The black rat snake (Pantherophis spp.) is a long, powerful constrictor reaching up to 6 feet in length. Adults are mostly black or brown with white, yellow or red in between the scales. The undersides are mostly white with dark blotches. Throughout their range, rat snakes are declining in many states. Populations are threatened by habitat alteration, collection for pet trade, roads, and increasing homogeneity of habitats from clearing or maturation of abandoned fields. It is listed as a Species of Greatest Conservation Need in four states in BCR 14.
Black rat snakes use a mosaic of woodland and open field habitats. They forage in trees and on the ground for small mammals in forest edges, open woodlands, herbaceous and shrubby habitats, and use forest interiors for refuge. Gravid females spend more time in habitats with low overstory canopy cover, most likely because of the availability of basking sites for thermoregulation.
Habitat Management Practices
Little guidance is available on how to best manage habitats for rat snakes. However, based on their habitat requirements, maintaining a diversity of early successional habitats including those dominated by grasses, forbs, shrubs, and young trees, mixed with forests and open woodlands with well-developed understories would likely benefit this species. Refer to information sources below for additional guidance.
Avoid timber harvest, field mowing, or similar activities in known rat snake areas from mid-April to late-October to insure a low potential for direct impacts to these snakes.
Allow dead trees and woody material to decompose naturally. After timber harvests, leave stumps, blowovers, logs, dead-standing snags, and other woody material for current and future nesting and foraging areas. When whole-tree chipping, fell and leave some low-quality trees.
Creating brush piles will provide cover and foraging opportunities as well as habitat for a variety of prey.
For More Information About This Species
Gilbert, M. 2012. Under cover: wildlife of shrublands and young forest. Wildlife Management Institute, Cabot, VT. 87pp.
Mitchell, J.C., A.R. Breisch, and K.A. Buhlmann. 2006. Habitat management guidelines for amphibians and reptiles of the Northeastern United States. Partners in Amphibian and Reptile Conservation, Technical Bulletin HMG-3, Montgomery, Alabama. 108pp.
PSE&G. 2011. Critical habitat/endangered species mitigation plan for PSE&G's Susquehanna-Roseland 500kV transmission line project. PSE&G Delivery Projects and Construction, Newark, NJ. 102pp.