Snakes are among the most common reptiles that you will encounter during your travels in nature or even on your very own property. There are many dozens of species found in every state, but only a tiny fraction of them are poisonous.
Despite this, poisonous snakes are extremely dangerous and should be avoided, and learning to identify snakes can help avoid misadventures.
One such common and impressive snake is the black rat snake. Is the black rat snake poisonous?
No, black rat snakes are not poisonous and pose very little threat to people. However, they can inflict lacerations if they bite, so they should be left alone.
These large, impressive snakes are a common sight around farmland and forests, and their dramatic coloration and impressive length make them one of the more intimidating snakes that you are likely to run across.
Happily, you don’t have too much to worry about though, and you can learn more about these interesting reptiles just below.
Identifying the Black Rat Snake
Ultimately called just black snake or pilot snake, the black rat snake is an impressively large specimen, averaging anywhere from 3 1/2 ft to upwards of 6 ft in length, with one record-breaking adult topping out just shy of 8 1/2 ft. that is big enough to get anyone’s attention!
As the name suggests, these snakes are typically black, with a distinctive gloss to the scales along with a white underbelly along the forward most part of their body, particularly the mouth, ventral side of the neck, and throat.
Occasionally adult snakes can be seen with remnants of a slightly off-color pattern that has persisted since they were juveniles.
Juvenile snakes look quite different from adults, with a wildly patterned base gray color that is punctuated by brown to dark brown patches.
These snakes are thick, stoutly built, and bulky. They require all of this muscular power to overcome their prey and constrict them to death prior to feeding.
Notably, the head is small, slender, and smooth, with small eyes and a gently rounded snout.
Is the Black Rat Snake Venomous?
No, the black rat snake is not venomous. These snakes are constrictors and strangle their prey to death.
Usual Habitat of the Black Rat Snake
The black rat snake is found all throughout the central part of the United States west of the Mississippi river, ranging from Oklahoma and Eastern Texas all the way up to Iowa and everywhere in between.
This is another snake that is very successful and has a large population all across its range, so it is in your best interest to familiarize yourself with its appearance and behavior if you live in any area where it is present.
Will Black Rat Snakes Bite?
Yes, black rat snakes can and will bite when provoked. Although, like most snakes, they will do their best to avoid people knowing that this is a snake that is more prone to freeze when startled or when approached rapidly. It may or may not curl itself into a repeating S-shape.
Like other snakes of this kind, they do engage in a form of a mimicry whereby they vibrate their tail rapidly against the ground or any nearby dead vegetation in order to simulate the buzzing sound of a rattlesnake, which virtually every animal knows to respect and avoid.
Also like some other constrictors, they are capable of discharging a nasty anal secretion when trapped or grabbed.
Is the Bite of a Black Rat Snake Painful?
Yes, for sure. Even though they lack fangs and dangerous venom, these snakes are large, powerful and have several rows of small, razor-sharp teeth that they use to grasp prey prior to folding it into their deadly, crushing embrace.
These teeth also work quite well defensively, and these snakes can easily lay you open if they bite you.
Keep in mind, even without the venom a snake bite could it result in life-threatening complications since they are so likely to become infected, either from bacteria already present in the snake’s mouth, living on your skin, or from some other source.
Make it a point to thoroughly clean and disinfect any snake bite and seek medical attention if any complications begin.
Do Black Rat Snakes Show Aggression to People?
Not usually. As mentioned, these snakes would much rather flea or freeze rather than fight, but they are known to stand their ground. Periodically.
In such cases, the snake will coil into a striking position and are capable of biting over some distance owing to their great length and strength.
If grasped, these powerful snakes can put up a ferocious fight, and are well known for turning the tables on there would be predators, including larger birds of prey like owls and hawks.
Once the fight is on, the snake might not give up, meaning you should attempt to get away anytime one of these snakes is acting aggressively.
Will Black Rat Snakes Attack Your Pets or Livestock?
Possibly. Black rat snakes are highly efficient and successful predators and typically feed on mice, rats, moles, squirrels, lizards, juvenile possums, raccoons and rabbits, birds, and all kinds of bird eggs.
If you have a larger dog or cat, they probably don’t have anything to worry about and neither will your larger livestock like goats, sheep, horses, cows, and the like.
However, any smaller animals that fit into the size categories outlined above, as well as any of your egg-laying birds you might keep, are in mortal danger from these snakes.
Should You Eliminate Black Rat Snakes from Your Property?
Black rat snakes can be a genuine problem for people who raise chickens, ducks, rabbits, and the like.
These snakes can squeeze in even through very small gaps and holes, anywhere that their heads can reach, and their tremendous strength means they can easily overpower would-be defenders whereas chicks and other baby mammals won’t stand a chance.
For that reason, many livestock owners eliminate these snakes on sight or else try to trap or repel them. This is understandable, but not necessary if you are able to relocate the snake or drive it off.
Despite the trouble they sometimes cause farmers, these reptiles do fulfill an important role in the ecosystem and should not be killed out of hand if you have any other choice.
Tom Marlowe practically grew up with a gun in his hand, and has held all kinds of jobs in the gun industry: range safety, sales, instruction and consulting, Tom has the experience to help civilian shooters figure out what will work best for them.