Common Name: Black Rat Snake, Pilot Snake, Chicken Snake

Scientific Name:  Elaphe obsoleta (Genus Elaphe is from Greek elaphos meaning deer, possibly referring to the soft skin of the snake; obsoleta means worn out)


Potpourri: The Black Rat Snake is normally about 3 to 5 feet long, though it can be much longer. It holds the official record for the longest snake officially recorded in the United States at a length of 108 inches (9 feet).  It is one of about 50 species called rat snakes of the genus Elaphe that occur in North America, Europe and Asia.  They are so named for their primary food source in many habitats, which are rats.  However, a study of 85 rat snakes in Virginia in 1939 revealed that their stomach contents contained 32% mice, 31% birds, 15% chipmunks and squirrels, 9% rabbits and 4% shrews. 


The Black Rat Snake is an excellent tree climber, able to ascend a smooth barked tree as well as the vertical side of a wooden barn. This ability has evolved as a means to prey on birds and squirrels in trees and rats and mice in barns.


The name pilot snake refers to the folk legend that rat snakes lead Timber Rattlesnakes and Copperheads to safety in time of danger. In reality, these three species of snake commingle in the winter, as they share the same dens. Another legend holds that a dead Black Rat Snake draped over a fence post will bring rain.


A study conducted in 1992 of 14 black rat snakes implanted with temperature sensitive radio transmitters revealed that inactive snakes were only in the open 9% of the time. More frequently, they were found in sites such as logs (30%) and tree cavities (23%).

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