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This Week’s Creature Feature: Black Rat Snakes

Hire these scary-looking longfellows to eat your mice
     I  have been seeing comments about black rat snakes getting into bird-nesting boxes. A smooth support with a critter guard will generally keep them out.
    The rat snake, a great climber, can easily climb a roughened wooden pole or bridge a three-foot gap. They are very muscular and can move in a straight line or in rectilinear patterns and push against objects in serpentine fashion. They can also climb straight up a tree by wedging into the bark. This is a form of rectilinear motion as they transfer the wedging to other muscles down their body, propelling them upward.  
     Young rat snakes start their life gray and blotched, feeding on frogs, lizards and mice. As they age, the skin darkens and the blotches almost disappear. The snakes have a white chin and dark bars on a pale belly. 
      Female rat snakes are larger and stouter than males and have shorter tails and rounder heads. In the spring, female rat snakes move around their territory leaving a faint scent trail. For mating, males will follow the trail. The female will lay about 15 fertilized eggs in a moist area such as under a log. The eggs take two months to hatch. The female doesn’t tend to the eggs or the young, which grow according to how much they eat.
     Full-grown rat snakes eat mice, voles, chipmunks and rats but will also go after birds, eggs and nestlings. A well-fed one-year-old snake can be twice as long as one that struggles for food. The life expectancy of a wild rat snake is unknown but in captivity are recorded to be over 25 years old.
     The black rat snake thrives from northern Florida to Canada. One of the three longest snakes in North America, it commonly reaches six feet long and has been recorded at over seven feet. They frequently have a docile temperment and are kept as pets. I have moved them off of roads and trails and have never been bitten. I pick them up slowly by lifting in front of the tail. I never grab them behind the head, as that move upsets them.  
      Rat snakes are important in controlling rodents. One snake can finish off a whole nest of mice by following a scent, even underground.
      If you do not like a snake around your home, there are several removal services or hematological groups that would be willing to remove it alive.