- Pets and Animals
Rat Snakes in Louisiana
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
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
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.
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
Habits and Habitat
Snakes of the Southeast
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.
Corn and Rat Snakes
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
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
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
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
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
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.