Rat Snake
Scientific classification

Rat snakes are medium to large constrictors that can be found through a great portion of the northern hemisphere. They feed primarily on rodents and birds and, with some species exceeding 3 m (10 feet), they can occupy top levels of some food chains. Many species make attractive and docile pets and one, the corn snake, is one of the most popular reptile pets in the world. Other species can be very skittish and sometimes aggressive but bites are seldom serious. As with nearly all colubrids, rat snakes pose no threat to humans. Rat snakes were long thought to be completely nonvenomous, but recent studies have shown that some Old World species do possess small amounts of venom (amounts so small as to be negligible to humans).

Previously, most rat snakes were assigned to the genus Elaphe but many have been since renamed following mitochondrial DNA analysis performed in 2002. For the purpose of this article names will be harmonized with the TIGR Database. When searching for information on a particular species of rat snake it might be useful to query the old name, Elaphe sp., as well as the new.

File:Elaphe mandarina.jpg
File:Elaphe oxycephala1.jpg
File:Rhynchophis boulengeri head (edited).jpg
File:Black Rat Snake.jpg
File:Elaphe obsoleta quadrivittata.jpg


Old WorldEdit

New WorldEdit

See alsoEdit


In recent years there has been some taxonomic controversy over the genus of North American rat snakes. Based on mitochondrial DNA, Utiger et al. (2002) showed that North American Rat Snakes of the genus Elaphe along with closely related genera such as Pituophis and Lampropeltis form a monophyletic group separate from Old World members of the genus. They therefore suggested the resurrection of the available name Pantherophis Fitzinger for all North American taxa (north of Mexico).[1]

All published taxonomy remains a taxonomic suggestion until ruled on by the International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature (ICZN -, but the body has so far not supported the change and has not addressed the taxonomic suggestion, thus the official taxonomy remains Elaphe.

Crother et al. (2003) rejected the taxonomic change to Pantherophis, preferring to retain the current concept of Elaphe and the spelling obsoleta.[2]

Rat snakes in captivityEdit

Rat snakes are commonly kept as pets by reptile enthusiasts. The corn snake is one of the most popular pet reptiles, and belongs to the rat snake family. New world species are generally thought to be more docile in captivity as opposed to old world rat snakes, of which the opposite is assumed.


  1. Elaphe obsoleta at The Center for North American Herpetology. Accessed 20 June 2008.
  2. Crother BI, Boundy J, Campbell JA, De Quieroz K, Frost D, Green DM, Highton R, Iverson JB, McDiarmid RW, Meylan PA, Reeder TW, Seidel ME, Sites Jr JW, Tilley SG, Wake DB. 2003. Scientific and Standard English Names of Amphibians and Reptiles of North America North of Mexico: Update. Herp. Rev. 34: 196-203. PDF at Southeastern Louisiana University. Accessed 11 December 2010.

External links Edit

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