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Rat Snakes Care Sheet

Scientific Facts

Common NameRat Snake
Scientific NamePantherophis obsoletus
Habitatburrows, tree branches, logs and sometimes you can see them in bodies of water swimming
Dietrodents, small mammals, birds, lizards, and frog
Size 3-8 ft in length
Life Span1-15 years in wild; 10 to 30 years in captivity
Breeding IntervalTwice a year or once a year

Physical Description

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These snakes are characterized by their medium to the large physique. If you are not familiar with this snake yet, you might mistakenly think that it was a rattlesnake. It has different types, that is why it also has a ranging appearance. They can be colored brown, black, red, gray, yellow, or white an black with stripes or hints of botches throughout their skin. They also have wedge-shaped heads bodies with a wedge-shaped head. Their pupils are large, an indication that it is nonvenomous.

During the younger years of all rat snakes species, they tend to resemble a gray skin color, but as they go into maturity, their skin colorations differ depending on their species. They have a powerful constricting ability even though they haven’t reached the maturity period. 

Where it is Seen?

Rat snakes are believed to originate in the United States and in Canada. Nowadays, because of the migration activities of these snakes, they are already seen throughout New England and Georgia. They are almost found in each country of the USA and Europe, making it easily available in different pet trades or pet shops.

Types of Rat Snakes

Eastern rat snake/black rat snake

You can easily determine this type of rat snake because when they are full, they show spotted patterns or checkered on their bellies that are colored yellow, red, orange, and white spots. Younger eastern rat snakes tend to have a gray or white body that will eventually turn into black as they grow up. 

Texas rat snake

As the name implies, it is found in the United States, specifically in Texas. It is a subspecies of rat snake that is nonvenomous. They have varying skin coloration. This type of rat snake is now spread out throughout the United States.

Gray rat snake 

This type of rat snake is found in Indiana, Florida, and Mississippi. They grow 6 feet to 7 feet long with dark gray or black blotches found on their bellies and head. Their skin colorations depend on which country they originated in.

Yellow rat snake 

This type of rat snake is most common in the Florida peninsula. As the name implies, it has yellow or orange stripes from their back to their tails with only four distinct brown stripes.

Red rat snake or Corn snake

This type of rat snake varies in color, but usually, they have an orange or yellow body with red blotches located at their backs. Their distinctive mark is the blotch that forms a V-shape on top of their heads.

Habitat

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You can see these snakes in burrows, tree branches, logs, and sometimes you can see them in bodies of water swimming. They are most active when the temperature is a bit warm, especially at night time to find food. They are also found on abandoned barns and buildings. They are not picky as long as they are staying at a place with the right conditions.

Behavior and Temperament

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Expect that rat snakes are nocturnal if the environmental conditions are warm. Like any other snakes, they still go out during the day time to bask and climb the tree. These snake species are shy, but when cornered, they tend to be aggressive that they may bite you. 

As a defensive mechanism, it releases a smelly musk throughout their body, especially when a predator is about to feed on them or when a person touches them aggressively. They also mimic the defensive mechanism of the rattlesnake, which is to vibrate its tail when threatened, but they are not venomous. 

Diet

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Rat snakes usually eat at night time, where the chances to prey on rodents, small mammals, birds, chipmunks, and different kinds of the egg are higher. Young rat snake loves to feed on cold-blooded prey while adults feed on warm-blooded animals. They are sometimes called chicken snakes because they feed on chicken eggs. Rat snakes tend to eat different kinds of meals in one eating, making them a voracious eater. 

Size and Weight

The sizes and weight of rat snakes species vary. The average weight and size for them are about 5 to 10 feet long, with a weight of 4-8 lbs. Males and females do not have a differentiating size and weight. It would just depend on how the snake is fed. 

Life Span

Studies show that these snakes can live up to 15 years in the wild, but it can live up to 30 years in captivity. In the wild, rat snakes are prone to environmental destruction and killing of hunters making their lifespan short, but in captivity, since they have a hard personality, as long as their need for food, water, and cleanliness are observed, expect that they will reach their maximum life span.

