Juvenile Ratsnakes (Pantherophis)

One of the most common snakes seen in and around houses are the ratsnakes (Pantherophis species). Unfortunately, the juvenile ratsnakes are often mistaken for copperheads and/or rattlesnakes. When approached they may put on a defensive display of gaping, coiling up, and shaking their tail. This behavior can startle people unfamiliar with them. Of course, this is a common defensive behavior, and the snake is basically saying “I’m scary, leave me alone!”

 These ratsnakes are non-venomous and beneficial. Young ratsnakes will seek out and consume entire nests of baby rodents. They also eat frogs and lizards. In turn, baby snakes are an important prey item for other animals.

Posted below are some photos of juvenile ratsnakes. If you see a small patterned snake around your property it could very well be a juvenile ratsnake. Look for the “bug eyed” appearance, brown to black blotches on a gray background (sometimes yellowish), a somewhat squared-off snout, and bar between the eyes on the top of the head.

As always, if you are unsure about identification, just leave the snake alone and you are safe.

Seeing these snakes means a healthy ecosystem and they should be left to do their job.

Related:  Colubrid Spotlight : Bullsnake (Pituophis catenifer sayi)


Mike currently lives in New Haven County, CT where he has been studying herpetology (the study of Amphibians & Reptiles) for many years and has worked with state agencies, private agencies and zoos doing herp field work and teaching the public about snake safety and the importance of amphibians and reptiles in the ecosystem. Mike now focuses on herp education through social media and public programs.

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