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Black Rat Snake

Black Rat Snake

The Black Rat Snake is One of the Largest in the U.S.

The Black Rat Snake is a species found in the United States from Minnesota to Louisiana and eastward to the Atlantic Coast. The snake has been found as far into New England as Massachusetts but is on the Endangered Species List there. The snake can grow to be 8-½ feet long, making it one of the largest snakes in North America. Its average size is around six feet long. The snake is non-venomous.

As you might guess from the name, the Black Rat Snake is black in color with a white throat and neck. The young may have more of a color pattern with fine white, yellow or red lines around the scales or blotches of color which disappear by the time the snake reaches three years old. Baby snakes are around a foot long when born.

The Black Rat Snake prefers different types of habitat. For instance, they can be found in heavily wooded areas, or in meadows and grassland under the cover of boards, rocks or tin. They can also be found above, climbing trees up to forty feet high and hiding there for days. They hunt in the early morning and early evening. Because of their black color, the Black Rat Snake blends into the forest floor and trees and becomes invisible. People who study snakes often try to find them along the roadsides on hot, humid nights after a storm.

Black rat snakes do bite, although they are said to calm down in captivity. When frightened they also vibrate their tales like a rattlesnake to scare away predators. This leads to some being killed by people fearing that they are rattlesnakes. They are also killed by people who are just plain afraid of a six-foot snake.

The diet of the Black Rat Snake consists of mice, voles, shrews, squirrels, chipmunks, birds and the eggs of birds. They are constrictors and suffocate their prey by wrapping themselves around it and tightening their muscles. They hibernate in the winter  and will inhabit the same den as the Timber Rattlesnake and Copperheads. They mate in the spring.

The female places 12-15 eggs in the rotten wood of a tree or decaying vegetation towards the end of the summer, and the eggs hatch in the fall. Sometimes the snake eggs are deposited in garden mulch--it’s a big surprise to gardeners when the young snakes appear. Unfortunately, they are often killed because when the baby snakes are frightened they will coil defensively, hiss and strike out. Plus, their vibrating tail makes many people think they are baby rattlesnakes

The Black Rat Snake is also known as a “Pilot Snake,” because of an erroneous belief that the snake led rattlesnakes to safe places for dens. They have also been called “Chicken Snakes,” because they were often found near chicken coops where they probably stole eggs.




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