will sink its teeth in forcefully, and may refuse to let go for several seconds. The effect can be very frightening and, for a person with tender skin, quite painful.

Even when it behaves at its meanest, its numerous, short teeth cannot penetrate heavy denim or leather gloves, and the snake has no fangs or venom glands.

If an adult snake of this species presses its teeth into bare skin, or through thin clothing into underlying skin, the result will be numerous puncture wounds ranging from 1/8th to 3/16th inch in depth.

In some of the literature the bite is described as "lacerating", which suggests a tearing of the skin, but this should occur only in a person with extremely sensitive or tender skin.  

I always takes steps to avoid being bitten by these snakes when I handle them, so cannot speak of their bite from personal experience. I do know, however, of a police officer who was bitten by one last year. His wounds were described as severe enough to require a visit to the hospital, mostly to stop the bleeding and to insure he was treated for the risk of infection at the wound site.

This snake regularly eats mice and rats, both of whom are known to carry numerous pathogens. Assuming that the snake might become a "carrier" of one or more of the pathogens carried by its meals, the risk of infection from its bite may be quite high. On the other hand, bleeding will clear pathogens from the wound. Also, the digestive processes that take place in the snake's gut are awesome. I have to clean up the poop from this snake in  my lab terrarium, and I have yet to see any evidence of hair or bone in the snake's excrement. Many bacterial and viral agents present in its meals may be destroyed by the action of digestive juices.

Regardless, you should always take steps to avoid being bitten by these snakes. As mentioned elsewhere, unless you are an experienced herpetologist, you should always treat all snakes as venomous until you learn otherwise from a competent authority.

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