ID Guide to RATSNAKES Found in Louisiana! (3 species)
There are 3 types of rat snakes that live in Louisiana.
But before we begin, I wanted to define exactly what I mean when I say “rat snake.”
First, rat snakes are members of the family Colubridae, and most of the species in North America are in the genus Pantherophis.
Second, they are constrictors, and their favorite prey is rodents, such as mice and rats. As you can probably guess, this is how they get the name RAT snakes. 🙂 Because of their affinity for rodents, you can often find rat snakes in Louisiana near barns and abandoned buildings where their favorite food tends to hang out.
Lastly, rat snakes are non-venomous and mostly docile, although they can become defensive when threatened or grabbed. In fact, certain types of rat snakes are some of the most popular snakes kept as pets.
Enjoy! I hope you learn how to identify the different types of rat snakes that live in Louisiana!
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#1. Red Cornsnake
- Pantherophis guttatus
- Adults range from 24 to 72 inches in length.
- Coloration is orangish-brown with black-bordered orange, red, or brownish blotches and a spear-shaped pattern on the head and neck.
- The underside usually has a black and white checkerboard pattern which may have some orange.
Cornsnakes got their name because of their frequent presence near corn storage areas due to an abundance of rodents that also hang out at these locations. However, some sources maintain that they were named for the pattern on their underside, which sometimes looks like kernels of bi-color corn.
Red Cornsnakes occupy various habitats in eastern Louisiana, including overgrown fields, pinelands, swamps, and agricultural areas. They are sometimes found in suburban areas if it’s near other favorable habitats. Make sure you don’t only look on the ground, as they’re known to ascend trees, cliffs, and other elevated surfaces.
Red Cornsnakes prey on rodents, lizards, frogs, birds, and their eggs. These snakes are constrictors and squeeze and asphyxiate larger prey, but small prey may be swallowed whole without constriction.
These rat snakes are generally quite docile and are the second most popular pet snake (behind Ball Pythons) worldwide. However, if disturbed in the wild, they may vibrate their tail and lift the front of their body into an s-shape to appear more threatening. If grabbed or pinned, it’s not out of the question for them to bite their attacker, but they typically calm down quickly when being held.
#2. Western Ratsnake
- Pantherophis obsoletus
- Adults range from 42 to 72 inches in length though individuals up to 101 inches have been recorded.
- Coloration varies. Adults can be completely black to gray to pale brown to yellowish with black, brown, or gray blotches.
- Also commonly called the Texas Ratsnake!
Western Ratsnakes occupy various habitats in Louisiana, including agricultural areas, dense woodlands, forested river valleys, and rocky hillsides. They’re excellent climbers and are found often in trees, and will frequently use cavities in trees for shelter.
Western Ratsnakes are active hunters and constrictors preying on small mammals, nestling birds, bird eggs, tree frogs, and lizards. They suffocate larger prey with their coils but often swallow smaller prey without constriction.
When disturbed, these snakes often freeze to avoid detection. If harassed, they will raise their heads and vibrate their tails to mimic a rattlesnake. And if they continue to be provoked or grabbed, they will strike their attacker as a last defense.
This species is susceptible to habitat destruction, fragmentation, and alteration. They’ve also been impacted by Snake Fungal Disease and are sometimes mistaken for rattlesnakes and killed.
#3. Slowinski’s Corn Snake
- Pantherophis slowinskii
- Adults may grow up to 72 inches.
- Coloration is grayish-brown with large, alternating chocolate-brown blotches, which are often bordered in black.
- Spear-shaped marking on the head, dark bar through the eye and down the jawline onto the neck.
Slowinski’s Corn Snake wasn’t recognized as a species until 2002!
They were long believed to be a hybrid of the Red Cornsnake and the Great Plains Ratsnake. The species was named for American herpetologist Joseph Bruno Slowinski.
Slowinski’s Corn Snakes are hard to find in western Louisiana since they are nocturnal, highly secretive, and spend a lot of time in trees. Because of these facts, relatively little is known about their behavior, habitat, and population trends. So if you ever see one, consider yourself lucky!
These rat snakes are believed to do most of their hunting in trees and feed primarily on small mammals and birds. They’re constrictors like other ratsnake species, and they use a combination of ambush hunting and active foraging.
Do you need additional help identifying snakes?
Try this field guide!
Which of these rat snakes have you seen before in Louisiana?
Leave a comment below!