Capable of exceeding eight feet (2.4 m) in length, black rat snakes (Squamata: Colubridae: Elaphe obsoleta obsoleta or Pantherophis obsoletus obsoleta) are one of the longest native snakes in the United States. It’s more common for adults to reach only about six feet (1.8 m), and the specimen shown here was about five feet (1.5 m). These snakes are constrictors and use their bulk to coil around and suffocate their prey. They often feed on small vertebrates like rodents, frogs, other snakes, and birds. They’re excellent climbers, however, and will also raid bird nests for eggs.
Young black rat snakes have a patterned appearance that fades to a relatively uniform black color with age. Adults feature a white jaw and throat, and some may retain small light blotches across their bodies.
These snakes can be found across much of the eastern United States, especially in and around woodlands. Throughout most of their range they’re relatively common, but become uncommon or rare near the edge of their range. Here in southern Michigan their numbers are in decline, and they’re listed as a “species of special concern” by our Department of Natural Resources.