The eastern rat snake (Pantherophis alleghaniensis) is a lengthy reptile that is part of the family Colubridae. These glossy black creatures reside in eastern regions of the United States, including Pennsylvania, Virginia, Connecticut and Vermont. Eastern rat snakes are often found in woodsy forest environments, wetlands and agricultural sites.
Eastern rat snakes have body lengths of between 47 and 72 inches. Because of their length, they are often a source of intimidation to human beings. Despite that, eastern rat snakes do not produce venom and are not poisonous. For the most part, they possess meek dispositions. If a person attempts to pick one up or blocks one from leaving, however, the snake may bite out of self-defense, so be extremely careful nonetheless.
When eastern rat snakes are frightened, they attempt, like many other animals, to make themselves appear more imposing. They do this by physically altering the form of their heads -- just temporarily. When in defense mode, eastern rat snakes' heads take on flatter and more level appearances. If an eastern rat snake's head is shaped like a flat triangle, then you probably know what is going on. Along with "head-morphing," defensive eastern rat snakes sometimes emit aggressively unpleasant anal gland odors when disturbed.
The undersides of eastern rat snakes' bodies feature markings that are similar to argyle patterns, although scattered and inconsistent. These lower regions of the snakes are usually a combination of a couple of different colors -- think white or off-white and brownish or gray, for example. These markings are especially prominent closer to their heads.
Eastern rat snakes are frequently considered beneficial creatures when it comes to pest management, particularly for rodents. They often enter into human structures -- think farmhouses -- where they feed enthusiastically on rats and mice. Although they help manage pests with their appetite for wee rodents, they do not hesitate to feed on juvenile chickens, much to the dismay of farmers. They also occasionally eat bugs.
Eastern rat snakes have a talent for climbing, and are not an uncommon sight up in trees. They often retreat in tree hollows -- especially those carved out by woodpeckers' pointy beaks. Since they are often so high up, it is not rare for one of these guys to slip into the attic of a residence.
- Massachussetts Division of Fisheries & Wildlife: Eastern Ratsnake
- Ohio Department of Natural Resources: Eastern Ratsnake
- Florida Museum of Natural History: Eastern Rat Snake
- Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries: Eastern Ratsnake
- Maryland Department of Natural Resources: Eastern Ratsnake
- Friends of the Oswegatchie Hills Nature Preserve: Wildlife of the Month