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

Written by August Croft
Updated: October 11, 2023
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Key Points:

  • The black racer and black rat snake are both non-venomous species of snakes found in North America, but they have distinct physical differences. Black racers have smooth scales and slender, agile body, while black rat snakes have keeled scales and a thicker, more muscular body.
  • Despite their similar names and coloration, black racers and black rat snakes have different diets and hunting behaviors. Black racers are active hunters that primarily feed on rodents, lizards, and insects, while black rat snakes are constrictors that feed on a variety of prey, including rodents, birds, and amphibians.
  • Both black racers and black rat snakes are beneficial to their ecosystem as they help control rodent populations, but they can be mistaken for venomous snakes and killed by humans out of fear.

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 nonvenomous, 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.

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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.
Black RacerBlack Rat Snake
GenusColuberPantherophis
Size3-5 feet long4-6 feet long
AppearanceSmooth scales in matte black; some white on the underbelly and chin. Very slender snake with a short head and large eyesTextured scales in glossy black with a 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

Five Cool Facts About Black Racer vs Black Rat Snake

Black racers and black rat snakes are two species of snakes commonly found in North America. While they may look similar, there are some key differences between the two species.

Here are five cool facts about black racers and black rat snakes:

  1. Speed: Black racers are known for their incredible speed and agility. These snakes can move at speeds of up to 10 miles per hour, making them one of the fastest snakes in North America. In contrast, black rat snakes are slower and more deliberate in their movements, relying on stealth and ambush to catch their prey.
  2. Habitat: Black racers prefer open, sunny habitats such as fields, meadows, and forest edges, while black rat snakes can be found in a wider range of habitats including forests, swamps, and even suburban areas. Both species are non-venomous and pose no threat to humans.
  3. Diet: Black racers are active hunters and feed primarily on small rodents, lizards, and insects. Black rat snakes, on the other hand, are constrictors and feed on a variety of prey including rodents, birds, and amphibians. Both species play an important role in controlling pest populations in their respective habitats.
  4. Size: While both species can grow to be quite large, black rat snakes are typically longer and heavier than black racers. Adult black rat snakes can reach lengths of up to 8 feet, while black racers rarely exceed 6 feet in length.
  5. Reproduction: Both black racers and black rat snakes are oviparous, meaning they lay eggs rather than give birth to live young. Black racers typically lay clutches of 6-18 eggs in the summer months, while black rat snakes may lay up to 20 eggs in a single clutch.

In conclusion, while black racers and black rat snakes may look similar at first glance, they have distinct differences in their behavior, habitat, and physical characteristics.

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 where 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

©iStock.com/RCKeller

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 nonvenomous 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 a 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, 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.

How Do You Keep Snakes Away?

Encircling your yard with tight wire mesh fencing is one strategy to keep snakes off your property.

©Isabel Eve/Shutterstock.com

While snakes in the wild serve a valuable purpose by keeping down rodent populations, some people are just unable to see the good in these slithering serpents. You especially would not want one slipping into your home unannounced! So what are some ways to keep snakes outside where they belong, and preferably, out of your yard as well?

Below are 10 simple steps you can take to help keep the snake population down in and around your home:

  1. Sealing Up Cracks–You’ll need to search the perimeter of your home for access points, warm or damp crawl spaces, or holes in your home’s foundation or near ground level. Storm drains are also attractive to snakes. Sealing these entry points appropriately is a start to keeping snakes out.
  2. Removing Potential Food Sources–You may not have realized that bird feeders are potential problems, as they not only attract birds but also rodents and insects, both of which attract snakes. Outdoor pet food can have the same effect. If possible, feed your pets indoors and keep any outdoor seed or other foods in sealed containers.
  3. Removing Standing Water–Standing water can attract frogs, lizards, small mammals, and snakes. Try to reduce standing water as much as possible, even if it means watering your lawn less.
  4. Trapping the Snake–If there are just a few pesky snakes troubling you, you can purchase professionally-made snake traps at your local hardware store and try to snag them. Rather than killing them, consider transporting the snakes about 6 miles away and freeing them in the wild.
  5. Building Strong Fences–There are special types of fences that can keep snakes out, usually made of vinyl or tight wire mesh. Consulting your local hardware store for advice can help with this strategy.
  6. Employing Proper Landscaping and Maintenance–Snakes are drawn to areas of overgrown vegetation, loose debris, wood piles, or other areas where they can hide. Keeping your yard maintained regularly can help cut down on places for snakes to hang out.
  7. Bringing in Domesticated Fowl–This may be an extreme solution, but domestic fowl like chickens are capable of managing snake populations, especially roosters, who protect hens and chicks from danger.
  8. Luring Birds of Prey–Growing tall trees with strong branches can be a way to attract birds of prey like owls, who like to prey on snakes. Another idea would be to build a nesting box to make them feel at home.
  9. Calling Wildlife Control–When all else fails, there’s always the option of calling a professional to come remove an unwanted snake from your property. Exterminators are also valuable, as they can help rid your house of rodents, which attract snakes.
  10. Removing Debris and Keeping Woodpiles Off the Ground–This one is similar to #6, but focuses on woodpiles, which should not be left sitting on the ground if you want to keep snakes away. Elevating them will help deter snakes, as well as remove empty containers and piles of debris where snakes may gather.

The photo featured at the top of this post is © Jay Ondreicka/Shutterstock.com

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About the Author

August Croft is a writer at A-Z Animals where their primary focus is on astrology, symbolism, and gardening. August has been writing a variety of content for over 4 years and holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree in Theater from Southern Oregon University, which they earned in 2014. They are currently working toward a professional certification in astrology and chart reading. A resident of Oregon, August enjoys playwriting, craft beer, and cooking seasonal recipes for their friends and high school sweetheart.

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