A-z - Animals

black rat snake

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At eight feet long, the black rat snake is one of the longest snakes in North America.

Black rat snakes are native to the central and eastern United States, including South Carolina, Ohio, Kentucky and other states. They are carnivorous and feed on mice, frogs, bird eggs and, of course, rats. This reptile spends its winter scars in dens along with other types of snakes. Juveniles have gray and black scale patterns, but gradually become all black as adults.

4 Surprising Facts

  1. It is sometimes called the pilot snake because of the false belief that it guides poisonous snakes to their proper nests during the winter
  2. It is an expert tree climber and sometimes hides in the crevices of tree trunks
  3. When agitated, this snake may wag its tail to warn predators to retreat
  4. It is seen as a snake that helps control rodent populations in Ohio

where to find black rat snakes

These snakes are native to the mid-eastern United States of North America. They are especially plentiful in Ohio and Missouri. Notably, the black rat snake is one of two black snakes in South Carolina that grow to five feet or more.

These snakes can live in many different habitats, including farmlands, rocky fields, hillsides, and forests. These reptiles occupy regions with temperate climates. This means they must be bruised during the colder months of winter. Generally, they start hurting in October and stay in their shelter until March.

A widespread myth about this snake has to do with its winter bruises. It is sometimes called the pilot snake. Legend has it that these snakes lure venomous snakes to a lair where they can be harmed during the winter. Although these snakes sometimes share a den with venomous snakes during the winter, they are not intended to serve as guides for snakes to find their nests!

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These snakes are especially active in spring and summer. They start breeding in April and May. They are excellent climbers and as such are often found chasing prey in the trees.

scientific name

Pantherophis obsoletus is the scientific name for the black rat snake. It is also known as the western rat snake and aviator black snake. The Latin word Pantherophis translates as "predator of all snakes". Generally, this means it was a snake that took a variety of prey. The Latin word obsoletus translates to the phrase "obsolete". This means that it loses its juvenile color pattern as it grows into an adult.

Its family is Colubridae , which belongs to the class Reptiles .

Population and Conservation Status

The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species reports a population of at least 100,000 adult black rat snakes. Their status is Least Concern and their population is described as stable.

appearance and description

Adult black rat snakes have shiny black scales on their backs and a checkered belly that can be gray or tan in color. In addition, adults have white on the chin and neck. Babies and teens, on the other hand, have black and gray spotted patterns. These gradually turn black as the snake matures.

The size of this snake varies, but they can vary in length from three and a half to eight feet. Juveniles are about a foot long when they emerge from the eggs. This snake also has a thick and powerful body.

How to identify a black rat snake:

  • Adults are black with gray or tan squares on the abdomen
  • white under the chin and neck in adults
  • Small snakes or young snakes with gray and black scale patterns
  • round black pupils
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Adult rat black snake peaks on a rock
At 8 feet long, the black rat snake is one of the longest snakes in North America

© Matt Jepsen/Shutterstock.com

Black Racer vs Black Rat Snake

If you saw a black racer and a black rat snake in a forest or prairie, you might think they were the same animal. After all, these two black snakes are slender and very similar even when viewed up close. For example, both black game snakes and black rat snakes eat rodents, bird eggs, and amphibians. Both species have round pupils. Plus, they both climb snakes, although black rat snakes climb trees and black snakes climb shrubs and bushes. So, despite all these similarities, what's the difference?

One of the most striking differences between these snakes has to do with their size. The body of the black race snake is more like a thin whip, while the body of the black rat snake is thicker. In terms of length, the black race snake can grow up to six feet, while the black rat snake can grow up to eight feet.

The scales on these snakes are another feature to consider. The scales of the black racer snake are flat in tone, while the scales of the black rat snake are shiny.

Their behavior is another thing to watch when trying to tell the difference between the two types of snakes. Black racers are aggressive and nervous. In addition, the black rat snake is docile and has a gentle temperament.

Black racers bite their prey and swallow it whole. Alternatively, the black rat snake is a large boa constrictor that squeezes its prey until it dies. Then, the snake starts the process of swallowing it. If you notice, the black racer's body isn't thick or strong enough to restrain its prey.

How dangerous are they?

Black rat snakes are not venomous. It kills its prey by constricting its body like a boa constrictor or boa constrictor.

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Of course, it can still bite if it feels cornered. If bitten by a black rat snake, the first thing to do is wash the wound with soap and warm water. Next, apply a first aid cream or ointment on top. Afterwards, cover the wound with a clean bandage and watch for redness or a rash that might signal infection. If these symptoms occur, it is best to see a professional doctor to treat the infection.

Black Rat Snake Behavior and Humans

Sometimes these snakes cool off in barns or stables on farms. But remember, these are shy, non-aggressive snakes who would rather avoid people.

Interestingly, black rat snakes have some defenses in place if they feel threatened by humans, dogs, or other predators. For example, this snake can be frozen. This means it wrinkles or kinks its body so that it looks like a bent stick on the ground. Smart snake! The snake may also release a scent to deter threats from approaching it. Additionally, these snakes have been known to wag their tails to warn any threatening predators away.

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No, these snakes are not poisonous.

Black rat snakes climb trees to steal eggs or nestlings so they can be eaten. Additionally, these snakes stalk mice and other rodents and amphibians through tall grass. Once the snake grabs its prey, it wraps its strong body around the prey until the prey stops breathing.

No. While the snake's massive size is impressive, they are not aggressive.

They are native to the mid-eastern United States in North America. That includes South Carolina, Kentucky, Ohio and Missouri, among other states.

They feed on mice, rats, frogs and bird eggs.

They will bite, but are more likely to freeze or try to escape.

yes and no. These snakes are capable of biting humans, but they are not poisonous.

No, they are shy and don't want to interact with humans.

The main differences between copperhead and black rat snakes are their appearance and how they attack and defend. Black rat snakes are larger and heavier than copperheads.