KING OF TEXAS SNAKES

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TEXAS HAS SEVERAL VARIETIES of king snake. These are generally accepted by ranchers and farmers because they eat other snakes including venomous ones.

There is a snake however in Texas that is king even over the king snake and it too eats other snakes. I am talking about the Texas indigo snake.

A US Fish and Wildlife Service official holds an eastern indigo snake, a close cousin to the Texas variety. As you can see they are huge.
(Photo: USFWS)

A threatened species, this is the largest serpent in the United States, attaining verified lengths of up to 8.5 feet. A South Texas deer rancher, however, told me of having one get stuck in his high fence on this deer ranch due to its girth. They freed the snake and said it was in the 10-foot range.

Stories of even larger ones are out there but because of habitat changes in South Texas the snake is difficult to find in many areas.

I spotted two near Moore in 1995 as they were wrapped together in a mating ritual beneath my bowstand on a warm October day. Those snakes were in the seven-foot class. My girlfriend (now my wife) was in the stand with me. Although the snakes had already disappeared into the brush, she jumped from the second rung of the ladder and ran down the trail toward the truck.

I saw an even larger one crossing a sendero near Freer in 2013.

The Texas indigo snake extends its range well into Mexico, and its fame as a killer of rattlesnakes is well known. Numerous YouTube videos of these huge serpents show them impressively overpowering big rattlers.

Snakes such as the indigo have an impressive ability to swallow creatures close to their size. When a snake eats a large prey item, it has to relax for a while and let it digest. If we ate a live five-foot-long rattlesnake, we might need to relax too.

The indigo snake is unique in that I have never heard of a hunter, rancher or farmer intentionally killing one. As previously mentioned, the idea of them killing rattlesnakes has earned them allies, but I think there is more to the story.

These gorgeous, elusive and huge serpents stir the imagination. They remind us just how wild the brush country of South Texas remains despite highways, high fences and cities.

There are still wild things out there and some of them happen to slither.

If you see one, consider yourself blessed. The indigo snake is one of Texas’s most amazing creatures.

 

Texas Indigo Fact Sheet

Geographic Range

It is found from southern Texas south into Mexico as far as Veracruz.

indigo snake

The Indigo snake is the largest snake native to the United States.
(Photo: USFWS)

Description

Texas indigo snakes are predominantly black in color, with a high sheen which gives their smooth scales a remarkable iridescent hue. Their underside is often a salmon pink color. They are large snakes, regularly attaining total lengths beyond 6 ft (1.8 m); 8 ft (2.4 m) long specimens are not unheard of.

Habitat

Texas indigo snakes prefer lightly vegetated areas not far from permanent water sources, but are also found in mesquite savannah, open grassland areas, and coastal sand dunes. They den in burrows left by other animals.

Behavior and Diet

Indigo snakes are diurnal snakes, and spend most of their time actively hiding. They will consume almost anything they can overpower and swallow, including mammals, birds, lizards, frogs, turtles, eggs, and even other snakes, including rattlesnakes. Because of its aggressive attacks on rattlesnakes, many farmers in southern Texas consider it a useful ally. Hence the adage, “If it’s an indigo, let it go.” It is not a typically aggressive snake, but may bite or release a foul smelling musk from its cloaca if handled or harassed. Like many colubrid snakes, it will often shake its tail as a warning – even though it does not possess a rattle.

Reproduction

Breeding takes place, generally yearly, in the winter. Clutches that average 10-12 eggs are laid in the spring, and hatch around 80 days later. Hatchlings can be up to 26 in (66 cm) long. Maturity is reached in 2–3 years.

Conservation

The Texas Indigo Snake is listed as a threatened species by the state of Texas. Its primary threat is from habitat loss due to human development. Each snake requires a large home range to forage, and urban sprawl is shrinking their usable habitat. Roads bisect their territory, and many snakes each year are run over by cars.

 

—story by CHESTER MOORE

 

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