In the United States, 17 different species of snakes call the state of New York their home. In an area where snakes are not as commonly seen, fear is a common reaction to these mostly harmless animals. After working extensively for years with various species of wild, as well as captive-bred species of snakes, I can confidently say that rarely will a snake attack unprovoked. Often distress can cause a snake to attack. Getting between a snake and it’s meal during feeding time is also a very good way to get a tag from one of these animals (Source: SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry.)
The Texas Rat Snake in New York?
The largest snake in New York, the Western Rat Snake (Pantherophis obsoletus, formally Elaphe obsoleta,) commonly referred to as the “texas rat,” “black rat snake,” or even just “black snake.” They are found throughout the eastern coast of the United States, from New England to Florida. This snake is a non-venomous colubrid with no sub-species that are known. Populations stretch across the United States extending to southern Wisconsin as well. There are isolated populations found in parts of Southern Canada as well as in Northern New York. Check out the video above to see a large rat snake we encountered on a back road in Upstate New York, in the Adirondack Mountain Region.
More About the Black Rat Snake
The black rat, a species of constrictor, is considered a master climber. It has been known to climb large trees without using any branches. (Photo to the right: two black snakes mating) Not only can this snake climb, it can also swim very well. The black rat has also been known to lead people to venomous snake dens, giving it the name “pilot black snake.” Adults can range in length from between 3ft(1.06M) up to 6ft(1.83M), but have been known to grow larger in some cases. The longest Black Rat Snake on record was over 8 feet in length! In the wild these snakes are prey to many other animals. Other snake species, as well as many bird species prey on the black rat. If threatened, it can release a foul smelling musk as a defensive mechanism against stress or danger. These snakes have been known to become aggressive when cornered or attacked by predators.
How the Black Rat Feeds
As a constrictor, this species of snake constricts their prey until they die. Then the prey is swallowed whole. It has been recently suggested that when a snake constricts it’s prey, it does not actually suffocate it as was previously accepted by the scientific community. New studies have suggested that the prey actually die from a heart attack caused by the actions of the snake cutting off blood supplies.
The Black Rat Snake in Captivity
Besides the ball pythons and corn snakes, the rat snake is one of the most commonly sold pet snakes in the world. They grow to an impressive size, but not too large that an inexperienced snake-handler may have trouble. Captive-bred rat snakes have an amazingly calm temperament and have been bred to visually appeal to almost anyone’s sense of aesthetics. Numerous mutations of the normal black rat snake have emerged throughout the years, including the albinos, the leucistics, as well as an amazing scaleless variety. The scaleless snakes lack all of it’s scales, except the ventral scales on the bottom side of the animal.