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What is a Rat Snake?

Allison Boelcke
Allison Boelcke

A rat snake is a type of reptile, or cold-blooded creature covered with scales, that primarily resides in areas through the United States. It belongs to the elaphe obsoleta species. The reptile gets its name due to its appearance when it is young. Young rat snakes have similar coloring to the rodent, the gray rat, with a light gray underside and dark gray colored outer scales. As the reptiles mature, its appearance can differ significantly depending on the exact subspecies it belongs to.

There are three main subspecies of the rat snake: black, gray, and yellow. Black rat snakes tend to be more commonly found in the northern regions on the United States, including the state of Michigan and the New England region. The gray subspecies usually reside in more Southern states, such as South Carolina and Georgia. Yellow rat snakes are generally found along the coastal areas of North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida. The size of the rat snake tends to be consistent across the different subspecies with an average length of 40 to 70 inches (101.6 to 177.8 cm).

A juvenile black rat snake.
A juvenile black rat snake.

The rat snake is a variety of constrictor reptile, meaning it can wrap itself around prey and squeeze the prey tightly enough to restrict its movement and breathing. In addition to its constriction ability, the snake can also slither up tall surfaces. If rat snakes feel threatened, they usually remain completely still before shaking its tail and releasing an unpleasant scent as a deterrent to predators. While the reptiles do not tend to be aggressive or engage in confrontations, in some cases they may attack predators in self-defense.

Rats are a common meal for the rat snake.
Rats are a common meal for the rat snake.

The diet of the rat snake can vary depending on its age. Younger rat snakes generally eat small animals, like frogs, lizards, and mice. Once the reptiles reach adulthood, they tend to mostly consume rodents, particularly mice, moles, rats, and chipmunks. They may also eat young birds or bird eggs.

Rat snakes follow a reproductive cycle that usually begins in the two to three months after they come out of hibernation, around the months of April, May, and June. The males will generally release chemicals, known as pheromones, to nearby females, which act as a signal to the females that the males want to reproduce. After the mating, a female rat snake usually lays eggs after about five weeks and buries them in piles of leaves or underneath logs. The eggs then tend to hatch within 70 days. Healthy females can typically go the egg laying process approximately two times each year.

Frequently Asked Questions

What exactly is a rat snake?

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

A rat snake is a non-venomous snake belonging to the genus Pantherophis. These snakes are known for their rodent-hunting prowess, which contributes to their name. They are found across various habitats in North America, Europe, and Asia, and play a crucial role in controlling pest populations, thus benefiting the ecological balance.

How can you identify a rat snake?

A rat snake may eat frogs.
A rat snake may eat frogs.

Rat snakes are characterized by their medium to large size, with adults typically ranging from 3 to 6 feet in length. They have slender bodies, a distinct head shape, and patterns that vary widely depending on the species and region, from solid colors to complex patterns. Their appearance can sometimes be confused with venomous snakes, which is why expert identification is recommended.

What do rat snakes eat?

Rat snakes are primarily carnivorous and have a diet that consists mostly of rodents, which is beneficial for controlling pest populations. They are constrictors, meaning they wrap their bodies around their prey to suffocate it before consumption. Their diet can also include birds, bird eggs, and occasionally amphibians and other small animals.

Are rat snakes dangerous to humans?

Rat snakes pose little to no threat to humans as they are non-venomous and typically avoid confrontation. If threatened, they may exhibit defensive behaviors such as hissing or false strikes, but they rarely bite. Rat snakes are beneficial to humans by keeping rodent populations in check, which can reduce the spread of diseases and crop damage.

Where do rat snakes live?

Rat snakes inhabit a wide range of environments, including forests, farmlands, wetlands, and suburban areas. They are adaptable and can be found in elevations from sea level to high altitudes. Their habitat choice is often influenced by the availability of prey and suitable shelter like rock crevices, hollow logs, and abandoned buildings.

How do rat snakes reproduce?

Rat snakes are oviparous, meaning they lay eggs. Mating typically occurs in the spring, and females lay clutches of 5 to 30 eggs in the early summer. The eggs are often deposited in hidden, warm locations like compost heaps or rotting logs. The young are independent from birth and receive no parental care.

Discussion Comments


I have a mouse problem and I've tried many things to deter them but it doesn't seem to be working. I heard that rat snakes will promptly put an end to a mouse problem. If I purchase a pet rat snake and leave it in my garden, will he go after the mice and survive?

I don't want to do that if it's not going to work, or if the snake won't know how to survive outdoors.

Does anyone have an idea?


@donasmrs-- I have a gray rat snake, she's beautiful.

It's not very difficult to care for a rat snake but if you've never had a pet snake before, you need to learn the basics. I recommend doing a lot of research and speaking to pet stores.

I feed my rat snake frozen rats, I get it from a local pet store. There are also live rats but I don't like feeding my snake those, mainly because I can't tolerate watching the poor rodent dying.

But rats can go a long time before food, there have been times where my rat snake went without food for a month. So that's one good thing about pet rat snakes, you don't need to feed them every day.


I want a pet rat snake. Does anyone have one? Is it very difficult to care for? What do you feed it?

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    • A juvenile black rat snake.
      By: epantha
      A juvenile black rat snake.
    • Rats are a common meal for the rat snake.
      By: Ilia Shcherbakov
      Rats are a common meal for the rat snake.
    • A rat snake may feast upon mice.
      By: Anatolii
      A rat snake may feast upon mice.
    • A rat snake may eat frogs.
      A rat snake may eat frogs.