How big do Black Rat Snakes get?

How big do Black Rat Snakes get?

Black Rat Snakes get 3.5 to 6 ft in length and are some of the most common snakes from Massachussetts all the way to Kansas. Let’s find out more about them…

Last updated on April 7th, 2023 at 08:05 am

Black rat snakes, also known as pilot snakes, are found are much of eastern and central North America. They feature shiny black-toned scales with small white patches around the neck and the chin. Generally, black rat snakes usually grow to 3.5 to 6 feet in length (90-182cm). However, exceptional adults can reach 7ft (213cm).

When it comes to their record size, it gets a little more complicated because Black Rat Snakes are now considered to be three separate species: the Eastern Rat Snake (Pantherophis alleghaniensis), and the Western Rat Snake (Pantherophis obsoletus), and the Gray Rat Snake (Pantherophis spiloides).

Whilst I’m not 100% sold on this new classification, what is certain is that all three species have black populations. Also, it’s a black Eastern Rat Snake that holds the record length among them, with one exceptional specimen having measured 101inches (256.5cm).

Do rat snakes eat copperheads?

Black rat snakes do not eat copperheads. The popular myth garnered attention for two reasons:

  1. Black rat snakes are often mistaken to be Eastern Kingsnakes due to their similar looks. Eastern Kingsnakes are notorious to prey on copperheads. This has led to people believing that black rat snakes prey on copperheads as well.
  2. In the colder months of the year, the black rat snakes often den up with other snakes including Copperheads. This association may have caused the incorrect belief that black rat snakes eat copperheads.

Interestingly, this isn’t the only myth linking Black Rat Snakes to venomous species. In parts of their range, black Eastern Rat Snakes are often called “pilot snakes” or “pilot black snakes” because of the mistaken belief that they lead other snakes, including Copperheads and Rattlesnakes to their den sites to brumate.

Are black rat snakes aggressive?

Black Rat Snakes are unaggressive and generally considered beneficial accross most of their range. These snakes are not aggressive by nature, though they can be skittish as juveniles.

Adults are quite laid back and won’t retaliate unless you provoke them. Most of the time they react by doing a big threat display where they rear up, hiss and mock strike. Nine times out of ten the strikes don’t even land, and if they do the bite is almost painless.

That said, you usually have to annoy them quite a bit for them to do any of that stuff! I’ve encountered quite a few that simply sit still and hope you won’t notice them.

How big do Black Rat Snakes get?
The Gray Rat Snake (Pantherophis spiloides) is also black in parts of its range

Black rat snake lifespan

The average lifespan of a black rat snake is somewhere around 8 to 15 years. In the wild, they obviously face a lot of threats that can shorten their longevity. These include:

Nonetheless, many people see the same rat snake on their property year after year. Its seems that if they find a good spot, and have a good food supply, they regulary live past the 10 year mark

In captivity, on the other hand, they can thrive for up to 20 years. In fact, I’d be disappointed if had a rat snake live less than 12 years under my care.

How big do Black Rat Snakes get?
Western Rat Snake (Pantherophis obsoletus), which admittedly looks identical to the Eastern Rat Snake in some areas

Are black rat snakes good to have around?

Yes, it is good to have black rat snakes around, especially if you own a farm. Rodents can cause serious damage to your crops. Black rat snakes mostly prey on rodents such as voles, rats, mice, squirrels, and ground squirrels.

Having them around can help to reduce crop destruction to a good extent. Think of it this way: When a Rat Snake takes up residence on your property, you’ve gained free pest control for years to come.

They’re big, harmless, and incredibly useful if you want to keep down the local rodent population. Given that plague and Hantavirus are both carried by rodents, and are both making a bit of a comeback in the US, snakes are a lot more attractive squatters than rats and mice…

The only caveat is that if you have a chicken coup, you need to make sure that it has good wire fencing around it, because rat snakes do occasionally like to steal chicken eggs.

How big do Black Rat Snakes get?
A Black Rat Snake eating rodents.

Do rat snakes bite?

Rat snakes like to keep to themselves unless provoked. They can bite you in self-defense, though.

Since they are non-venomous snakes, their bites are kind of like little scratches, and most people are surprised at how puny they are. Moreover, black rat snakes are not naturally hostile.

However, they are often persecuted by humans because of their huge size. They do look impressive, even if they don’t pose a threat. Most bites actually happen when people are trying to kill snakes (or get selfies with them for some bizarre reason!).

Experts suggest leaving a black rat snake alone and unperturbed if you see them in the vicinity of a trash dump, an abandoned construction, a farm, your yard, or a barn This is because black rat snakes help in lowering the rodent population to a significant extent.

How big do Black Rat Snakes get?
Close up of a Black Rat Snake. The round pupils and coffin-shaped head are classic Rat Snake features

Can a black rat snake bite you?

Yes, black rat snakes do bite if they feel harmed or attacked in any way. But naturally they are non-hostile and gentle creatures. The reason I say most people are surprised at how puny their bites are is because they don’t have big enough teeth to do any damage.

As members of the Pantherophis genus, they are strong constrictors that only really use their teeth to hold onto their prey. It’s their muscles that do all the work. What you get is a very strong snake, with a very weak bite. Little scratches are the worst they can do.

That said, like any animal they do carry bacteria in their mouth. A bite from a black rat snake could in theory give you a bacterial infection if you didn’t wash it with soap and water.

