Gray Ratsnake

(Pantherophis spiloides)

gray ratsnake

Classification

Non-venomous

Key characteristics

Body mostly black or dark brown; some have a pattern showing through; mouth, chin and throat white.

Description

The gray ratsnake is a large, thick-bodied snake (42-72 inches) that is square in cross section. Juveniles have a conspicuous color pattern of dark blotches on pale gray and do not resemble the adults. 

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Adults usually retain some of this darker blotching on a lighter background throughout their lives,but may completely lose the pattern and appear solid black. Some adults will have red or orange pigment show through. The light-colored belly has dark squareblotchesthat resemble a checkered pattern.

Gray ratsnake

Habitat

Gray ratsnakes are typically found in deciduous woodlands, prairies, stream valleys, and on rocky hillsides. They are often found in farm buildings and old foundations.

Diet

Gray ratsnakes are constrictors and primarily eat mice and other rodents, birds and bird eggs.

Habits

Gray ratsnakes are exceptional climbers and often climb trees to bask or search for prey. They are often found in the rafters of barns or other buildings. These snakes may “freeze” when encountered, pulling their body into a series of kinks.

Range

Statewide in Indiana, with the exception of the northwest prairie pocket.

Species similar in appearance

Black kingsnake, prairie kingsnake, western foxsnake, racerGray Ratsnake

Other info

Gray ratsnakes are beneficial to humans because they consume a fair amount of rodent pests from fields, barns and gardens. Males take part in “combat dances” in order to establish dominance in competition for mates. If cornered, they will usually coil up and vibrate their tail, and may strike. The vibration of the tail is convincing, leading them to be mistaken for a rattlesnake.

Also called black ratsnake, black snake, cow snake or chicken snake.