Black Rat Snake


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Common Name
Black Rat Snake
Category
Reptiles
ScientificName
Elaphe obsoleta
Kingdom
Animalia
Phylum
Chordata
Class
Reptilia
Order
Squamata
Family
Colubridae
Genus
Elaphe
Species
obsoleta
SubSpecies
obsoleta

 

Description
Shiny brown to black, sometimes grayish, with occasional cream or yellowish coloring between scales most visible when snake is extended; coloration darkens with age and older adults are usually black; belly is light with some indications of black and yellowish checkering; white chin; body flatter on bottom; scales on upper part of body weakly keeled; juvenile with patterns of brown to gray marks on light colored body, similar to gray rat snake
Size
4 – 5.5 feet (1.2 – 1.7 m) long; sometimes longer
Ecological Role
  • The black rat snake is useful on farms because it helps control the mice and rats. It is also an important bird-nest predator, eating the eggs and sometimes the young. It is a constrictor, so it kills its prey by wrapping its body around the prey and squeezing it until it dies. It hunts during the day and often in trees.
  • The black rat snake is prey to red-tailed hawks and owls. Kingsnakes, black racers, and cottonmouths may feed on young black rat snakes. Skunks, raccoons, weasels, and other carnivores may dig out nests and feed on the eggs.
Fun Facts
  • Black rat snakes are good climbers and can be found in trees or in a barn. Unlike humans, they depend on the environment to help control their body temperature so they like habitats where forests and grasslands meet. They can move into the sun to warm their bodies or into the shade to cool down. The home range of a black rat snake may vary from 23 to 29 acres.
  • Black rat snakes are shy animals. They usually freeze when encountered, drawing the body into a series of kinks that make the snake resemble a crooked stick. If picked up or disturbed, they may shake the tail and release a foul-smelling odor. The black rat snake may bite, but the bite is non-venomous and should be treated like any other wild animal bite.
  • The black rat snake is one of Kentucky’s largest snakes. Historically, it was called the pilot black snake because of a myth that it would lead venomous snakes to safety. It has also been called a cowsucker because of a myth that it would steal milk from a cow. Neither of these stories is true.
Food
Mice, rats, bats, and other small mammals, birds, salamanders, frogs, lizards, occasionally other snakes, including copperheads
Cover
 
Nest
No nest; female deposits eggs and moves on; clutches of eggs are deposited under logs, loose dirt, leaf litter; can also be found in sawdust piles, under boards, in compost piles; sites may be used repeatedly
Breeding
April to early June; males track females by following scent trails; eggs are laid in June and July
Eggs
6 – 30 per clutch; white, elongated, leathery shells often adhering to each other; usually laid early July in rotting wood such as interior portion of a dead tree or decaying log, an old sawdust pile or woodpile, or within a thick layer of garden mulch; hatch in 10 – 11 weeks
Habitat
Rocky hillsides, farmland, fields, woodlands, areas where forest and grasslands meet; often found on limbs of trees, sometimes in urban areas
Kentucky Distribution
Statewide
Life Cycle
 
Life Span
 
Life Stage
 
Reproduction
 
Seasonal Changes
The black rat snake moves off to hibernate in hollow trees, stumps, and rock ledges around late October. It may share a hibernaculum forming aggregates, or groups, with other snakes such as racers, copperheads, and timber rattlers in lesser numbers. It emerges from hibernation in late March to early April to begin the breeding season.
Spawning
 
Status
Common
Uses
 
Voice
 
Young
Light gray with dark patches on back and tail; coloration darkens with age; dark line extends across snout, through eye and ends at corner of mouth; belly checkered with black and white; 10 – 14 in. (25.4 – 35.6 cm) at birth
What We Can Do
  • The black rat snake is a nonvenomous snake, but since most people fear snakes, it often falls prey to a human. Learning to identify this snake could be useful since it is such a beneficial animal.
  • Loss of habitat due to conversion of forests to agricultural or urban areas is a threat to this snake. Crop fields, pastures, and mowed lawns offer poor habitat for the black rat snake.
Host
 
Diagnosis and Control
 
Interesting Facts
 
Contributed By
 
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