Photo of Oso apprehensively observing the baby Texas rat snake he had captured.
The day before winter solstice, the official start of winter, Oso, our male German Shepherd Dog, and Sunshine, our female rescue mutt, went missing mid-morning. Suspecting they weren’t up to anything good, I went searching. The search was short. Just around the corner of the house I found the two industriously digging at the base of a dead Chinese tallow tree (Sapium sebiferum). I had planned to remove the tree, which had died for unknown reasons last summer, but hadn’t gotten around to it. The dogs were doing their best to uproot it.
As I approached, both dogs took turns leaning into one of the holes they’d excavated at the base of the tree and then jumping back. I knew they had something live. Fearing a rattlesnake or copperhead, I rushed over. It took a second to focus on the baby (technically a recent hatchling) Texas rat snake, Elaphe obsoleta lindheimeri. I rescued the dogs from the vicious reptile by picking up the snake. Despite the cool temperatures somewhere around 55°F (about 12°C), the snake was very active.
The dogs followed as I carried the snake inside so Susie, my wife, could take photos. Once inside Maya, our female German Shepherd Dog (yes that is the breed’s official name, probably to overcome its early reputation as a wolf-dog) also became very interested. The two shepherds have each been bitten by copperheads several times; poor Oso at seven weeks and again at four months. Both of them hate snakes. Sunshine, so far unbitten, seems to have taken their cautious cue and assumes all snakes are dangerous. By the way, most of our dogs have been bitten by rattlesnakes and copperheads with only minor swelling and that for less than 24 hours. The only snake bite requiring a vet visit was for Tally (Oso’s and Maya’s mother, who died of old age last earlier this year). She was bitten by a rattlesnake on a front leg and developed an abscess about a week later. It was successfully treated with antibiotics.
We encourage Texas rat snakes around the house. They are great mousers, although they also eat American chameleons (Anolis carolinensis) and Mediterranean geckos (Hemidactylus turcicus), both of which are numerous here. Texas rat snakes are very arboreal and climb well. Our back porch rafters are festooned with their shed skins, at least 10 of them at present.
After photography I released the young snake into heavy cover in a grove of Sago palms (actually cycads), Cycas revoluta. Their stiff leaves prevented the dogs from recapturing the snake.