Eastern Black Rat Snake (Pantherophis alleghaniensis)

Rat Snakes cover most of the eastern United States and a good portion of the Midwest. The specific species of rat snake this article will be covering is the Eastern Black Rat Snake (Pantherophis alleghaniensis).

P. alleghaniensis is the largest snake in Virginia, adults averaging in size to a length of 80 inches. They are nonvenomous and, generally, not aggressive. I have caught three full grown Black Rat Snakes within the past three years and, out of those three, one put up a fight. The snake depicted in this article was very calm about being moved out of the road where it was sunning itself.

The first picture shows a behavior called ‘kinking’. It’s really only visible in the neck in the picture, but they do kink their whole body. This is when they ‘kink’ parts of their spine to make an uncomfortable looking pose. It is hypothesized that they do this for camouflage, trying to blend in with the odd bends of the twigs that surround them.

The second photo mainly illustrates that I touched it, but also helps to show how they curl their bodies around your arm like a fun bracelet. Most every snake will do this, especially if you have a hold of their head. This is to support their bodies, so their weight isn’t putting tension in their neck, and to try and strangle your arm (it feels similar to a hug). Once I released head and put my hand near the grass, my snake friend slithered away, probably saying in parseltongue, “you ruined my morning basssssssk.”

A note on their taxonomy: Black Rat Snakes used to be known as Elaphe obsolete obsolete, and I wrote this article with that scientific name until I found more recent information online. Rat snakes used to be recognized as groups of subspecies hence obsolete obsolete (one is the species name; the other is the subspecies name). Due to molecular biology, the taxonomy of every creature is changing. The tree of life as we know it is being restructured for the better.  The “Snakes of the Southeast” book, published in 2005, talks about the possibility of a taxonomic change, but lists the old scientific name as the official one. Fingers crossed for a second edition!

The books I used are “Snakes of the Southeast” by Mike Dorcas and Whit Gibbons and “A Guide to the Snakes of Virginia” published by the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.

I had fun researching this snake and being confused over taxonomy. I hope you enjoyed reading about it. Please check out my other blog posts if you are interested in more species accounts or want to read about reptile care and the pet trade. Thank you.

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Disclaimer: The views expressed in this post are solely this author's and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Wandering Herpetologist website.
Erin Chapman

Author: Erin Chapman

Erin has two associate degrees in Science and General Studies from Piedmont Virginia Community College and is a Virginia Master Naturalist. She is currently pursuing a double major of biology and environmental science and policy with a minor in chemistry at the College of William and Mary. She also writes for the blog The Herper's Guide. Gotta question or comment for Erin? Email her at erin[at]wanderingherpetologist.com

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