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What Is a Black Rat Snake?

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  • Written By: Tara Barnett
  • Edited By: Jacob Harkins
  • Last Modified Date: 14 April 2014
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The black rat snake is a type of non-venomous snake found wild primarily in central and eastern areas of North America. These snakes are a popular breed as pets, so they are also found in households all over the world. As adults, they are usually black with a white area at the throat and a white belly with gray patches. They are known to eat mice and rats, as well as other small living creatures such as insects, lizards, and chipmunks, or sometimes bird eggs.

The black rat snake is a constrictor, meaning that it tightens around its prey until the animal can no longer breath. Once the prey is dead, the snake eats it whole. If eggs are being consumed, those are swallowed whole as well.

At birth, the black rat snake is usually gray with black patches along its back. In addition to the typical black coloration, several mutations also exist. There are both red and white albino varieties of the black rat snake pattern, which usually manifest as patches of red or yellow on a white or buff background. While these mutations do appear in the wild, these varieties might be overrepresented in captivity because black rat snakes are sometimes bred selectively for just these characteristics.

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A black rat snake can grow to lengths up to 8 feet (2.5 meters). Black rat snakes are known to be excellent climbers, having the ability to scale trees without branches. They are even known to hide in the holes of trees. These snakes are found all the way from Southern New England to Florida, and as far west as Nebraska. They prefer wooded areas, and can live at both low and high altitudes.

Black rat snakes are usually shy, and will generally freeze or kink up when startled. Even when picked up, they sometimes do not bite. One of the most interesting defense mechanisms is the release of a foul smelling musk that is spread around with the tail in hopes of deterring predators. These snakes are also known to vibrate its tail in dead leaves in order to imitate the sound made by rattlesnakes and thereby scare off possible dangers.

When found in the wild, it is extremely unlikely that a black rat snake will attempt to harm a human. Although they are often of an intimidating size and color, these snakes are not dangerous to humans. Some snakes make their way into attics and houses in search of prey, but these unwanted animals can be deterred by scattering mothballs on the floor and getting rid of any rodent infestation. Outdoors, it may even be desirable to keep a few black rat snakes around. While they are frightening for some people, they are an excellent means of natural pest control and an important part of many ecosystems.

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