Eastern Ratsnakes

I spotted several Eastern Ratsnakes (Pantherophis alleghaniensis) basking in a thorny thicket during a photowalk along the Hike-Bike Trail at Huntley Meadows Park on 14 April 2014.

Eastern Ratsnake (Pantherophis alleghaniensis)

Thanks to Kevin Munroe for confirming my tentative field identification. I narrowed the field of possible snake species to either Eastern Ratsnake or Northern Black Racer (Coluber constrictor constrictor), but couldn’t decide between the two species. So I consulted an expert naturalist.

It’s an Eastern Ratsnake; you can tell by the eye. Northern Black Racers have a huge, all-black eye with an “eye-brow” ridge (makes racers look angry and somewhat dangerous all the time), while ratsnakes have noticeably smaller eyes with a black/white pupil/iris pattern (which makes them look more friendly/human). Also racers would never sit still long enough for you to take pictures, or at least it would be harder. Ratsnakes are pretty laid-back and easy to approach, while racers are very skittish and quick to flee. Ratsnakes mostly eat small mammals and young birds/eggs, while racers feed mainly on other herps like snakes, lizards and frogs. Ratsnakes are stealth/tracking hunters that smell out nests of young rodents and birds, while racers are active chasers/hunters/sprinters, which may be why they have such different personalities. Source Credit: Kevin Munroe, Park Manager, Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County Park Authority.

That’s good snake knowledge, Kevin!

Eastern Ratsnake (Pantherophis alleghaniensis)

Eastern Ratsnake (Pantherophis alleghaniensis)

Eastern Ratsnake (Pantherophis alleghaniensis)

The following gallery shows several full-length shots of the ratsnakes. I estimate the largest snake is five- to six feet long!

Copyright © 2014 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

 

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