Chicken snakes are not one particular species or type of snake. Instead, this name is applied to several different kinds of reptiles that are nonvenomous and tend to feast on eggs, rats, and small birds. Along with referring to this group of snakes as chicken snakes, there are several other common names applied to the group, including rat snakes, corn snakes, and pine snakes.
The chicken snake is found in various locations around North America. Some species are relatively small in length and diameter, although it is possible for a chicken snake to grow to over seven feet long. Some types will constrict their prey before consumption. Most will coil and attack when they feel cornered or threatened in any way. While their bite is not venomous in most cases, it is usually extremely painful.
There are essentially five species of snake that are identified as a chicken snake. The eastern rat snake, known as elaphe alleghaniensis, is common along the eastern seaboard of the United States and parts of Canada. Elaphe guttata or the corn snake is found in the southeastern US and also parts of the midwest area. Black rat snakes, or elaphe obsoleta, are commonly found in the Great Lakes area, especially in parts of Indiana and Illinois. The gray rat snake, or elaphe spiloides, is very similar to the black rat snake and tends to inhabit rocky areas and open plains. In highly wooded areas in the general vicinity of the border of the United States and Canada, pituophis m melanolcucus, or the northern pine snake is often found.
Many reptiles in this family share several characteristics. First, many of them will constrict prey or attempt to coil around anyone who poses a threat to the snake. All of them will bite when threatened, and are capable of leaving behind an open wound that is extremely painful. Several of these snakes will enjoy small animals such as rats or other prey with as much relish as bird and chicken eggs. Some of the snakes are excellent climbers, allowing them to navigate with ease through trees and swallow bird eggs from the nest.
Because these snakes often consumes rodents, some farmers in rural communities prefer to not kill the snakes. Instead, the chicken snake found near a hen house is captured and released in a wooded area that is far removed from the hens and their eggs. In addition, many farmers will make the effort to seal the chicken houses so that the ability of the snake to enter the hen house is reduced.