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What is a Black Rat Snake?

The Black Rat Snake is a non-venomous serpent, a master climber and rodent hunter, vital for maintaining ecological balance. With its sleek, dark scales, it thrives in diverse habitats across eastern North America. Discover how this fascinating reptile coexists with humans and the role it plays in our ecosystem. What other secrets does the Black Rat Snake hold? Continue reading to uncover more.
Tara Barnett
Tara Barnett

The black rat snake, also called a black snake, is a type of non-venomous snake found wild primarily in central and eastern areas of North America. These snakes are a popular breed as pets, so they are also found in households all over the world. As adults, they are usually black with a white area at the throat and a white belly with gray patches. They are known to eat mice and rats, as well as other small living creatures such as insects, lizards, and chipmunks, or sometimes bird eggs.

The black rat snake is a constrictor, meaning that it tightens around its prey until the animal can no longer breath. Once the prey is dead, the snake eats it whole. If eggs are being consumed, those are swallowed whole as well.

A rat snake may feast upon mice.
A rat snake may feast upon mice.

At birth, the black snake is usually gray with black patches along its back. In addition to the typical black coloration, several mutations also exist. There are both red and white albino varieties of the black snake pattern, which usually manifest as patches of red or yellow on a white or buff background. While these mutations do appear in the wild, these varieties might be overrepresented in captivity because black rat snakes are sometimes bred selectively for just these characteristics.

A black rat snake can grow to lengths up to 8 feet (2.5 meters). Black snakes are known to be excellent climbers, having the ability to scale trees without branches. They are even known to hide in the holes of trees. These snakes are found all the way from Southern New England to Florida, and as far west as Nebraska. They prefer wooded areas, and can live at both low and high altitudes.

Black rat snakes are usually shy, and will generally freeze or kink up when startled. Even when picked up, they sometimes do not bite. One of the most interesting defense mechanisms is the release of a foul smelling musk that is spread around with the tail in hopes of deterring predators. These snakes are also known to vibrate their tails in dead leaves in order to imitate the sound made by rattlesnakes and thereby scare off possible dangers.

When found in the wild, it is extremely unlikely that a black snake will attempt to harm a human. Although they are often of an intimidating size and color, these snakes are not dangerous to humans. Some snakes make their way into attics and houses in search of prey, but these unwanted animals can be deterred by scattering mothballs on the floor and getting rid of any rodent infestation. Outdoors, it may even be desirable to keep a few black rat snakes around. While they are frightening for some people, they are an excellent means of natural pest control and an important part of many ecosystems.

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Discussion Comments


I had a friend who lived on a farm when I was a kid. His family had several barns and shelters on their property. The buildings made good homes for rats and mice. This attracted the black rat snakes. We would see plenty of them throughout the warm months.

While a couple of these snakes can be beneficial, you should be aware that a female can lay a couple dozen eggs during breeding season and at this rate it will not take long for the snake population to get to be a problem.


I was investigating the attic of an old house we had just purchased, looking for the spot where water was seeping through the roof. In the middle of the floor, I saw a snake skin, I could not believe it was there. I had been in the attic several times previously and the snake skin had not been there.

I am not afraid of snakes as a rule, but I would rather not have them in my house. I could not tell from what type of snake the skin came. My biggest concern was that it might be a poisonous snake.

I found the discarded skin during the winter. Once the weather warmed, I thought we might she the snake in the house. One day when I was doing some work at the house I saw a black snake climbing from the attic vent and down the gutter.

At the time, I didn't know what type of snake it was, but after reading this article I think it was a black rat snake. It was at least six feet long and the coloring described in the article matches the snake I saw. After that, I saw the snake around he house several times, so we decided to trap it and relocate it.

I have heard that snakes can be territorial. That one seemed to have no intentions of moving on, and I did not want him back in the attic the following winter.

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    • A rat snake may feast upon mice.
      By: Anatolii
      A rat snake may feast upon mice.