Eastern Ratsnake

(Pantherophis alleghaniensis)

Common Name:
Eastern Ratsnake (AKA Black Rat Snake)

Scientific Name: Pantherophis alleghaniensis

Reptiles Alive Name: “Rachel”

Hisssstory: Rachel was a professor’s pet at Marymount University in Arlington VA. He donated Rachel to Reptiles Alive in October 2009.

RA Diet: Rachel likes to eat frozen mice and rats that are thawed and warmed before she eats them.

Natural Diet: Ratsnakes dine on eggs, small mammals, birds, and lizards.

Range: Ratsnakes are found in the eastern United States from New York to Florida and west to the Great Plains. Eastern ratsnakes are the largest native snake in the DC metro area.

Habitat: Ratsnakes live in forests, farmland, swamps, and even in buildings and houses!

Size: Eastern ratsnakes grow 4 – 6 feet long, the record is a giant 8 feet 4 inch snake. In many parts of their range, they are the largest snake species.

Lifespan: Ratsnakes can live 20 years or more.

Reproduction: Eastern ratsnakes breed April-June. Females lay 5-30 eggs that hatch in about 90 days, usually around September or October.

Conservation: Ratsnakes are harmless to humans and highly beneficial to us because of all the rats, mice, and other rodents they consume. They also serve as food to other animals including eagles and hawks. Like all animals, snakes play an important role in the health of the environment. If you see a snake, please leave it alone.

Cool Facts: There are many myths and misunderstandings with ratsnakes. Baby ratsnakes are often confused with the venomous copperhead snake because they have a pattern of squares and diamonds down their back that slowly fades to black as they get bigger.
Ratsnakes also rattle their tails when they are frightened, and flatten their head into a triangle shape. Due to these two traits, there is a myth that ratsnakes can mate with copperheads and rattle snakes to produce venomous hybrid offspring. It is actually physically impossible for ratsnakes to mate with either copperheads or rattlesnakes.

Snake identification can be tricky – even for snake experts. It is always a good idea to leave snakes alone.

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