ID Guide to RATSNAKES Found in Ontario! (2 species)

There are 2 types of rat snakes that live in Ontario.

Common Ratsnackes species 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!

 


#1. Gray Ratsnake

  • Pantherophis spiloides

Ontario Ratsnakes species

Identifying Characteristics:

  • 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.

gray rat snake range map

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

Kinds of Ratsnakes in Ontario

Identifying Characteristics:

  • 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

Map depicting the approximate distributions of the two foxsnake mtDNA lineages as hypothesized from this study. The light shaded area represents the range of Pantherophis ramspotti, and the dark shaded area represents the range of P. vulpinus. The Mississippi River is a historical barrier yet either side has haplotypes from the other side (the hatched area).

The light shaded area represents the range of WESTERN FOXSNAKES, and the dark shaded area represents the range of EASTERN FOXSNAKES. The Mississippi River is a historical barrier, yet either side has individuals that have crossed over.

 

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!

 

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