Rat Snake, Black

Latin name

Elaphe obsoleta obsoleta


Fast facts

  • Adult body length: 42 - 72 inches, record 101 inches
  • Length when hatched: 11 - 16 inches
  • Breeding period: April - June
  • Young per year: 5 -30 eggs; average, 10 -14
  • Life expectancy: up to 20 years
  • Typical foods: small rodents such as rats and mice, birds and eggs


    As its name suggests, the Black Rat Snake is black, shiny black. However, sometimes after a heavy meal a swollen individual may show some white color between its scales. This is the largest snake in Ohio, sometimes reaching a length of more than eight feet. For people who have mastered their surprise or fear of seeing snakes free in nature, this is a very graceful and attractive animal.


    Overall Range
    New England south to North Carolina and Georgia (inland), west through Illinois to Iowa, and south to northern Louisiana.

    Range in Ohio
    The Black Rat Snake occurs throughout most of the state.

    Black Rat Snake Ohio Map

    Local Habitat
    Forests, rocky hillsides with large trees, farmlands and old fields.


    The Black Rat Snake is a proficient climber. Often it goes rather high up into trees, where it uses cavities or hollows formerly occupied by other animals such as birds or mammals.

    Black Rat Snakes often hibernate in rock crevices in the company of other snakes, such as copperheads and rattlesnakes. This habit gave rise to the myth that these snakes "pilot" these venomous snakes to safety in time of danger. Thus they often are called Pilot Black Snakes.

    This snake's habit of pursuing rats and mice for food makes it one of the most beneficial reptiles for people in Ohio. Considering the ability of this snake to lead a relatively long life, it is quite reasonable to believe that a farmer can see the same snake around his buildings for many years. And a youngster may see the same snake during the entire period that he/she is growing up on a family farm.