How big do Black Rat Snakes get?

How big do rat snakes get?

Black rat snakes are some of the longest snakes in North America. The Eastern Rat Snake, one of three species with black populations, once reached a whopping 101inches (256.5cm).

Overall most species of rat snakes get to around 3.5 to 6ft in length. This is true for most of the species found across North America. The popular Corn Snake (also known as the Red Rat Snake), for example, often reaches 4ft or just under.

It is also true, however, that the black populations of Eastern, Western, and Gray Rat Snakes tend to be largest. If you find a Rat Snake that’s over 6ft it will usually be one of them.

Let’s take a quick look at these three species, their range, average lengths, and maximum recorded lengths:

SpeciesRangeAverage lengthRecord
Eastern Rat Snake (Pantherophis alleghaniensis)East of the Appalachians, from Massachusetts to Florida42-72in. (106.7-183cm)101in.(256.5cm)
Western Rat Snake (Pantherophis obsoletus)West of the Appalachians but east of the Mississippi, as far north as Michigan42-72in. (106.7-183cm)86in. (218.4cm)
Gray Rat Snake (Pantherophis spiloides)West of the Mississippi, from Texas to southeast Minnesota42-72in. (106.7-183cm)84.25in. (214cm)
Source: Peterson Field Guide to Reptiles and Amphibians of Eastern and Central North America. Fourth edition by Robert Powell, Roger Conant, and Joseph T. Collins.
How big do Black Rat Snakes get?
An Eastern Rat Snake (Pantherophis alleghaniensis) near a den site. They often share these with venomous species, particularly in the Appalachians and New England

Are rat snakes good to have around the house?

As per ecologists, the presence of a black rat snake is vital for the ecosystem. Rat snakes eat rodents and help to keep infectious diseases under control.

They are also a good example of “Not all snakes are harmful”. Rat snakes mostly keep to themselves and project docile behavior – they literally just want to eat your local rodents.

However, black rat snakes are often mistreated by humans who are frightened of their size. Humans are fortunate because black rat snakes do not usually attack when threatened and generally try to keep their distance.

If you do see Rat Snakes on your property, it’s a good idea to leave them be so they can carry on the good work their doing for you.

However, if you see a lot of snakes on your property it may be worth investigating whether you have a rodent problem. Rats or mice could be accessing your trash or garage and this may be attracting the snakes.

How big do Black Rat Snakes get?
A black Eastern Rat Snake (Pantherophis alleghaniensis) in Norvin Green State Forest, New Jersey

Common rat snake

There are many, many species of “rat snakes”. In North America, rat snakes are mostly in the genus Pantherophis, and these are the common rat snakes that you see in woodland or backyards.

Let us take a closer look at the most common rat snakes and see how they behave around humans.

  • Black rat snakes: Black rat snakes are harmless and gentle beings. They are very good climbers and prey on rodents. They come in handy to maintain farmlands and barns.
  • Grey rat snakes: These snakes can stay immobile to evade interaction if approached. When cornered, both juveniles and adults are known to sit up straight and strike at the assailant. Despite this, these snakes aren’t naturally aggressive.
  • Red rat snakes (wild Corn Snakes): They are excellent at escaping. They aren’t the least bit aggressive towards humans. Contrary to the belief, humans often mistake them to be copperheads and attack them out of ignorance.
  • Yellow rat snakes: Were once considered a subspecies, but are now simply considered a population of the Eastern Rat Snake. They behave a lot like black Eastern Rat Snakes, but I have found some of them a little more defensive. Still, they prefer to retreat whenever possible.
How big do Black Rat Snakes get?
A yellow variant of Eastern Rat Snake, formerly known as the Yellow Rat Snake

Black rat snake Maryland

The black rat snake is the largest snake in Maryland. They sport a shiny black exterior with weakly keeled scales, and a light-toned unique looking pattern on the belly.

The snakes are non-venomous and are likely to strike only when they feel threatened. They are brilliant climbers and prey on rodents and pests.

Maryland farmers like to have black rat snakes around. This is because they will eat mice, rats, and other kinds of vermin infamous for damaging crops in some way or the other.

How big do Black Rat Snakes get?

FAQ relating to How big do black rat snakes get?

Do black rat snakes keep copperheads away?

Black rat snakes do not drive away copperheads. Many experts have provided clarification on this myth in recent times. The truth is, during winters, black rat snakes and copperheads often occupy the same dens to brumate (hibernate). The rat snakes may look like they’re following or pursuing copperheads simply because they’re heading to the same location.

Should I leave a black snake in my yard?

In many regions such as Maryland, the black rat snakes are considered to be friendly backyard visitors. You should not kill or harm them in any way because they are beneficial for rodent control.

What do rat snakes hate?

Rat snakes stay put at a place for long hours, especially during winters. They hate being provoked or disturbed. This is also the only time they feel threatened and as an act of defense, they rattle their tail and give mock strikes. As far as repellents go, the only thing they really hate is ammonia.

What keeps black snakes out of your yard?

The black rat snake, like most snakes, dislikes the odor of ammonia. If you wish to keep the black rat snake out of your yard, it is best if you spray some ammonia in the ground. This isn’t a long-term solution, however. You need to find out where the rodents are coming from that are attracting snakes in the first place.

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