What is a Chicken Snake?

Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum

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.

A juvenile chicken snake.
A juvenile chicken snake.

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.

Corn snakes are identified as a chicken snake species.
Corn snakes are identified as a chicken snake species.

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.

While the bite from a chicken snake is not venomous in most cases, it is usually extremely painful.
While the bite from a chicken snake is not venomous in most cases, it is usually extremely painful.
Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum

After many years in the teleconferencing industry, Michael decided to embrace his passion for trivia, research, and writing by becoming a full-time freelance writer. Since then, he has contributed articles to a variety of print and online publications, including wiseGEEK, and his work has also appeared in poetry collections, devotional anthologies, and several newspapers. Malcolm’s other interests include collecting vinyl records, minor league baseball, and cycling.

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Discussion Comments


There's only two kinds of snakes: live ones and good ones.


I was helping a friend who had 10 geese and ducks he had ordered. Yesterday we found one dead beside a snake of about four feet long in their pen. The young goose at the time was the size of a Bantam hen and I would not have thought a snake would try to take them on. Live and learn!

We are in Pamlico County, N.C. (extreme eastern part of the state) and we have lots and lots of snakes abut the acreage. We killed the killer snake as we believed it might come back. Wondering if sulphur around the edges might work as I read on another forum. Anyone with ideas?


I usually just let snakes be. Today, however, we found a 6' rat snake in a cage with 10 guinea keets. three were eaten, five were dead, two survived. Not only did this snake create a financial loss for us (cost of keets, food, and the amount of insects they would've eaten that prevents us from having to use chemicals), but well.. put yourself in the keets' position.

If you let them go they come back because they know where the easy meal is. But this one won't.

Brain damage and broken bones you say? Take solace that the now headless snake is providing sustenance for fire ants and other smaller animals.


We have a large bird cage with 15 white dove with small screen around it. It is a nice bird cage. We have had it for years. All of a sudden we are getting snakes in it and they are eating the doves. We have already found six in the past few weeks. This weekend they killed three baby doves. I am getting very angry. The screen is tiny. I cannot believe the snake is making it out after eating the dove. Is there anything we can put around the cage to deter the snake from coming into the cage? Please give us ideas. I love my dove. I also love snakes, but am getting very upset with them now. Thanks so much. The Hopsons


we found a chicken snake in our house and i was told that when you see one snake there is always another close by. i was wondering if that is true because i have three small kids.


do not toss snakes. this will cause serious brain damage to the snake and could cause breaking in the bones. thank you.


I found a snake in my house recently, and I wonder if it was a chicken snake. I think it was very young, whatever it was. I just scooped it up with the end of a broom, and tossed it into the woods behind the house.

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