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Eastern Rat Snake

Black Rat Snake

Eastern Rat Snake

Pantherophis alleghaniensis

Status: Not Listed

Classification: Reptile

Description

Eastern rat snakes, formerly known as black rat snakes, are large non-venomous snakes between 3.5 and 7 feet (one and two meters) long. They have shiny black scales on their back and a light colored belly, and their throat and chin are white. The head of an eastern rat snake is wider than the neck and the rest of the body.

Range

Eastern rat snakes live in fields, woodlands, farmlands, and around suburban communities from Connecticut to South Carolina and west to the middle of Kansas and Oklahoma. Predators include hawks and other snakes.

Diet

Eastern rat snakes are excellent swimmers and climbers. They will use these skills to catch a variety of food, from bird eggs to frogs. They are the snake most likely to be seen around buildings hunting for rodents, amphibians, and young birds. Eastern rat snakes are constrictor snakes and will use their body to suffocate their prey.

Behavior

Rat snakes emit a foul-smelling odor when they feel threatened by a predator. This musk imitates what a poison would taste like.

Life History

The typical breeding season for this snake is from May to late June. During this time, male snakes search for females and will fight one another for the right to mate with a female. A female will lay between six and two dozen eggs, usually in late July. The eggs may take between five and seven weeks to develop and hatch. Hatchlings will stay near their hatching site for up to two years.

Conservation

The eastern rat snake’s population is considered stable. However, these snakes are often mistreated by humans who are frightened of them. Although eastern rat snakes do not usually attack when threatened, there have been extreme cases of eastern rat snakes charging at predators. Despite making occasional appearances throughout the summer, eastern rat snakes are actually very shy and at the sight of danger will either freeze or slither away. Eastern rat snakes also produce a strong foul odor when scared to deter predators and humans.

Fun Fact

Eastern rat snakes brumate in colder months. Brumation is similar to hibernation — it allows the snake to be mostly asleep, but still wake up for occasional activities, such as drinking water.

Sources

Animal Diversity Web, University of Michigan Museum of Zoology

Maryland Zoo

Michigan Department of Natural Resources

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