Breeding and Reproduction

Rat snakes are considered oviparous wherein their laid eggs didn’t go through the incubation period in the insides of their mother. If there is an ideal environmental condition, the females can lay up to two clutches of eggs every year. If the environmental conditions are too cold, expect that their reproduction is less frequent. Males tend to attract the females through the use of pheromones, 5 weeks after the mating process, the females will lay about 20 eggs in a burrow, and after 2 months, these eggs will hatch. After layings eggs, the females will leave the eggs in a secure burrow so that no other reptiles or mammals would feed on them.

Shedding

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Like other snakes, Rat snake shed occasionally. Days before the actual shedding, expect that your snake’s appearance will change, its eyes will turn blue, and its skin becomes duller. Avoid handling your snake in this stage because this is the phase where your pet will become grumpier. Its original appearance would go back, and after 3-4 days, the actual shedding will take place. Your snake will shed its skin in a single piece that is fragile and can easily be torn.  

This shredded skin is usually moist or wet because while shedding your pet’s skin will excrete lymphatic fluid to aid in the shedding process. Make sure that the skin is removed in one go, if it is shedding in patches, then there is something wrong with the snake’s ability to secrete fluid, or the environment is too dry. Remove this shredded skin from the tank as it may be a breeding ground for bacteria and might cause an unpleasant smell. Bathing helps in relieving issues such as constipation and different skin problems in your snake. It also promotes shedding and kills pest infestations. When bathing your snake, make sure to use filtered water or warm spring. 

Captive Breeding

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In choosing for a rat snake to be taken into captivity, you must check if it is healthy. You can easily determine a healthy snake through its skin and eyes. Make sure that there is no excess skin from the shedding process and make sure that its eyes are clear. When you notice that the eyes are cloudy, that could be a potential sign that the snake is suffering from some illnesses.

It is important to choose a snake from a reputable breeder because it means that the snake is somehow trained to be in captivity and that it has a clear background, you would know that what you are purchasing is a pure rat snake. 

How to Care Reptile as a Pet

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Housing

You need to provide your rat snake with a large and tall tank where they can do all of its activities, such as basking and climbing. Make sure that it is secure because there are times when your snake wants to escape. Your goal is to at least mimic their natural habitat. You can place two rat snakes in one tank as long as these two snakes can move freely. 

These snakes can be stressed easily even though there are just in their cage. They may not hear the sounds vividly, but they are good at detecting vibrations. That is why refrain from playing hard music on a stereo that has a strong amplifying sound because when they are stressed, they will find a way on how to escape, and stress is also a factor of different kinds of diseases and illnesses. 

Substrate and accessories

Not all substrates are suitable for the snake. Sand, pine, and cedar shavings are not recommended substrate because the sand is too rough for their skin, while cedar and pine shavings have a smell that can irritate their respiratory functioning. You can use the newspaper since it is inexpensive and that you can replace it immediately, just make sure that it is always dry and clean. They love climbing, so make sure to place logs or branches that have not sharp edges. 

These snakes also love to swim at times; that is why place a basin enough for them to soak. This is important when they are about shed to make their skin moisturized. Equipt the tank with a hiding box because there are moments wherein your snake will suddenly feel threatened, so instead of finding a way to escape, they’ll just hide. If you would clean the substrate, make sure to return it back to the tank dry and clean.

Light and temperature

This type of snakes prefers color temperature with at least 80-85 degrees Fahrenheit. The use of lighting equipment can only be given to them to maintain this temperature and to let the snake bask a few hours within the day. You can use any lighting equipment, no need to invest in ultraviolet lighting.

Food and water

In captivity, the most common food for them is rats and mice. You can purchase it from different reptile stores frozen. The ideal way to feed rat snakes is once a week, but it would depend on the quantity that you are giving to them. You can feed them in small amounts twice a week or in large amounts but only once a week. 

