Eastern (Black) Ratsnakes

Eastern Ratsnake

The Eastern Ratsnake (Pantherophis alleghaniensis) is our longest and one of our most commonly seen snakes. Formerly called the Black Ratsnake (Elaphe obsoleta), both it’s common and scientific names have been changed and formalized. But many people still refer to it as a Black Rat Snake or simply Black Snake. It is the longest snake in the region, the only one that regularly grows to over 6′ in length. The world record is one that measured 101 inches from its snout to its vent. The Virginia record is a 67.3 inch one. Its large size along with the ability and tendency to climb trees makes this snakes among the most visible in our area.

Eastern (Black) Ratsnakes are excellent climbers and are often seen basking in trees.

Eastern (Black) Ratsnakes are excellent climbers and are often seen basking in trees.

This is a beneficial creature to have around. As the name suggests, they are superb at controlling rodents, being able to get into their burrows and tackling even large rats, killing their prey by constriction. They are however also opportunists, feeding on whatever is available and small enough for them to eat, including birds, eggs, salamanders, shrews, chipmunks, and sometimes larger prey. Because they are such good climbers, they sometimes get themselves into trouble with people who put up bird boxes that haven’t been protected sufficiently, eating the occupants.

Luckily many people realize the benefits of having rat snakes around. Sometimes they’re referred to as the “Farmer’s Friend” and purposely released into barns and out buildings. Their shiny black coloration, with a bit of white on their chin/neck and partial checkerboard pattern on their bellies helps to distinguish them from some of the other black snakes around.

>> Read more at the Capital Naturalist blog.



  1. You say that they regularly grow over 6′ in length, yet the Virginia record is 67.3 inches. Since 6′ is over 70″, I’m having a hard time reconciling these two statements. Can you clarify?