Rat Snakes

Black rat snake
Black rat snake on a fence. Getty Images/Joe McDonald

Rat snakes are popular colubrid snakes that are kept as pets. There are many different colors and species of rat snakes but the black rat snake is the most commonly seen kind of rat snake after the corn snake (which is actually a part of the rat snake family).

  • Name: Black rat snake, Western rat snake, pilot black snake, black snake, Pantherophis obsoletus
  • Size: About 3 to 8 feet in length
  • Lifespan: 10 to 30 years in captivity

    About Black Rat Snakes

    To someone who is not familiar with snakes, the black rat snake may be mistaken for a rattlesnake when he wrinkles his body up before striking his prey. But rat snakes are non-venomous colubrids that are typically pretty calm when handled regularly. They are similar to corn snakes and are not aggressive.

    Black rat snakes are found in the wild in Canada and the United States, are excellent climbers, and can even swim when necessary. Their smaller size and less demanding temperature requirements makes black rat snakes popular pets.

    Housing Black Rat Snakes

    Since rat snakes are good climbers (semi-arboreal), maintaining an extra secure enclosure is key to keeping your snake in his home. A secure latch is necessary to any black rat snake house, as well as some height to the cage, to allow your snake to climb without escaping.

    A water bowl large enough for your snake to fit in to allow a good soaking should be provided at all times along with a substrate (bedding) to allow hiding.

    In the wild black rat snakes spend most of their time in heavily wooded areas therefore a substrate that reflects this natural environment is recommended, such as Repti-Bark or Jungle Mix. These types of substrates will not only look and feel like a natural environment but they will also allow your snake to burrow and hide in his enclosure.

    Rat snakes are hardy snakes and don't require much maintenance once their cage is set up. Cleaning their cage as needed and keeping their water bowl clean will be your main duties besides feeding.

    Feeding Black Rat Snakes

    Rat snakes are constricting snakes which means they wrap their bodies around their food before eating it to suffocate it. In the wild they catch live rodents and kill them but in captivity they will eat pre-killed prey, which is a much safer option for your captive snake. Mice and rats are the prey of choice for pet rat snake owners as they are readily available from many pet stores and can be ordered frozen in bulk online. Feeding an adult rat snake once a week is a good starting point but the size of the food and the size of your snake will cause this to vary. Rat snakes, like other snakes, also won't eat if they are about to shed or are currently shedding.

    Heat and Lighting for Black Rat Snakes

    Rat snakes prefer cooler temperature than some snakes but to keep them from hibernating you should keep their enclosure between 80 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit on the warm side and allow it to drop to no less than 70 degrees Fahrenheit on the cool side and at night. Special reptile heat lights should be used to maintain these temperatures.

    Hot rocks can be dangerous and cause burns on your snake and under tank heaters make it difficult to regulate the ambient temperature therefore ceramic heat emitters and incandescent heat light bulbs are preferred. UVB lighting is not necessary for black rat snakes but any heat lights that are used that emit a visible white light should be placed on a timer or turned on and off every 10-12 hours to replicate the natural day and night cycle.