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The Rat Snake is a medium to large size constrictor and are typically found throughout many regions of the Northern Hemisphere. They feed primarily on rodents and birds. Some of the species exceed a total of 3 m (10 feet) in total length and can occupy top levels of the some food chains. Many species make attractive and docile pets and one, the Corn Snake is one of the most popular reptile pets in the world

Other species can be somewhat skittish and in some cases even aggressive, but bites are rarely serious. As with all colubrids, Rat Snakes pose no threat to humans. Rat Snakes were long thought to be completely nonvenomous, but recent studies have shown that some Old World species do possess small amounts of venom, though the amount is negligible relative to humans.

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The question of what is a rat snake becomes increasingly difficult to answer. Until the early 2000’s, both Old and New World rat snakes were generally Thought to belong to the same genus, Elaphe, according to Profession Savitzky of the biological sciences at Utah State University who Specializes in the biology of snakes.

"There was a time not that long ago when all rat snakes were considered closely related," Savitzy said. "We know now that the rat snakes in North America are more closely related to the king snakes than the Old World rat snakes."

Recent DNA differences, found between snakes, has caused some upheaval in snake classification, and snakes are being moved into different genera. During 2002 herpetologist Urs Utiger published findings and proposed reclassifying North American rat snakes as members of the Genus Pantheropis.

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Did you know that no two Rat Snakes are alike in appearance? It’s true! They can have blotches, stripes, or a combination of the two, or can be single-colored. They can also be black, red, brown, yellow, black and white, or gray. They have slender bodies, wedge-shaped heads and keeled scales. Their pupils are round as are most non-venomous snakes.

Eastern Rat Snake / Black Rat Snake

The Eastern Rat Snake/Black Rat Snake is the largest of this specie. This snake lives throughout New England and south to Georgia. They are found as far as west Northern Louisiana and as far north as Southern Wisconsin. They can also live in a variety of forests and grasslands but according to some an ideal surrounding would be a forest environment surrounded by grass.

Texas Rat Snake

As implied by its name, the Texas Rat Snake can be found throughout Texas though they are also commonly found in areas of Louisiana, Oklahoma and Arkansas. They are perfectly at home in a wide-variety of habitats, including forests, grasslands, suburbia and urban areas.

Yellow Rat Snake

According to several reputable sources, the Yellow Rat Snakes are typically found along the coasts of North and South Carolina, Georgia and Florida. The enjoy spending their time in the flatlands and shrubs, forests and cypress swamps, as well as citrus groves, abandoned buildings and pastures.

Red Rat Snake

Red Hat Snakes are typically found through a number of south-eastern-regions of the United States, particularly in Florida. They live in pine flatlands, mangrove swamps, forests and urban areas.

Gray Rat Snake

Found primarily in central United States, from Florida to Indiana and west to the Mississippi. They can also be found in southern Ontario and spend most of their time in forests, venturing out into greasy areas when it is warm enough.

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The Rat Snake family of serpents vary between the species. Some, such as the Black Rat Snake and the Eastern Rat Snake, are known to be shy but somewhat snappish and aggressive when cornered. They can also produce a bad-smelling musk when touched by a predator or picked up by a person, and spread it around with their tail. On the opposite side of the spectrum are Corn Snakes, some of the most docile serpents around.

All of this specie vibrate their tails in attempt to trick a predator into confusing them for a rattlesnake. Herpetologist refer to this process as Batesian Mimicry, where a harmless species mimics a harmful species. While it may be helpful in keeping predators away, Batesian mimicry can cause problems for rat snakes. Humans often kill them thinking they are venomous rattlers.

Rat Snakes are semi-arboreal, that is, they spend half or some of their time in tress. While they are nocturnal in warm areas, they are still seen during the day fairly frequently. You may seem lying out in the sun or foraging in the forest or on the plains. They typically take shelter in tree cavities to wait for prey. Rat Snakes can be found in many barns where farmers keep them to eat rodents.

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Rat Snakes lay eggs are spend little to no time incubating inside the mother – they are oviparous in nature just as with most others of its species. If conditions are right, females may lay two clutches of eggs per year. Otherwise, they will typically lay one. In cold climates, they may lay eggs less frequently.

Mating season is typically in late spring, although a major factor depends on the climate. Males attract females through pheromones and will sometimes fight other males for the same female.

The young hatch after about two months. Rat snakes offer no parental care to their young. Baby rat snakes are quite long, around 13 inches (33 centimeters). They are often eaten by hawks and other snakes.

Rat snakes' lifespan is unknown, according to the Smithsonian National Zoological Park.

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Rat Snakes lay eggs that spend little to no time incubating inside the mother, in a process often referred to as oviparous. If conditions are right, females may lay two clutches of eggs per year. Otherwise, they will typically lay one. In cold climates, they may lay eggs less frequently.

Mating season is typically in the late spring, though it depends greatly on the climate. Males attract females through pheromones and will sometimes fight other males for the same female.

After approximately five weeks, females lay clutches of about twelve to twenty eggs in a hidden spot, such as in a hollow log or pile of compost. Quite often, the burying beetle will lay eggs on the snake eggs, and the baby beetles will eat the snake embryos.

Young hatchlings are born after a couple of weeks. Rat snakes offer no parental care to their young. Baby rat snakes are quite long, around thirteen inches. They are often eaten by hawks other snakes.

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Rat Snakes make for rewarding pets that thrive in captivity and are relatively easy to feed. Though hatchlings can sometimes present challenges once they start eating. In the wild, rat snakes consume birds, eggs, lizards and rodents, but in captivity, grey rat snakes should be fed frozen-thawed rodents on a regular basis.

Hatchlings and Juveniles

Young Rat Snakes love to prey on lizards and frogs. However, this is not a recommendation for captive snakes, as feeder frogs and lizards are commonly highly parasitized, and can make your snake sick. Feeding a rat snake a frozen-thawed rodent may require transferring the scent of a lizard or frog to the rodent being offered. After a period of time, scenting the rodents won’t be necessary and your snake will learn to accept unscented rodents. Hatchlings and juveniles should be fed one rodent every four to five days. Young snakes are as capable of handling large pretty as adults are, so provide your snake with a fuzzy or small mouse hopper equal to, or only slightly larger than, your snake’s mid-body diameter.

Adult Snakes

As Rat Snakes mature, you’ll notice that it will shift from eating lizards and frogs while young to eating birds and rodents as they mature. Adult rat snakes should be fed larger items, less frequently then young snakes. A single serving every seven to ten days will keep your adult rat snake healthy. Care should be exercised when feeding adults; captive snakes will eat more and exercise less than their wild counterparts, and as a result, are prone to obesity. This is particularly true of adult males and non-breeding females, either of which may consume more food than is necessary.

Feeding During Breeding Cycles

During breeding cycles, the dietary habits of the Rat Snake will often change. Adult male snakes frequently reuse food leading up to, and during, the breeding season. This trend can be exacerbated if the male can smell other rat snakes in the room. Adult females that are slated for breeding should have good body weight and be in excellent health. Many breeders increase the feeding frequency of female rat snakes prior to allowing them to breed.

Feeding and Winter Dormancy

Rat snakes in the wild undergo seasonal dormancy during the winter. Pet owners should maintain reasonably constant temperatures all year, and if this is done, many grey rat snakes will continue to remain active and eat. If, however, your snake begins refusing food in the fall, it is not cause for concern. This is a natural behavior, and as long as your snake is healthy, it should resume feeding in the spring. Consult your veterinarian and consider reducing the cage temperatures slightly if your snake shows signs of dormancy.

Rat Snake Care Sheet

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