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Species Description

Rat Snake

Elaphe obsoleta


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Classification

Phylum: Chordata
Subphylum: Vertebrata
Class: Reptilia
Order: Squamata Suborder: Serpentes
Family: Colubridae

Description

The Eastern Rat Snake is a variable species in terms of its color and pattern. There are three color phases or subspecies in Georgia - the Black Rat Snake Elaphe obsoleta obsoleta, the Yellow Rat Snake Elaphe obsoleta quadrivittata, and the Gray Rat Snake Elaphe obsoleta spiloides. Juveniles are blotched in all subspecies, but adult color differs. The Black Rat Snake is uniformly black. (Some individuals retain traces of the blotched juvenile pattern.) The belly is an irregular black and white checkerboard pattern with extensive black smudging in the white areas. The Yellow Rat Snake is uniform greenish to greenish yellow, with four dark brown or black longitudinal stripes. The belly is cream to yellowish and mottled with gray. An adult Gray Rat Snake retains the blotched juvenile pattern. The background color can vary from dark to very light gray or pale brown. Blotches can be brown or gray varying from pale to very dark. This species is one of the longest snakes in the United States. The record is 256.5 cm (101 in) in total length. The adult usually measures 107 - 183 cm (42.1 - 72 in).

Life Cycle

The Eastern Rat Snake breeds in the spring and lays from 5 - 44 eggs from June to August. Eggs are laid in rotting hollow tree stumps, in rotten logs, piles of rotten timbers, or compost. The eggs hatch from late August to early October. Hatchlings average about 30.5 cm (12 in) in total length.

Natural History

The Eastern Rat Snake is most common in or near forested areas, forest edges with old fields, and abandoned buildings. It is most active in the day and can be active year round if the temperature is not too cold. All Rat Snakes are powerful constrictors. Adults and juveniles eat rodents and other small mammals, as well as birds and bird eggs. Juveniles also eat frogs and lizards. The Eastern Rat Snake is an excellent climber and climbs high into trees to hunt for bird eggs or squirrels. This species is called the "Chicken Snake" by many people because they can be found in hen houses where they eat eggs or chicks. If cornered or threatened, a Rat Snake will vibrate its tail rapidly. If this is done in an area of loose leaves, it can resemble the sound of a rattlesnake rattle.

Range

The adaptable Eastern Rat Snake ranges from New York west to eastern Nebraska then south to southern Texas and across all of the southeastern United States. This species can be found throughout Georgia. The ranges of the three Georgia subspecies overlap through the central portion of the state.

Conservation Status

The Eastern Rat Snake is considered a common species throughout its range.

Similar Species

All Rat Snakes of the Genus Elaphe have weakly keeled scales. Racers of the Genus Coluber and Coachwhips of the Genus Masticophis have smooth scales.