Rat snakes are medium-to-large reptiles that vary widely in appearance. There are three species of rat snakes in Alabama living in the fields, farmland, woodlands, and suburban communities. You can also commonly find these snakes as pets raised in captivity, since they are low-maintenance and not dangerous to humans.
Alabama is home to various reptiles, including around 40 species of snakes. Only six species are venomous, such as the rattlesnake and copperhead. In fact, only an average of one person every 10 years dies from a snakebite in Alabama.
In this article, we will learn more about the different types of rat snakes you can find in Alabama. Enjoy!
What Are Rat Snakes?
Rat snakes are non-venomous snakes. They are part of the family Colubridae, similar to kingsnakes, vine snakes, and milksnakes. Distinct characteristics of snakes in this family are that they have no legs, fewer head scales, and no upper teeth or front fangs. While you can find rat snakes on nearly every continent, except Antarctica, a lot of species live in North America.
As their name suggests, rat snakes typically eat rats. However, they also eat other small animals in the wild, such as frogs, chipmunks, voles, lizards, birds, and bird eggs. These snakes commonly wait and ambush their prey before subduing them through constriction. Meaning, they wrap their body around their prey and squeeze them before swallowing them whole. Rat snakes can also swim and are excellent at climbing trees and walls.
3 Types of Rat Snakes in Alabama
The 3 species of rat snakes found in Alabama are corn snakes, gray rat snakes, and black rat snakes.
1. Corn Snake
Scientific name: Pantherophis guttatus
Corn snakes, also known as red rat snakes, typically have yellowish-tan and brownish-orange to reddish-orange bodies with red blotches on their back. They also have a checkered pattern on their belly that looks similar to corn kernels and live among corn fields, giving them their name. These snakes average 30 to 48 inches in length. However, some can grow up to 72 inches.
You can find them throughout Alabama, but most commonly in the north. However, their populations have declined in the state and they have a moderate conservation concern. They prefer living in farmlands, meadowlands, rocky hillsides, wooded groves, and barnyards where they can find small rodents. These snakes will nest by burrowing into loose soil and can be found under fallen logs. They are mainly active at night, but also during the early evening or dawn.
Corn snakes are one of the most common pet snakes in the world.
2. Gray Rat Snake
Scientific name: Pantherophis spiloides
The gray rat snake is also known as the oak snake or chicken snake. You can find them throughout the state and they are fairly common in the southern regions. These rat snakes prefer farmland and forests where their favorite food, rodents, are abundant. They are also excellent climbers when searching for eggs and birds. You can also find them resting in trees to avoid ground predators, including fire ants.
These rat snakes are stout and grow around 42 to 72 inches long. However, some can grow up to 84 inches. As their name suggests, they are gray in color with dark gray to brown blotches. Their belly is typically white with dark blotches and spots that become stripes under their tail.
3. Black Rat Snake
Scientific name: Pantherophis obsoletus
The black rat snake in Alabama is also called the western black snake or pilot black snake. Although you can find them throughout the state, these snakes are more common in north Alabama. They prefer woodlands but also live in rocky hillsides, farmlands, mountain ledges, river floodplains, open fields, and more developed areas with houses or farm buildings. As skilled climbers, you can find them climbing rafters in buildings when hunting for prey.
These snakes have similar underbelly markings as the gray rat snake. However, their bodies are black with traces of white between their scales. They average between 40 to 70 inches in length. They are also one of the largest snakes in North America and can reach up to 96 inches or more.
FAQs About Rat Snakes
1. Are Rat Snakes Aggressive?
Most rat snakes are shy and prefer to hide from humans, especially since they are non-venomous. However, attitudes vary by species. For example, the corn snake is generally docile, whereas the eastern rat snake can be shy but snappish when cornered.
Rat snakes also are known to vibrate their tails against the ground to make a rattling noise similar to rattlesnakes. This behavior is a defense mechanism to make predators believe they are venomous.
2. Do Rat Snakes Make Good Pets?
As non-venomous snakes, rat snakes generally make good pets. The corn snake is especially great for beginner snake owners. They are docile, easy to care for, and don’t get very large, so they can easily live in an enclosure in an apartment or small home.
They often don’t bite. Except sometimes when they are hungry and you have been handling their food, they can mistake the smell of your hand as prey.
3. Do Rat Snakes Lay Eggs?
Yes, they do. Rat snakes in the wild generally mate in the spring and lay 10 to 14 eggs in June or July. They often deposit their eggs under manure piles, stumps, rocks, logs, or rotting vegetation. These eggs typically hatch in August or September.
4. Can Rat Snakes Climb Trees?
Yes, rat snakes are semi-arboreal, meaning they frequently inhabit trees. They are very skilled at climbing and often climb trees to enter abandoned buildings, take naps in trees, or wait in trees for prey. If you find shed snake skins in your attic, it is most likely from a rat snake, since most other species in Alabama do not climb as well.
5. How Do Rat Snakes Benefit Humans?
Rat snakes are very beneficial for humans since their favorite food is rodents and other animals that are considered pests. They help prevent crops from being damaged by these animals as well as stop the spread of disease. For these reasons, farmers usually enjoy having rat snakes around their farms.