Black rat snakes are among the most common in North America and are often found in backyards or slithering among leaf litter. Being able to correctly identify a black rat snake, which is relatively harmless despite its large size, could give you peace of mind if you're worried about whether or not a venomous snake has invaded your yard or campground.
The first and most obvious way to identify a black rat snake is by its color. It is completely jet black with glossy scales. Its underbelly is mottled white with occasional faded black stripes. The juveniles may have darker underbellies than the adults; they fade to white over time, resulting in a checkerboard pattern. The chin of black rat snake is usually a much brighter white than the rest of the snake's underside.
Black rat snakes are fairly large. Adults can reach up to 8 feet in length. They are not thickly built like pythons or boas, but are more on the thin side depending on how recently they fed. Their heads are shaped like blunt arrows, a trait common among constrictors.
Juvenile black rat snakes look very different from their adult counterparts. Juveniles have pale gray backs with splotches of jet black. Over time, the gray will darken until the entire snake is blackened with the exception of its chin and underbelly.
One way to identify a black rat snake is by its unique defensive posture. The snakes are not aggressive and will instead shake their tail among crumpled leaves to imitate the sound of a rattlesnake's iconic rattle. They will also release a pungent, musky odor that they spray on a predator when attacked.
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