Coachwhip Snake vs Chicken Snake (Yellow Rat Snake): Exploring the Differences

Written by Kristen Holder
Updated: February 14, 2024
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Coachwhip snakes vs chicken snakes is a matter of understanding the characteristics that make each of these snakes unique. Both are nonvenomous and have overlapping territories in the USA.

There are a lot of different species with the chicken snake nickname, though there is really one snake that tops the list as being the real chicken snake. That’s the yellow rat snake. Its scientific name is Pantherophis Obsoleta Quadrivittata.

Understanding the differences between these two snakes will help you if you come across them in the wild. What are some similarities and differences between the coachwhip snake and the chicken snake?

Comparing Coachwhip Snakes and Chicken Snakes

Coachwhip snakes and chicken snakes differ in appearance, diet, habitat, speed, lifespan, and behavior.
Coachwhip SnakeChicken Snake
Max Length8 Feet7 Feet
HabitatOn dry groundIn trees near water
SpeedFastNot Fast
Lifespan10-20 years10-18 years

The Key Differences Between Coachwhip Snakes and Chicken Snakes

The key differences between coachwhip snakes and chicken snakes are appearance, diet, habitat, speed, lifespan, and behavior.

Let us examine these differences in detail.

Coachwhip Snake vs Chicken Snake: Appearance

Yellow Rat Snake

Yellow rat snakes (chicken snakes) have four stripes down the length of their body.

©Patrick K. Campbell/

Coachwhip snakes are long and thin with light tails that taper into a dark head. The color gradient represented on these snakes is dependent on the habitat in which they live.

Yellow rat snakes have a yellowish undertone with four stripes down the length of their body. Coloration between individuals can vary, sometimes depending on habitat like the coachwhip, while other times it depends on if they’re from the north of their range or the south. The closer to Florida they are, the brighter they are colored.

Coachwhip snakes can grow up to eight feet in length, while chicken snakes top out at seven. Chicken snakes are also long and slender.

The scales of a coachwhip snake look crosshatched like an old whip, which is where they got their name. Like most nonvenomous snakes, both snakes have round eyes with round pupils.

Coachwhip Snake vs Chicken Snake: Diet

Adult chickens are not really on a chicken snake’s menu, though baby chicks are considered fair game. They’re known to attack adults, though. Occasionally, they’ll eat one if the situation is just right.

While coachwhips regularly dine on lizards, rodents, and small birds, chicken snakes stick strictly to warm-blooded prey. Bigger prey can be consumed by the rat snake than the chicken snake because it can stretch its jaws open farther than a coachwhip. Coachwhips eat smaller prey than the chicken snake.

Coachwhip Snake vs Chicken Snake: Habitat

Coachwhip Snake - In Skull

Coachwhips prefer drier climates.

©Deep Desert Photography/

Chicken snakes like to be near the water, and they spend a lot of time hanging out in trees. Climbing is one of their talents, and they can get high up in trees in search of prey.

Coachwhips prefer to hunt on the ground though they’re adept climbers. They prefer drier climates than the chicken snake. Swimming is a skill that coachwhips have, though they avoid it in most circumstances. Chicken snakes are great swimmers too.

Coachwhip Snake vs Chicken Snake: Speed

At four mph, coachwhip snakes are one of the fastest snakes in North America. Trees provide the best highway for locomotion among chicken snakes, though they can still move quickly on land. They’re not as fast as coachwhips, though.

Coachwhip Snake vs Chicken Snake: Lifespan

The lifespan of a coachwhip snake in the wild averages thirteen years. In captivity, they can age to about twenty years. Fifteen years is the max in the wild for chicken snakes, while they have lived up to eighteen years in captivity.

Coachwhip Snake vs Chicken Snake: Behavior

How Do They Attack?

Pink Coachwhip Snake

Coachwhips raise their heads high before biting.

©Nathan A Shepard/

Raising the head high before biting is how a coachwhips attacks, though it isn’t looking for a fight. Freezing is a chicken snake’s go-to, and it’s aggressive in the wild if the confrontation escalates.   

Having the head held high is also how the chicken snake deals with danger before it attacks. It may even hold its mouth open and attempt to hiss. The coachwhip snake and the chicken snake approach attacks in the same way.

Even though there isn’t a rattle on their tails, coachwhips rattle them anyway to look like a rattlesnake. This is also a survival tactic of the chicken snake.

Do They Feign Death?

When a coachwhip snake is cornered, it will feign its death. It goes limp and won’t react to people prodding at it. Chicken snakes don’t feign their death.

Do They Make Good Pets?

chicken snake

Chicken snakes make good pets.

©Matt Jeppson/

Surprisingly, even though chicken snakes are aggressive in the wild, they learn to be handled easily if they’re caught in nature. It’s common for these snakes to be bred for specific characteristics, and a few new types of snakes have been created through selective breeding.

Biting when handled, coachwhip snakes make terrible pets. Advanced snake handlers can keep them, but they’re neither recommended nor are they appropriate for beginners.

Do They Interbreed?

The black rat snake and the chicken snake interbreed in the wild, creating a hybrid that is green. Since coachwhips make terrible pets, there hasn’t been a lot of interbreeding attempted in captivity. It is uncertain if coachwhips are capable of interbreeding, and there is little published information out there about this phenomenon in relation to these snakes.

The photo featured at the top of this post is © Patrick K. Campbell/

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About the Author

Kristen Holder is a writer at A-Z Animals primarily covering topics related to history, travel, pets, and obscure scientific issues. Kristen has been writing professionally for 3 years, and she holds a Bachelor's Degree from the University of California, Riverside, which she obtained in 2009. After living in California, Washington, and Arizona, she is now a permanent resident of Iowa. Kristen loves to dote on her 3 cats, and she spends her free time coming up with adventures that allow her to explore her new home.

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