Creature Feature: Black Rat Snake

Eastern Rat Snake (aka Black Rat Snake)

Pantherophis alleghaniensis (formerlyElaphe obsoleta obsoleta)

Reptiles Alive Name: “Rachel”

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Adult Eastern Ratsnake

Hisssstory: Rachel was a professor’s pet at Marymount University in Arlington VA.  He donated Rachel to Reptiles Alive in October 2009.

RA Diet: Rachel likes to eat frozen mice and rats that are thawed and warmed before she eats them.

Natural Diet: Rat snakes dine on eggs, small mammals, birds, and lizards.

Range: Eastern rat snakes are found in the eastern United States from New York to Florida and west to the Great Plains.

Habitat: Rat snakes live in forests, farmland, swamps, and even in buildings and houses!

Size: Eastern rat snakes grow 4 – 6 feet long, the record is a giant 8 feet 4 inch snake.  In many parts of their range, they are the largest snake species.

Lifespan:
 Rat snakes can live 20 years or more.

Reproduction:
 Eastern rat snakes breed April-June. Females lay 5-30 eggs that hatch in about 90 days, usually around September or October.

Conservation: Rat snakes are harmless to humans and highly beneficial to us because of all the rats, mice, and other rodents they consume.  They also serve as food to other animals including eagles and hawks.   Like all animals, snakes play an important role in the health of the environment.  If you see a snake, please leave it alone.

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Juvenile Eastern Ratsnake

Cool Facts: There are many myths and misunderstandings with rat snakes.  Baby rat snakes are often confused with the venomous copperhead snake because they have a pattern of squares and diamonds down their back that slowly fades to black as they get bigger.  Rat snakes also rattle their tails when they are frightened, and flatten their head into a triangle shape.  Due to these two traits, there is a myth that rat snakes can mate with copperheads and rattle snakes to produce venomous hybrid offspring.  It is actually physically impossible for rat snakes to mate with either copperheads or rattle snakes.  Snake identification can be tricky – even for snake experts.  It is always a good idea to leave snakes alone.