There are moments that your snake doesn’t have an appetite for food, especially when they are about to shed their skin, but after the shedding process, expect that their appetite for food will go back to normal.

Handling

Rat snakes are suitable snakes taken into captivity; they tend to be more friendly as you handle them frequently. However, you need to keep in mind that there are ways on how you can properly handle these kinds of snakes so that they won’t feel threatened and so that no harm is imposed on you, as their handler and to them as well. To avoid different kinds of illnesses being transmitted to them, make sure to always have clean hands when holding them. 

Common Health Problems

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Mouth rot or infectious stomatitis

This disease is characterized by inflammation in or around the mouth area. If this is not attended to as soon as possible, it may be a cause of the early loss of the snake’s teeth that will make it difficult for them to eat their prey. 

Anorexia

Anorexia or refusal to eat is one of the common health problems of rat snakes. In the wild, the fall and winter season is their time of the year, where they lower down their activities such as eating. In captivity, this can be concerning for pet owners, but this is just a normal thing they do to adjust their body. If the snake is suffering from anorexia, its physical appearance will also look dull, and the snake’s behavior is lame.

Blister Disease

Blister disease or vesicular dermatitis is an infectious disease usually seen underneath the snake’s scales due to exposure in damp or unsanitary housing. Your snake’s skin will be torn out easily, making it susceptible to other skin conditions such as septicemia that may lead to death if not attended to immediately. If you see blisters or rashes into your snake’s skin, immediately clean its housing, make sure that it will no longer be exposed to wet areas, and you may need to ask your veterinarian for possible medications.t. 

Parasites Infestations

Your snake can catch parasites in many ways, and usually, the starting point has an unsanitized environment. Make sure to always bathe your snake and clean their housing regularly and makes sure that your hands are always clean when you hold the. Some parasites that usually infest your snake are roundworms, tapeworms, mites, flukes, and ticks. It is easy to wipe out these parasites as long as you would promote cleanliness.

Pneumonia and respiratory issues

 This health condition among snakes brings high mortality rates because it causes nasal discharge, making it difficult for them to breathe. When you notice that your snake is breathing with its mouth open or if it is wheezing, that could be a possible sign that your snake is suffering from respiratory illnesses.

Regurgitation

This is a health condition where your pet snake has the inability to digest certain kinds of food, especially those with hairs or feathers. They can swallow it, but after how many minutes, they’ll vomit it whole and then eating it back again. If your snake has a hard time digesting its food, then there will also be a problem in absorbing nutrients for the snake to be healthy and energized.

Egg binding

When the snake has difficulty in laying eggs because of the egg’s size, it will not only cause pain, but it will also cause irritations that make the snake aggressive. When the egg inside the organ isn’t removed as soon as possible, it may cause other complications such as sepsis, which is fatal.

Preventing Illness

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It is just normal for your snake to get sick, but what is not normal is if this illness will hinder your pet in living a normal life that will affect its activities such as eating, climbing, basking, drinking water, and crawling. Every time your snake gets sick, their immunity is lowered, making it hard for them to recover, especially if not attended to as soon as possible. When you notice that there is something wrong with the health of your snake, you need to seek advice from your veterinarian.

Aside from providing the snake with their needs such as housing, substrates, food, water, and optimum light and temperature exposure, it is also important to attend to their health needs. Before taking it into captivity, you must be knowledgeable in determining if your pet experiences something unusual so as not to aggravate their health condition. 

How to Handle Properly?

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This snake is known to be friendly, especially if it is handled correctly. At first, you need to make them feel that you are comfortable handling them. This type of snake has the ability to feel if there is tension making them quite irritable and aggressive; that is why it is important to be relaxed in handling them. There are ways on how you can introduce yourself with your new pet, especially by means of feeding them regularly. You can easily tame this snake if it sees your presence regularly. You can also hold it properly by holding it from its side instead of holding it from the top. 

Availability-Where To Get One?

