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Rat Snakes in Louisiana

Updated on September 16, 2014
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Louisiana has abundant wildlife, including reptiles such as snakes and turtles. All are welcome in Yvonne's backyard wildlife habitat.

Non-venomous Reptile: Elaphe obsolete

Rat Snakes are attractively marked, non-poisonous constrictors which eat, primarily, rats and mice and some birds and eggs. They are known for their excellent climbing ability and their great length which can be up to 101 inches.

In the south rat snakes are often called Chicken Snakes because they are usually found around barn yards and have been known to eat eggs and chicks. Rat snakes do a great service for humans as rodent control agents.

 

Rat Snakes are Beneficial Reptiles That Eat Rodents

Elaphe obsolete (Say)

Photo of Texas Rat Snake copyright by Y.L. Bordelon

Rat Snakes are very long (up to 101 inches), with uniformly black dorsum or a pattern of large dark blotches on a gray-brown or yellowish brown background, belly mottled or checkered. Rat Snakes show the most regional variation in body pattern and color than any other North American Snake. Some are very colorful and quite attractive.

In Louisiana there are two subspecies: the Black Rat Snake (Elaphe o. obsolete) of the North and Central areas and the Texas Rat Snake (E. O. lindheimeri) of the south. Common names include: Chicken Snake (which is what we used to call this very long snake), Oak Snake and Goose Snake.

 

Scientific Name Change

Texas Rat Snake (E. O. lindheimeri)

Occurs in South Louisiana, and is characterized by dark blotches on a gray-brown or yellowish brown background.

Recent work with Taxonomy by herpetologists places the New World Rat Snakes in the genus Pantherophis rather than Elaphe. Genetic studies also indicate that the current species E. obsolete may be composed of three distinct species: the eastern rat snake (E. alleghaniensis), the Texas rat snake (E. obsolete), and the gray rat snake (E. spiloides), with no recognized subspecies.

Reference: Whit Gibbons and Mike Dorcas: Snakes of the Southeast

Black Rat Snake

Black Rat Snake, Pantherophis obsoletus
Black Rat Snake, Pantherophis obsoletus | Source

Louisiana Species

Black Rat Snake (Elaphe o. obsolete)

Common in North and Central Louisiana is characterized by a uniformly black dorsum or at least a dark background that contrasts very little with the blotches.

Louisiana Rat Snakes
Louisiana Rat Snakes

A. Corn snake, Elaphe guttata guttata

B. Great Plains rat snake, Elaphe guttata emoryi

C. Adult black rat snake, Elaphe obsoleta obsoleta

D. Juvenile black rat snake, Elaphe obsoleta

E. Adult Texas rat snake, Elaphe obsoleta lindheimeri

Photo Reference: Harold A. Dundee and Douglas A. Rossman, The Amphibians and Reptiles of Louisiana

 

Rat Snakes

Habits and Habitat

Rat Snake with Lumps from Meal
Rat Snake with Lumps from Meal

Snakes of the Southeast

Snakes Of The Southeast (Wormsloe Foundation Nature Book) (Wormsloe Foundation Nature Book Ser.)
Snakes Of The Southeast (Wormsloe Foundation Nature Book) (Wormsloe Foundation Nature Book Ser.)

This book is one of a fabulous series about animals of the Southeast. The photographs and information are outstanding in each of these books. You also may want to check out Frogs of the Southeast and Turtles of the Southeast.

 

Rat Snake habitat is widely varied. In the northern part of the state they occur on roads and in swamps, wooded areas, pastures, briar patches, cultivated fields, open sandy places, houses and barns. In southern Louisiana specimens were found near barns and houses, in trees and bushes and near swamps and bayous. Rat snakes are constrictors and their prey includes small mammals, birds and bird eggs, which they either swallow whole or break inside the throat by squeezing it with their vertibrae. Young rat snakes feed mostly on tree frogs, small lizards and baby rodents.

Notice the lumps in this Texas Rat Snake. It apparently has just had a nice meal.

 

Reproduction

Rat Snakes are egg layers and will lay a clutch of from 6 to 44 eggs (but usually about 15 eggs) in stump holes, tree holes or other dark, moist situations. Several females may nest together. Rat snakes have been know to return to the same area year after year. The eggs hatch about 2 months after laying.

 

Corn and Rat Snakes Book

Corn & Rat Snakes (Complete Herp Care)
Corn & Rat Snakes (Complete Herp Care)

A great book for the herp-lover about how to care for corn and rat snakes.

