Tennessee has some of the most diverse wildlife in the eastern United States. Whether it’s the mountains to the east or the rolling hills to the west, there are so many incredible creatures to learn about! One of the most common forms of wildlife you are likely to encounter in Tennessee is snakes. They seem to be everywhere, and thankfully, most of them are harmless. Today, we will look at a group of snakes known as “rat snakes” and learn all about these helpful and harmless reptiles. In the end, you should be able to identify any rat snakes you stumble upon in Tennessee this summer!
What Are Rat Snakes?
Rat snakes are a group of snakes that belong to the Colubridae family. Colubridae is a varied group of snakes with over 249 distinct genera, making it the largest family of snakes in the world. Rat snakes are a part of this group and are generally characterized as medium-sized constrictors that prefer to prey on rodents. As they love mice and rats so much, they earned their name quite right!
There are rat snakes all over the United States. Within Tennessee, there are two species of rat snake, each with its unique identifiers. We will learn to identify the two species of rat snake in Tennessee, plus a few of the other common snakes that they can easily be confused with.
Let’s get started!
A Complete List Of Rat Snakes In Tennessee
Gray Ratsnake (Pantherophis spiloides)
Identification: The gray ratsnake is incredibly common in Tennessee and has some key identifying factors that can help us. Gray ratsnakes have gray or black bodies and white bellies. Many of them have black or brown patterning across their backs. They are a varied species, and certain populations are browner in color and don’t have brown or black spots across their backs. Their scales are rougher because of a stronger keel (the ridge between scales).
Adult gray ratsnakes can grow to 3-6 feet in length, making them one of the longest snakes in the eastern United States.
Distribution: Gray ratsnakes can be found across the entire state of Tennessee. Their range goes from Alabama and Mississippi and heads north, all the way through the Great Lakes region and into New York.
Red Ratsnake / Corn Snake (Pantherophis guttatus)
The red ratsnake is less common across Tennessee than the gray ratsnake, but there is still the possibility of running into one! Red ratsnakes rarely go by their “ratsnake” name, and most people exclusively refer to them as corn snakes. They get their name from the checkerboard bellies that resemble flint corn, an ancient maize variety.
Corn snakes are extremely docile animals that have become some of the most popular choices for pets across the United States. Breeders have been selecting rare colors and patterns for decades, with hundreds of corn snake morphs now available in the pet market.
Identification: Although there are hundreds of morphs, wild corn snakes generally have a standard coloration and pattern. Wild corn snakes are vibrant red and orange snakes with white checkerboard bellies. The patterns on their backs are red or orange and are often ringed in a thin black line.
Distribution: Corn snakes can only be found in the far eastern regions of Tennessee near the border of North Carolina. Additionally, they can be found in the southwestern corner of the state, as well as a small population in Coffee, Cannon, and Rutherford counties.
Possible Rat Snake Lookalikes In Tennessee
Black Racer (Northern and Southern subspecies)
The black racers are long, slender snakes that are found throughout most of the state. They are sleek black snakes with white chins and gray bellies. Racers get their name from the speed at which they can move, with some hitting speeds of 10 mph!
There are two subspecies, the northern black racer, and the southern black racer. Their appearance and behavior are incredibly similar, and subspecies are present throughout Tennessee.
Eastern garter snakes are found throughout much of the eastern United States. They are pretty easy to identify, however, as they almost always have three stripes running down their backs. The stripes are white or yellow, and the snakes themselves are brown, black, or olive.
Cottonmouths are venomous snakes that are found in the eastern United States. They are aquatic snakes and are always found around water. They get their name from their bright white mouths, which they flash at any threat that gets too close. These snakes are thick, stocky snakes that are generally dark gray or olive with gray bellies. As pit vipers, they also have distinct pits between their eyes and nose on either side.
Common brown snakes are small, brown snakes that rarely get longer than 13 inches. They come in shades of brown, yellow, or gray and usually have a series of dots across their back. Brown snakes are often killed as they can resemble juvenile copperheads, but these snakes are harmless. Baby copperheads have yellow tail tips and a distinct hourglass pattern across their backs.
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