Black Snakes in Kentucky

Written by Megan Martin
Published: October 12, 2022
© Matt Jeppson/Shutterstock.com
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The United States is full of a variety of species of different snakes, Kentucky included. The black snakes in Kentucky are among the most common species, although there are many more. Ready to learn more about the black snakes in Kentucky? Keep reading!

About Black Snakes

Black Rat snake in Virginia's Caledon State Park. These are large, non-venomous snakes between 3.5 and 7 feet (one and two meters) long.
Black snakes in Kentucky are nonvenomous.

©iStock.com/RCKeller

One of the first things to know about black snakes is that the common name can actually refer to a lot of different species. However, typically, when someone says “black snake” they’re referring to the black rat snake, or the Pantherophis obsoletus. Other names for this species include the western rat snake, the black rat snake, and the pilot black snake.

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Black snakes in Kentucky are actually nonvenomous. However, you’ll still need to have a medical professional check you out when bitten. Snake bites can be full of bacteria that can lead to an infection if not treated properly.

Rather than use venom to hunt, black snakes rely on constriction. This means they wrap their body tightly around their prey to suffocate them before eating them. However, because black snakes lack venom, they’ve also had to find an entirely new way to effectively protect themselves. 

When it comes to self-defense, black snakes have two main ways of keeping themselves from becoming someone’s lunch. First, they have the ability to release a foul-smelling musk that deters hungry predators. However, black snakes have also evolved the ability to shake their tail in a way similar to a rattlesnake in order to scare off potential threats. 

Appearance

An adult rat black snake peaks over a rock
Black snakes grow to reach an adult size ranging between four and six feet on average.

©Matt Jeppson/Shutterstock.com

As the name suggests, black snakes are, well, black snakes. However, they’re not always solid black. Some may have warmer undertones, giving them a slightly brown hue, while others will have cooler undertones, giving them a gray hue. However, overall, black snakes are easy to identify as black snakes.

Because of this, however, black snakes can be easily confused with other black snakes in Kentucky and the United States. Thankfully, their size sets them apart from other species that may look similar.

On average, black snakes grow to reach an adult size ranging between four and six feet. However, the largest black snake ever recorded was as long as eight feet! That’s longer than most basketball stars are tall. This makes the black snake the largest snake in the United States. 

Diet

As constricting predators, black snakes will eat the most of anything they can get their body around. This includes mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and even birds. Overall, the diet of black snakes in Kentucky can be made up of

  • Frogs
  • Toads
  • Lizards
  • Small birds
  • Bird eggs
  • Squirrels
  • Rats
  • Mice
  • Chipmunks
  • Moles
  • Small rabbits
  • Small opossums

Where To Find Black Snakes in Kentucky?

Black snakes are usually found in forests and plains.

©Ryan M. Bolton/Shutterstock.com

Black snakes in Kentucky are highly adaptable species. This means that they can survive in many of the different habitats found in the state. However, there are areas where they’re most common.

In Kentucky, black snakes are usually found in forests and plains. They don’t need to live directly adjacent to a water source like some semiaquatic species, such as the cottonmouth, but they do need a source of water for drinking and hunting amphibians as needed. 

Other Types of Black Snakes in Kentucky

There are around 33 species of snakes in Kentucky, both venomous and nonvenomous. Of these species, there are several other species of “black” snakes other than the black rat snake. 

Some of these snakes may be black, but they could also feature other colors. However, at a glance, it can be easy to simply call these diverse species black snakes. This is one reason that using only common names can get tricky. As a result, we’ve also included each species’ scientific name to help you always know which is the topic of conversation, whether it’s a black rat snake or an eastern black kingsnake!

Eastern Black Kingsnake (Lampropeltis nigra)

Snakes in Mississippi - Eastern Black Kingsnake (Lampropeltis nigra)
On average, the black kingsnake is a smaller species when compared to other black snakes.

©Matt Jeppson/Shutterstock.com

The black kingsnake is one of many types of species of kingsnakes found in the United States. Often, you’ll know of the kingsnake for mimicking the coral snake. This means that it usually boasts flashy skin of red, yellow, and black. However, Lampropeltis nigra in particular is completely black. This means that it’s easily confused with other black snakes in Kentucky.