 

Interactions with Rat Snakes - The Pileated Woodpecker and the Rat Snake

Rat Snake Climbing a Wall
Rat Snake Climbing a Wall

This Texas Rat Snake demonstrates the climbing ability of the species. Rat Snakes can suspend over one third of their body in the air.

Pileated Woodpecker and Rat Snakes

Pileated woodpeckers are large birds which are a match for rat snakes.
Pileated woodpeckers are large birds which are a match for rat snakes. | Source

The pine and hardwood mixed forest in which we live is prime habitat for Texas Rat Snakes so we have many interactions with them. One of the most interesting occurred one weekend, not long after we bought our place. I was working to clear one of the areas in the garden of invasive imported plants and vines, when I noticed a Pileated Woodpecker acting strangely about 40 feet up in a Loblolly Pine tree.

The bird was giving it's jungle call and pecking on the side of the tree. Then it would fly down a few feet and repeat the process. After it moved down about 15 feet, I was able to see the Rat Snake. The Woodpecker was herding the snake down the tree.

Texas Rat Snake

Texas rat snake showing its kinked defense position.
Texas rat snake showing its kinked defense position. | Source

As the pair got closer, I found a long stick and waited at the bottom of the tree. When the snake was in reach, I placed the stick near it so that it could crawl onto it. It worked like a charm and in minutes I had the snake in my hands. I placed it in an empty aquarium with a lid (that once housed hamsters) and waited until my husband got home.

It was a beautiful snake, but since we had erected many bluebird nest boxes in the area where it was found, we decided to relocate it to the riparian area down by the Tchefuncte River where there would be plenty of small mammals for it to eat.

Corn Snake Book

Corn Snakes: The Comprehensive Owner's Guide (The Herpetocultural Library)
Corn Snakes: The Comprehensive Owner's Guide (The Herpetocultural Library)

A good guide for keeping corn snakes. This excellent book is illustrated by numerous color photographs showing why corn snakes are the most beautiful and best pet snakes in the world.

 

Texas Rat Snake Climbing a Tree

Texas Rat Snake Climbing
Texas Rat Snake Climbing

Rat Snake Poll

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Rat Snake Capture & Release

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I caught this young Texas Rat Snake in a Satsuma tree, seconds before it reached a Cardinal's nest.The parents alerted me to the danger & I came to the rescue. Rat Snakes are constrictors.Here's the baby Cardinal, safe & sound in its nest. It will probably fledge in a few days.I took the Rat Snake down in the woods, far away from the house and released it in our habitat.
I caught this young Texas Rat Snake in a Satsuma tree, seconds before it reached a Cardinal's nest.
I caught this young Texas Rat Snake in a Satsuma tree, seconds before it reached a Cardinal's nest.
The parents alerted me to the danger & I came to the rescue. Rat Snakes are constrictors.
The parents alerted me to the danger & I came to the rescue. Rat Snakes are constrictors.
Here's the baby Cardinal, safe & sound in its nest. It will probably fledge in a few days.
Here's the baby Cardinal, safe & sound in its nest. It will probably fledge in a few days.
I took the Rat Snake down in the woods, far away from the house and released it in our habitat.
I took the Rat Snake down in the woods, far away from the house and released it in our habitat.

Rat Snake on Zazzle

An unusual yellow black rat snake.
An unusual yellow black rat snake. | Source

Kingsnake Skateboard

Speckled kingsnakes on a Louisiana sunset background adorn this unusual skateboard.
Speckled kingsnakes on a Louisiana sunset background adorn this unusual skateboard. | Source

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    • profile image

      kaytee 14 months ago

      I have run into the same rat snake twice within three days. Once it was in a pile of sticks with its head poking out. Second time it was coiled around my yucca plant three and a half times

    • FallenAngel 483 profile image

      FallenAngel 483 5 years ago

      Lots of really good info on a nice non-venomous snake. Great job.

    • pimbels lm profile image

      pimbels lm 6 years ago

      Nicely done. I do like to watch them, but I stay far away. Great lens, thank you.

    • profile image

      enslavedbyfaeries 8 years ago

      Unfortunately, I inherited my grandmother's fear of snakes. It's a terrible thing because I know what a great service they provide to nature as you've done an excellent job of illustrating here.

    • profile image

      rio1 8 years ago

      Great photos and informative. Keep up the good work.