Snakes of Massachusetts
Black Rat Snake
Pantherophis alleghaniensis (42-72", up to 101")
MA Status: "Endangered." Illegal to harass, kill, collect or possess.
Our largest snake, the black rat snake can reach a length of eight feet, but is usually much smaller. The adult snake is black with a white or creamy yellow chin and throat. In contrast to the black racer, the belly of a rat snake is a mixture of light and dark, giving a somewhat mottled appearance. Light areas are often apparent between scales, and the scales on the back are weakly keeled. A juvenile rat snake is gray with light spots running down the middle of the back, and has white eyes. This pattern darkens with age and is generally undetectable once the snake reaches a length of three feet.
Mating generally takes place in the spring, with 10-14 eggs laid in June or July. Eggs deposited beneath rocks or in manure piles, rotting vegetation, stumps or logs generally hatch in August and September.
Exceedingly rare in Massachusetts, black rat snakes have been found only in the Connecticut Valley and southern Worcester County, where they occupy rocky ledges and forested hillsides. Mammals, birds and bird eggs make up the bulk of their diet and rat snakes will readily climb trees to raid bird and squirrel nests. Young rat snakes feed on frogs and other small prey. Black rat snakes readily bask in the open during spring and fall. Although they are not particularly aggressive, they may bite, defecate or spray musk when handled. Tail rattling may lead some people to mistake them for rattlesnakes.