On average, the black kingsnake is a smaller species. Adults don’t tend to grow much larger than around four feet. However, they can. In fact, some specimens have been as large as six feet long, although this is fairly rare. 

Eastern Hog-Nosed Snake (Heterodon platirhinos)

Not all hog-nosed snakes are solid black.

©IHX/Shutterstock.com

Also known as the spreading adder, the eastern hog-nosed snake is a black snake in Kentucky. Unlike the eastern rat snake, however, one of the most common black snakes in Kentucky, the eastern hog-nosed snake actually possesses mild venom.

Not all hog-nosed snakes are solid black, either. Some display different colors, from dark brown to dull red, and can have splotches of color or stripes. They’re found only in North America, and there are no subspecies. As for size, the largest eastern hog-nosed snake ever recorded was a little less than four feet long. 

North American Black Racer (Coluber constrictor)

close up of Southern black racer with tongue out
The black racer gets its name from its extreme speed.

©TjacksonVii/Shutterstock.com

When it comes to appearance, the black racer is probably the most easily confused with the black rat snake. However, there is a bit of a size difference, helping to identify it. At its maximum size, the black racer can reach sizes up to six feet long. However, this is rare. 

There is also a notable difference in speed. While the black rat snake isn’t slow by any means, the black racer gets its name from its extreme speed. Whether it’s looking to escape from predators or chase down prey to constrict, the black racer is one of the fastest snakes in the United States. At its fastest, it can reach speeds up to 10 miles per hour. 

Red-Bellied Mudsnake (Farancia abacura)

red bellied mud snake
Red-bellied mudsnakes are among the largest black snakes in Kentucky.

©Patrick K. Campbell/Shutterstock.com

With a name like red-bellied mudsnakes, you’ll be surprised to learn that this species, Farancia abacura, is actually one of many black snakes in Kentucky. This is because although they do possess their namesake’s bright red belly, their dorsal side, or back, is entirely black. This means that, at a glance, it can be difficult to tell them apart from other types of black snakes. 

The red-bellied mudsnake is endemic to the southeastern region of the United States. This means that it’s only found natively in this region. It’s a nonvenomous, semiaquatic species, which means that you’ll find it near bodies of water where it can use constriction to catch its prey. 

Red-bellied mudsnakes are also among the largest black snakes in Kentucky. Although the black rat snake is still the largest snake in the United States, the red-bellied mudsnake can reach sizes up to 81 inches. 

Ring-Necked Snake (Diadophis punctatus)

Ringneck Snake (Diadophis punctatus)
The ring-necked snake is a small type of black snake.

©Tom Fenske/Shutterstock.com

The ring-necked snake is a small type of black snake in Kentucky. It has subspecies spread across the entire United States, from north to south. 

Unlike the black rat snake, the ring-necked snake is actually venomous. However, it doesn’t have a venom gland like most venomous snakes you think of. Instead, it has mild venomous saliva that is produced from an organ known as Duvernoy’s gland. This venom is perfect for catching its small prey. However, other than pain and irritation, it doesn’t have much effect on humans

The ring-necked snake is mostly black, which is why it can be confused with the black rat snake. However, it also has a ring around its neck that can help identify it. This ring is usually a lighter color, like white or yellow, and it can be either a complete circle around its neck or an incomplete circle. However, its contrast compared to the rest of the body makes it hard to miss. 

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The Featured Image

An adult rat black snake peaks over a rock
Reaching a length of up to 8 feet, black rat snakes are one of the longest snakes in North America
© Matt Jeppson/Shutterstock.com

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About the Author

I'm a writer with almost five years of experience. I recently graduated from Wingate University with a Bachelor of Arts in English and a double minor in biology and professional and technical writing. I love everything animals and nature related! The American kestrel is my favorite animal, but I also like sharks and alligators. In my free time, I like to watch documentaries and explore nature.

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Sources
  1. Kentucky Snake Identification, Available here: https://kysnakes.ca.uky.edu/KY_snakes