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

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

Common Ratsnakes in Tennessee

 

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 Tennessee 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 Tennessee!

 


#1. Gray Ratsnake

  • Pantherophis spiloides

Types of Ratsnakes found in Tennessee

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Adults range from 42 to 72 inches in length.
  • Coloration is variable:
    • Individuals can be plain black with red, white, or yellow flecking on the scales.
    • Or they are medium gray to pale brown with distinct brown or gray blotches.

 

Look for Gray Ratsnakes in Tennessee 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. Red Cornsnake

  • Pantherophis guttatus

Ratsnakes species that live in Tennessee

Identifying Characteristics:

  • 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 cornsnake range map

Credit: Virginia Herpetological Society

Red Cornsnakes occupy various habitats in Tennessee, 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.

 


Do you need additional help identifying snakes?

Try this field guide!

 


Which of these rat snakes have you seen before in Tennessee?

 

Leave a comment below!

 

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