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Rat snakes are a common pet snake; that is why it is mostly available in reptile exhibits, pet shops, and from different collectors that sell these species. Usually, if you would purchase it from different pet shops, it is already captive-bred to ensure that it is safe to be taken into captivity and to be sure that you are getting the right and pure snake species. You can also get rat snakes from online stores where you can choose from different stores that offer worth the price pets.

Environmental Impact

These kinds of species are helpful to farmers because they feed on rodents such as rats that are destructive to different kinds of crops. They are useful in the ecosystem because they promote the balance by feeding on pests. Rat snakes have the ability to imitate rattlesnakes; this characteristic can be helpful and damaging to them because they can successfully scare their predator, but hunters would kill them knowing that they are rattlesnakes that are venomous. 

Conservation Status

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Rat snakes are not considered as an endangered species, but because there are already destructive activities that are happening around their habitat, such as illegal logging, deforestation and due to climate change, sooner or later, these types of snakes will soon be erased. So as a preventive measure, there are private sectors that would breed these snakes in their facility and when the eggs turned into hatchlings, they are taken back into the wild. Illegal hunting of these snakes are also not allowed, when they are caught, they may be imprisoned; or they might face some charges.

FAQ Section

Are rat snakes dangerous?

They are harmless; they won’t even go near a human being. They would only show signs of aggressiveness when they are bitten or cornered.

Do rat snakes are sensitive to some smells?

Research shows that rat snakes are irritated with the smell of cinnamon and essential oils. When they are exposed to smell that can get them irritated, it may be a cause of some respiratory illnesses.

Do rat snakes bite people?

Even though they do not possess venom, they can still harm people when they are threatened through biting. Their bite will leave a horseshoe mark.

Do rat snakes eat other snakes?

Yes, they tend to eat other snakes that are smaller than them. They also live to feed on the eggs of other snakes left in a burrow.

Can rat snakes breed with other snakes?

It can’t be avoided that they are bred with other species, especially when they are in the wild.

How often do rat snakes eat?

An adult rat snake should be fed at least once a week. They eat a lot on a single meal; that is why it should be closely monitored to avoid becoming overweight and obese.

Can you buy rat snakes?

Rat snakes are available in different pet trades or pet shops in a physical store or online store.

Are rat snakes bad for your yard?

Rat snakes are actually beneficial for the environment because they eat rodents that are destructive. However, these snakes also love to dig the ground in search of a burrow; that is why it is not advisable to take them into your yard because they might escape easily.

Do rat snakes have teeth?

Rats snakes have small teeth that they can use for biting. When they accidentally bite you, expect that your skin will have small scratches that are in the shape of a horseshoe. 

Can they hear sounds?

Snakes do not have a visible ear; that is why they can’t hear sounds, but they can easily detect vibrations due to the vestiges of the apparatus located on their heads to feel and somehow hear airborne sounds accurately. 

What role do the hiding boxes play in the housing of your snake pet?

In the wild, snakes love to hide because this is one of their defensive mechanisms. If you would take them into captivity, it is still important to put accessories where they can hide because if your snake is threatened within their tank and there is no hide box, they can aggressively pull the cover of their housing to escape. 

Is there a need to regularly bathe my rat snake?

Bathing your pet snake is not only for cleanliness, but it is a way for you to help them with different issues such as constipation, skin problems, and you can avoid different pests infestations. Bathing your pet regularly will help maintain the moisture in their body so that they won’t have a hard time removing their old skin during the shedding process.

Can multiple rat snakes be housed together with no problem?

You can take good care at least 2 rat snakes in one tank if taken into captivity provided that they can move around. Avoid placing them in a tank where they could be crowded because it may invite some diseases or sicknesses.

How often do rat snakes shed their skin?

Like other snakes, rat snakes experience multiple shedding processes, especially during the juvenile stages, but as soon as they reach the maturity years, expect that they will only shed at least once a year, and as they grow older, the gaps of their shedding process increase.

Is it possible to handle the rat snake while shedding?

It is possible to hold this snake while it is shedding its skin but refrain from holding them days before the shedding process because this is the time when they are quite aggressive and irritable.

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