ID Guide to RATSNAKES Found in Ontario! (2 species)
There are 2 types of rat snakes that live in Ontario.
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 Ontario 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 Ontario!
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#1. Gray Ratsnake
- Pantherophis spiloides
- Adults range from 42 to 72 inches in length though individuals up to 101 inches have been recorded.
- Coloration varies. In Ontario, Gray Ratsnakes are typically completely black.
- There may be red, white, or yellow flecking on the scales.
Look for Gray Ratsnakes in southern Ontario in trees!
They are excellent climbers and often hunt and spend time in trees. Growing up, I used to see them all the time in a large walnut tree in our backyard! They occupy various habitats, including pinelands, stream banks, swamps, marshes, prairies, and agricultural areas.
They’re also spotted near barns and old buildings since these places provide them access to their favorite food, which is rodents.
Like other rat snakes, this species is an active hunter and a powerful constrictor. Adults typically feed on small mammals, birds, bird eggs, lizards, and frogs. They suffocate larger prey using their strong coils but often swallow smaller prey immediately.
If disturbed, Gray Ratsnakes either flee for cover or remain motionless in an attempt to avoid detection using their excellent camouflage. They may also vibrate their tail, producing a rattlesnake-like sound in dry leaf litter. Finally, when they feel cornered or are grabbed, these snakes will strike their attacker as a last resort.
#2. Eastern Foxsnake
- Pantherophis vulpinus
- Adults range from 36 to 72 inches in length.
- Coloration is light golden brown, yellow, or bronze with dark brown or reddish-brown blotches down the back and alternating spots down the side.
- Look for a short, flattened snout.
Eastern Foxsnakes are most often found in southern Ontario in grasslands, prairies, and farming areas. They much prefer wet areas as opposed to dry and are typically spotted on the ground. But don’t be surprised if you see one of these snakes in a tree, as they are strong, agile climbers.
These snakes are typically diurnal, but they may hunt at night during extremely hot weather. They often hide under rocks, logs, or in burrows to regulate their temperature. During the winter, they hibernate below the frost line in underground burrows.
Foxsnake Range Map
Like other rat snakes, this species preferred prey is rodents, but they also consume birds, bird eggs, and frogs. They are constrictors and use their coils to asphyxiate prey.
If disturbed, Eastern Foxsnakes coil and vibrate their tail, producing a rattlesnake-like sound in dry leaves. If grabbed, they will often release a foul-smelling musk which is thought to smell like a Red Fox, giving them their name.
Eastern and Western Foxsnakes are closely related and look the same. In the past, they were even considered the same species before eventually being split apart. The best way to determine the correct species is by location, as they are divided by the Mississippi River.
Do you need additional help identifying snakes?
Try this field guide!
Which of these rat snakes have you seen before in Ontario?
Leave a comment below!
Back in the late 70s I caught one huge Black Rat Snake in Frontanac County near Gananoque. It was over 7 feet long and I gave her to a biologist who worked for the St.Lawrence (Thousand Islands) Parks Commission. He knew of a safe place to release it where other black rat snakes were known to hibernate.
Around the same time period I also found an area around Long Point on Lake Erie that had a huge amount of Fox Snakes and over 3 or more years I caught and released hundreds of them. One time in the late spring I believe there was 7 fox snakes (under a huge piece of sheet metal) that now I think were getting ready to mate. I was really into herpetology and loved catching snakes. When I got into fishing though it was all but forgotten until recently. Now I can’t believe that there endangered and I think i may go back to the Long Point area and see if it is true (at least there).