Black Racer vs Black Rat Snake: What’s the Difference?

Written by August Croft
Updated: December 19, 2022
© Jay Ondreicka/Shutterstock.com
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It can be extremely helpful to know the difference between certain snakes, and the same is true when comparing a black racer vs black rat snake. How can you learn to tell these two snakes apart, especially since they both live in North America? While both of these snakes are non venomous, it’s valuable to know their differences.

In this article, we will address all of the similarities as well as differences between black racers and black rat snakes. You’ll learn their preferred habitats, lifespans, diets, and how to identify one should you happen upon one of these harmless snakes in the wild. Let’s get started!

Comparing Black Racer vs Black Rat Snake

black racer vs black rat snake
The black rat snake belongs to the Pantherophis genus, while the black racer belongs to the Coluber genus.

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Black RacerBlack Rat Snake
GenusColuberPantherophis
Size3-5 feet long4-6 feet long
AppearanceSmooth scales in matte black; some white on underbelly and chin. Very slender snake with short head and large eyesTextured scales in glossy black with vague pattern; lots of white on underbelly and chin. Long head and small eyes with tapered body shape
Location and HabitatCentral and North AmericaNorth America
Lifespan5-10 years8-20 years

Key Differences Between Black Racer vs Black Rat Snake

black racer vs rat snake
A black rat snake grows longer than a black racer on average, with 4-6 feet long being the average length of a black rat snake, and 3-5 feet long being the average length of a black racer.
Pictured: Black Racer exhibiting ”periscoping” behavior. 

©Amanda Feltz/Shutterstock.com

There are many key differences between black racers and black rat snakes. The black rat snake belongs to the Pantherophis genus, while the black racer belongs to the Coluber genus. The black racer average has a shorter length when compared to the black rat snake. The locations that these snakes are found also differ, but they are also frequently found in the same habitats. Finally, there is a difference in the lifespan of a black racer versus a black rat snake.

Let’s go over all of these differences in more detail now including their physical description so that you can learn how to tell them apart. 

Black Racer vs Black Rat Snake: Genus and Scientific Classification

black racer vs black rat snake
Black racers have smooth scales in a matte black shade, while black rat snakes have slightly textured scales in a glossy black color in addition to a vague pattern on their back.
Pictured: Black rat snake

©Realest Nature/Shutterstock.com

A primary difference between a black racer vs black rat snake is their genus and scientific classifications. The black rat snake belongs to the Pantherophis genus, while the black racer belongs to the Coluber genus. While this isn’t a very obvious distinction, it is important to note that both of these non venomous lookalikes belong to different species.

Black Racer vs Black Rat Snake: Physical Appearance and Size

black racer vs black rat snake
Black rat snakes are efficient constrictors capable of climbing up buildings and trees, while black racers prefer to move along the ground and rise up to take a look at their surroundings, but they don’t often climb.
Pictured: Black racer

©Breck P. Kent/Shutterstock.com

If you’ve always wanted to be able to tell the difference between a black racer and the black rat snake, you’re in the right place. A black rat snake grows longer than a black racer on average, with 4-6 feet long being the average length of a black rat snake, and 3-5 feet long being the average length of a black racer. 

Black racers have smooth scales in a matte black shade, while black rat snakes have slightly textured scales in a glossy black color in addition to a vague pattern on their back. Both of these snakes have white underbellies, but black rat snakes have significantly more whites when compared to black racers. Finally, the head of the black racer is shorter compared to the head of the black rat snake, and the black racer has larger eyes than the black rat snake. 

Black Racer vs Black Rat Snake: Behavior and Diet

Large adult Eastern black rat snake in defensive coiled posture on road. The snake has a shiny black body with a checkerboard belly.
Both eat a wide variety of pests, but black rat snakes are capable of taking down much larger prey compared to black racers.
Pictured: Black rat snake

©Mike Wilhelm/Shutterstock.com

There are a few behavioral and dietary differences when comparing a black racer vs black rat snake. Black rat snakes are efficient constrictors capable of climbing up buildings and trees, while black racers prefer to move along the ground and rise up to take a look at their surroundings, but they don’t often climb. 

Both of these snakes are considered harmless benefits to many ecosystems, despite many people feeling differently. They both eat a wide variety of pests, but black rat snakes are capable of taking down much larger prey compared to black racers. Black rat snakes eat large rodents and birds, while many black racers stick to amphibians and bird eggs. 

When it comes to feeling threatened, and black racers usually behave as their name implies and race away, while black rat snakes hold their ground in a defensive position. The markings on a black rat snake make many people think they are rattlesnakes, especially given the fact that they mimic rattlesnakes and the way their tails rattle. 

Black Racer vs Black Rat Snake: Preferred Habitat and Geographic Location

black racer vs black rat snake
Both of these snakes have white underbellies, but black rat snakes have significantly more whites when compared to black racers.
Pictured: Black racer

©TjacksonVii/Shutterstock.com

Another difference between black racers and black rat snakes is their geographic location and preferred habitats. While both of these snakes enjoy woodland and grassland areas, often encroaching on suburban areas, the black racer is found in both North and South America, while the black rat snake is only found in North America.

Given the overall athletic ability of the black rat snake, it is found in a wide variety of locations when compared to the black racer. Black racers tend to hide in man-made structures or forests, while black rat snakes are often found in trees or high areas in suburban locations. 

Black Racer vs Black Rat Snake: Lifespan

black racer vs black rat snake
Given the overall athletic ability of the black rat snake, it is found in a wide variety of locations when compared to the black racer.
Pictured: Black rat snake

©Kyla Metzker/Shutterstock.com

A final difference between a black racer vs. black rat snake is their lifespan. Black rat snakes live an average of 8 to 20 years, while black racers live an average of 5 to 10 years. This is a key difference between them, even though both of these snakes are at risk from human interference. Both black racers and black rat snakes are often regarded as pests, or meet an early demise when attempting to cross highways or other busy traffic areas.

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The Featured Image

black racer vs black rat snake
The southern black racer snake is not venomous but uses its great speed to escape predators and other threats.
© Jay Ondreicka/Shutterstock.com

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About the Author

I am a non-binary freelance writer working full-time in Oregon. Graduating Southern Oregon University with a BFA in Theatre and a specialization in creative writing, I have an invested interest in a variety of topics, particularly Pacific Northwest history. When I'm not writing personally or professionally, you can find me camping along the Oregon coast with my high school sweetheart and Chihuahua mix, or in my home kitchen, perfecting recipes in a gleaming cast iron skillet.

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