Species group: Corn and Rat Snakes
Other common names: Eastern Rat Snake, Pilot Black Snake, Black Snake
Scientific name: Elaphe obsoleta obsoleta
The Black Rat Snake in its many color phases was among the first snakes to be firmly established in the North American pet trade, and remains a staple today. Suitable for novices yet interesting enough for advanced hobbyists, it usually makes an ideal reptile pet.
The Black Rat Snake ranges from southwestern New England , southern Wisconsin, and southern Ontario, Canada through much of the eastern and central USA to the Florida Keys and Louisiana.
These adaptable, semi-arboreal constrictors utilize forests, fields, rocky hillsides, swamps, and overgrown suburban lots, and are drawn to farms, stone walls, and abandoned buildings in search of rodents.
Appearance / health:
Most Black Rat Snakes are uniform black in color, with an off-white underside, but some show gray blotches and stripes. Populations from North Carolina through the Florida Keys are yellow and orange in color. Formerly classified as the Everglades Rat Snake and the Yellow Ratsnake, they are now considered to be color variations of the Black Rat Snake. Juveniles are pale gray and patterned in dark gray or brown. Hobbyists have developed a number of unique color morphs and hybrids with related species. Black ratsnakes average 3 – 5 ½ feet in length, with a record of 8 ½.
Black Rat Snakes are exceptionally hardy, with a record captive longevity of 34 years. “Blister disease” and other skin infections can take hold if your pet is kept in a damp terrarium, and as with most snakes they may be subject to mites or, more rarely, inclusion body disease.
Behavior / temperament:
Young Black Rat Snakes may be defensive, but most calm down quickly and take well to handling. However, as with all snakes, they will bite when stressed and must be handled with care.
Hatchlings may be raised in 10 gallon aquariums, while average-sized adults require a 20-40 gallon tank. The screen top should always be secured with clips or locks. Stout, well-anchored branches serve well as basking sites, and a hide box should always be available. Newspapers, washable terrarium liners, eucalyptus mulch or aspen bedding work well as substrates.
An ambient temperature of 72-82 F with a basking temperature of 90 F should be maintained. Large enclosures are necessary if a thermal gradient is to be established. Thermal gradients allow snakes to regulate their body temperature by moving from hot to cooler areas.
These powerful constrictors hunt on the ground and in the trees, preying upon chipmunks, mice, squirrels, voles, lizards, birds, and bats. Pets do fine on a diet comprised of mice and small rats. Some types of wood chips can lodge in the mouth and cause wounds during feeding; feed your snake in a bare-bottomed enclosure to prevent this.
Black Rat Snakes breed most consistently if chilled to 50 F (after a 2 week fast) for 6-8 weeks. Mating occurs from March to June in most regions, with the 6-30 eggs being deposited 25-40 days thereafter. A second clutch may be produced in late summer or early fall. At 80-82 F, incubation time averages 50-75 days. The young are 8- 13 inches long upon hatching.
Written by Frank Indiviglio
intermediate snake keepers, Rat Snakes Friendly, agile snakes
handle, wild caught female, picky eater, beginner snake, disapearing act, Wild Caught pair
suprisingly large feeds, white chin, education ambassadorwe, semifull brumation period
Backyard Snake Adventures
While I am very pro-snake in general, I recommend against trying to tame a wild snake.
One spring Saturday as we were setting up our pool, we found a five foot rat snake under a box. Using quick thinking, my husband collected it in a large box and brought it up to the house to show the kids. At the time our 75 gallon tank housed 9 toads, which seemed generally compatible with the snake, so he decided to dump it in with them so we could better observe.
I'll be honest, a giant glass box looks a lot smaller with a five-foot snake in it. We secured the lid with bricks and filled our eyes with this big backyard dweller. Strangely, he did not appear as entertained with us. He curled up and hissed at us, even striking the glass repeatedly. Yikes! Eventually we left him in strike position and went to dinner, thinking he would eventually settle down.
A few hours later, we returned home to the sound of rattling bricks coming from the snake's room. As we peeked around the door, we realized he had worked his way through the lid and was almost entirely on TOP of the tank. Time for him to go back outside!
My husband gingerly moved the rat snake off the lid and back in the box. We brought him outside and released him on the gravel walk in front of the door. But he didn't want to leave, he wanted to pick a fight now that we didn't have that pesky glass wall between us! He hung around for another 15 minutes, glaring at us and hissing his disapproval. That night I learned that, while beneficial, rat snakes are quite aggressive and you don't want to get on their bad side.
We had a fun adventure with that rat snake while avoiding trouble, because we knew a few important tips about snakes. First, we studied the dangerous snakes in our area. Everyone here knows exactly what a rattlesnake, a copperhead, a coral snake, and a cottonmouth (water moccasin) looks like. All the others get to stay because they have a beneficial role in controlling mice and other small pests. Second, although we knew this was a beneficial snake, we still handled it carefully at arm's length. Toxic venom or no, a big snake is still wild and unpredictable. Finally, we know that knowledge is power, and observation increases knowledge. We encourage our kids to explore their world with respect but not fear. This includes bringing the wildlife up close in a controlled situation so we can develop familiarity with it. And then we returned it to its natural environment, knowing that if we left it alone it would be no further threat to us.
I encourage potential snake handlers to be aware, be careful, and be respectful of wild snakes. If you want to own a snake, captive born ones with a known docile temperament are really the way to go..
From HopewellMama May 5 2014 10:29PM
Black rat snakes are a large colubrid, very similar in care to a corn snake. They're pretty simple to set up a tank for, but black rats get a foot or so bigger, and a bit more chunky. These are still occasionally wild caught in North America - if you want any chance of taming this snake make sure you get one as a captive bred baby.
In my experience black rat snakes are also a little bit more unpredictable, a little bit more aggressive - especially as babies - and a little bit more food orientated. All these things mean if you're looking for a beginner snake, a corn snake is more suitable, but that doesn't mean these don't make good pets too if you're willing to be patient and work with them.
They're also available in a few colour morphs just as other rat snakes are, the photo I've attached is of one of my "white sided" black rat snakes which is exactly the same species, but very different looks..
From Athravan Jun 16 2015 9:01AM
A touchy snake
This was another snake I picked up in the wilds. Found him in a tree and took him home. I was a kid at the time (13 maybe?) and my parents let me keep him. He was wild so this might not go for all rat snakes, but he was temperamental. Tried nipping at me a lot, never biting though. They're all black, so not too much to look at. I didn't even have the fortitude to keep him more than a year before letting him back into the wild..
From paulyoder Sep 22 2014 6:39PM