ID Guide to RATSNAKES Found in Virginia! (2 species)
There are 2 types of rat snakes that live in Virginia.
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 Virginia 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 Virginia!
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#1. Eastern Ratsnake
- Pantherophis alleghaniensis
- Adults range from 42 to 72 inches in length though individuals up to 101 inches have been recorded.
- Coloration varies. In Virginia, Eastern Ratsnakes are typically completely black.
- There may be red, white, or yellow flecking on the scales.
These rat snakes are found in many habitats in Virginia.
Look for them in agricultural areas, forests, and swampy woodlands. Make sure you look UP, as Eastern Black Snakes are arboreal and are often found in trees!
They’re also often seen in and around barns and old buildings because of the abundance of rodents, which they kill using constriction. Birds and eggs are also on the menu, with the latter being swallowed whole and broken once in their throat!
Eastern Ratsnakes are active during the day and night, especially just after sunset. They travel considerable distances and are often killed on roadways.
If disturbed, Eastern Ratsnakes will first try to slither away. If they feel cornered, the next step is to flatten their heads and lift the front of their bodies off the ground in an s-shape to appear more threatening and increase their striking range. They may also hiss from this position and bite if grabbed.
#2. 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 Virginia, 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 Virginia?
Leave a comment below!