Types of black snakes
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- Scientifically and taxonomically, black snakes belong to the genus Pseudosnakes .
- There are nine species of such snakes in this genus.
- However, there are other snakes with the "black" descriptor in their names, which also fall into a different category.
For most of us, the term "black snake" can refer to almost any snake that is mostly black. From this point of view, there may be hundreds of snakes that are black snakes, but scientifically and taxonomically, black snakes belong to a specific genus and have very specific characteristics. So, which view is correct, and why does it matter? Also, what are the different types of black snakes?
Let's dig into what a black snake really is, and why the way we classify and discuss the different species of snake is so important. Finally, we'll also highlight what you need to know about the various types of black snakes and what makes them unique.
What is a black snake?
As it turns out, the answer to the seemingly simple question of "what is a black snake" varies greatly depending on who you ask! Of course, for most people, almost all snakes are black. But if you asked a herpetologist (such as an animal biologist who specializes in reptiles) the same question, they might have a very different answer.
This is because, scientifically and taxonomically, the "black snake" is actually a specific snake species in the genus Pseudosnakes . Notably, the genus belongs to the cobra family, which makes this particular type of black snake closely related to other cobras such as cobras and mambas.
There are 9 species of snakes in the genus Pseudechis . Together they are called black snakes, and most of them have the word "black" somewhere in their common name.
However, there are also many other species of snakes that span multiple genera and families, and they are mostly black with "black" in their common name, most notably:
- Black Rat Snake, Pantherophis obsoletus
- Black King Snake, Lampropeltis nigra
- Southern black racer, Coluber constrictor priapus
- Northern black racer, Coluber boa constrictor
- Black swamp snake, Liodytes pygaea
- Black Whip Snake, Dolichophis jugularis
- Black garter snake, Elapsoidea nigra
Pseudechis : The "Official" Black Snake
As mentioned earlier, the term "black snake" is more difficult to define than "venomous snake" or "boa constrictor". It may refer to dozens of different species of snakes spanning multiple genera and even families.
Taxonomically, however, there is a specific genus of elapid snakes collectively known as "black snakes". This would be the genus Pseudechis , with nine species, most of which have the word "black" somewhere in their common names. They are both native to parts of Australia and/or New Guinea. Like other snakes in the cobra family, such as cobras and kraits, they have a strong venom and prominent, constantly erect fangs at the front of the mouth.
In terms of appearance, the nine species are mostly similar but also different. They vary in color, but are mostly gray, dark brown, or—you guessed it—a rich, glossy black. They are generally very slender but very large, most of them between 5 and 10 feet in length.
The largest species of this group (and perhaps the best known) is the brown king snake Pseudechis australis , also known as the mulga snake. Confusingly, although its common name describes the snake as brown, it is more closely related to the black snake, and thus grouped with the black snake rather than the true brown snake. Its geographic range covers most of the Australian mainland. The other eight species of the genus are as follows:
- Pseudechis butleri Butler Black Snake
- Pseudechis colletti, Colette the black snake
- Pseudechis guttatus blue-bellied black snake
- Pseudechis pailsei eastern pygmy mulga snake
- Pseudechis papuanus Papuan black snake
- Pseudechis porphyriacus Australian black snake
- Pseudechis rossignolii Papua dwarf snake
- Pseudechis weigeli dwarf brown snake
Other Black Snakes: Black Rat Snake ( Pantherophis obsoletus )
Besides the species within the genus Pseudechis , there are many other species of snakes that we also know as black snakes.
One of the most famous snakes in North America is the black rat snake, Pantherophis obsoletus , which is native to much of the eastern United States. Black rat snakes are hardy and adapt well to a variety of habitats, but they prefer temperate, dense forests. They usually live near small bodies of water such as ponds and streams, and are agile on land and in water.
As a type of python, the black rat snake is non-venomous and considered harmless to humans. At first glance, its appearance can be quite intimidating, with its shiny black scales, piercing black eyes, and impressive size, reaching a maximum of around 8 feet. Part of the genus Pantherophis , this snake is closely related to the corn snake Pantherophis guttatus !
Although known for eating large amounts of rodents, the black rat snake is not too picky and will usually also feed on other smaller snakes, various birds and their eggs, lizards, frogs, and just about any small animal they can find .
Other Black Snakes: Black Kingsnake ( Lampropeltis nigra )
In addition to the aforementioned black snakes and black rat snakes, many other species of snakes have the word "black" in their common names. The black king snake is another well-known species that is widespread across much of the United States, especially in the southeast.
Like many other kingsnakes in the Lampropeltis genus, the black kingsnake is an impressively large boa constrictor. On average, it reaches 5 to 6 feet long when fully grown. Its scales are mostly a deep, glossy black, with fine yellow spots or irregular thin stripes all over its body. These little colors make it somewhat unique among the snakes commonly known as black snakes.
Fortunately, black king snakes are non-venomous and generally not aggressive towards humans. In fact, it prefers habitats with lots of places to hide and avoid human contact as much as possible, such as dense forests, rock and log piles, and dense bushes near bodies of water.
Other black snakes: Black Racers ( Coluber constrictor )
Another snake often referred to simply as the black snake is the eastern black snake, a species similar in appearance to (and often confused with) the black rat snake. The two species also have similar geographic ranges, with a lot of overlap.
This particular species consists of as many as 11 subspecies, with the northern and southern black racehorses generally being the most common and widespread subspecies in most of North America. They can even be found as far south as northern Mexico and as far north as southern Canada.
Since they belong to the Colubridae family, all 11 subspecies of the eastern black game snake are non-venomous and rely on ambushes and blackmail to take down their prey. As the name suggests, these snakes are very agile. They are excellent for moving quickly on land and water, and are even skilled climbers, willing to feed on almost any animal small enough for them to take down effectively.
more black snakes
We've covered the three main types of black snakes, but as we've also mentioned before, the term can be a bit tricky to define, depending on who you ask. Incredibly, there are many more species of snakes that have the word "black" somewhere in their common names!
Take, for example, the black swamp snake Liodytes pygaea , a pure black snake native to the southeastern United States. A member of the snake subfamily Natricinae, it is highly aquatic and an expert at hunting prey such as fish and amphibians. It is also often confused with the black rat snake and black race snake mentioned above, although it is much smaller than both species, averaging only 10 to 15 inches long.
Then there's the black whip snake Dolichophis jugularis, another non-venomous snake native to countries in Eastern Europe and the Middle East such as Iran, Iraq, Greece, Turkey and Syria. Covered in smooth black scales, the slender snake has three distinct subspecies and is also non-venomous.
Finally, perhaps the most recognizable of the three heterogeneous species is the black garter snake , Elapsoidea nigra . However, it's actually not related to the common garter snake we know and love in North America! Unlike the unassuming, shy garter snakes of the genus Thamnophis , the black garter snake is venomous and native to Kenya and Tanzania as far as Central Africa.
In short, depending on where you live, a "black snake" could be one of dozens of different species!
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about the author
Hailey Pruett is a non-binary content writer, editor, and lifelong animal lover living in East Tennessee. They grew up on a hobby farm and owned and cared for a variety of animals, from the mundane (dogs, cats) to the more exotic and unusual (lizards, frogs, goats, llamas, chickens, and more!). When they're not busy writing about how awesome reptiles and amphibians are, they're usually playing arcane indie video games, collecting Squishmallows, or hanging out with their cat, Hugo. Their favorite animals are bearded dragons, salamanders and marine iguanas.
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