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Rat Snakes as Pets

Caring for Pet Rat Snakes


Shadow - Black Rat Snake Picture

Shadow - Black Rat Snake (Elaphe obsoleta obsoleta)

Photo © Sherry Honeycutt

Rat snakes are popular colubrid snakes that are kept as pets. There are many different colors and species of rat snakes but the Black rat snake is the most commonly seen rat snake after the corn snake which is actually a part of the rat snake family.

  • Name: Black rat snake, Western rat snake, pilot black snake, black snake, Pantherophis obsoletus
  • Size: About 3 to 8 feet in length
  • Lifespan: 10 to 30 years in captivity
  • Black Rat Snakes

    To someone who is not familiar with snakes, the Black rat snake may be mistaken for a rattlesnake as he wrinkles his body up before striking. But rat snakes are non-venomous colubrids that are typically pretty calm when handled regularly. They are similar to corn snakes and are not aggressive snakes.

    Black rat snakes are found in the wild in Canada and the United States, are excellent climbers, and can even swim when necessary.

    Housing Black Rat Snakes

    Since rat snakes are good climbers (semi-arboreal), having an extra secure enclosure is key to keeping your snake in his home. A secure latch is necessary as is some height to the cage to allow your snake to climb.

    A water bowl large enough for your snake to fit in should be provided at all times along with a substrate to allow hiding. In the wild Black rat snakes spend most of their time in heavily wooded areas, therefore a substrate that reflects this natural environment is recommended, such as Repti-Bark or Jungle Mix.

    Rat snakes are cooler temperature snakes than some but to keep them from hibernating you should have them between 80 and 85 degrees on their warm side and allow it to drop to no less than 70 degrees on the cool side and at night.

    Feeding Black Rat Snakes

    Rat snakes are constrictors so they wrap their bodies around their food before eating it to suffocate it. In the wild they are catching live rodents and killing it but in captivity they will eat pre-killed prey. Mice and rats are the prey of choice for pet rat snake owners as they are readily available at many pet stores and can be ordered frozen in bulk online. Feeding an adult rat snake weekly is a good starting point but the size of the food and the size of your snake will cause this to vary. Rat snakes, like other snakes, also won't eat if they are about to shed or currently shedding.

    Rat snakes are hardy snakes and don't require much maintenance. Cleaning their cage as needed, keeping their water bowl clean, and feeding as needed is really the bulk of the care for a rat snake.

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