Species Spotlight: Rat Snakes (Elaphe obsoleta)
Rat snakes are the most commonly widespread snake in North Carolina, and snake season is upon us! The temperatures are rising, the days are getting longer, and reptiles like rat snakes are no different from us – they want to get out and enjoy the spring. That means you’ll probably start seeing snakes, turtles, lizards, and other ectotherms in sunny, warm spots.
Rat snakes are non-venomous constrictors that feed on eggs, mice, rats, and even small birds. If you have chickens in your backyard, chances are you’ve encountered a rat snake once or twice. Like any animal, these snakes will bite if cornered but they’re generally pretty docile just and prefer to be left alone. They are quite harmless to humans.
Rat snakes can be hard to identify because they come in a variety of colors and scale patterns. In this part of the state you’ll often see yellow rat snakes, which can be mistaken for garter snakes (also harmless to humans), and juveniles are often mistaken for cottonmouths due to their mottled brown coloring (which they usually grow out of).
So what should you do if you encounter a rat snake?
Leave it alone!
The snake is probably doing something very important like warming itself or digesting a meal. Interrupting it could harm the snake and chances are it will move along on its own after a few minutes. Rat snakes are not a threat to humans or pets. In fact, you should be thankful if you see a rat snake on your property – that means there probably aren’t a lot of pests like mice around!