Coachwhip Snake vs Rat Snake: 7 Similarities and Differences

Written by Kristen Holder
Published: August 21, 2022
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Both rat snakes and coachwhip snakes are found in the same territories and habitats. Telling them apart will help you with proper identification, so you don’t mistake them for something else. What are some similarities and differences between rat snakes and the coachwhip?

The term “rat snake” refers to over 50 species with similar characteristics. There are also several coachwhip variations, though not as many as rat snakes. What are some other similarities and differences between a coachwhip vs rat snake?

Coachwhip Snake vs Rat Snake

Coachwhip and rat snakes differ in size, speed, habitat, and appearance.
ComparisonRat SnakeCoachwhip
Size9 Feet8 Feet
AppearanceVariableTapering Color
HabitatHighly VariableSemi-Arid to Arid
Defensive BehaviorsMusk and Mimic RattlesnakeMusk and Mimic Rattlesnake

The similarities and differences between a coachwhip vs rat snake are:

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  • Their size: Coachwhips are around 8 feet long, whereas rat snakes grow to 9.
  • Appearance: Rat snakes vary in appearance, whereas coachwhips always have a tapering color though this color can also vary.
  • Venom: Both the rat snake and the coachwhip snake are nonvenomous.
  • Diet: Both the rat snake and the coachwhip snake eat the same type of prey.
  • Speed: Coachwhips are faster on land than rat snakes.
  • Habitat: Rat snakes live in various environments, whereas coachwhips are mostly found in arid and semi-arid environments.
  • Defense: Both the coachwhip and the rat snake defend themselves in the same way.

Coachwhip vs Rat Snake: Size

aesculapian snake

Rat snakes are known to grow up to 9 feet long.

©Martin Pelanek/

Coachwhip snakes are long and thin, reaching up to 8 feet in length, with the longest ever caught being 8.5 feet long. Their eyes are large, and their heads are smaller than their bodies.

Some rat snakes reach the same length as coachwhips, while a few sometimes exceed it. They’re known to grow up to 9 feet long, and they’re also long and thin snakes.

Coachwhip and rat snakes are some of the longest nonvenomous snakes out there.

Coachwhip vs Rat Snake: Appearance

Eastern coachwhip snake

A coachwhip’s color tapers from head to tail.

©Matt Jeppson/

A coachwhip’s patterning and coloration are what make them stand out. Their tails are white or cream and taper into black as they approach the head. Their coloration will vary by region, but their body’s color always tapers.

Rat snakes are so widespread that they come in various colors, patterns, and tonality. They aren’t as predictable appearance-wise as the coachwhip snake.

They’re called coachwhip snakes because of their unique patterning. The way their scales appear makes them look like braided whips. Braided whips were common among stagecoach drivers who often encountered coachwhip snakes.

Rat snakes live in a huge variety of habitats, and their appearance is as varied as their locations. Their scales may be patterned, and they have upturned noses, but it’s hard to generalize their appearance because it’s encompassing.

Coachwhip vs Rat Snake: Diet

Both snakes have relatively the same diet, but what they eat varies by subspecies and region. Rat snakes and coachwhips enjoy eating lizards, birds, mice, rats, and eggs. Both are notorious nest raiders though rat snakes are the most guilty.

Rat snakes are named that because their favorite prey is rats. While they will chow down on lizards if the situation calls for it, they heavily prefer warm-blooded animals. They’re known chicken killers and raid chicken coops when possible.

Rat snakes are prone to predation at a much higher frequency than coachwhips due to their sizes. Weasels, badgers, coyotes, and other snakes commonly chow down on rat snakes. Coachwhips only need to worry about the occasional apex predator like great-horned owls.

Coachwhip vs Rat Snake: Speed

An Eastern Coachwhip snake sunbathing on a beach

Coachwhip snakes are non-aggressive and non-venomous

©Barry James Davis/

One of the fastest snakes in the USA is the coachwhip. The coachwhip snake can move at speeds up to 4 mph on land. Rat snakes aren’t famous for moving fast though they’re swift climbers.

While the coachwhip is one of the fastest moving snakes in the United States, the rat snake is one of the fastest striking snakes in the world. This is surprising since they’re nonvenomous and they’re constrictors.

Coachwhip vs Rat Snake: Habitat

King rat snake or king ratsnake

Rat snakes live in a myriad of habitats.

©Ana Dracaena/

Coachwhip snakes are endemic to Mexico and the USA. Specifically, they’re in the southern United States and northern Mexico, a common sight within their territories.

Rat snakes have a larger range, and some rat snakes live in almost every Northern Hemisphere region. They’re more prevalent in Southeast Asia and the Eurasian Continent than the coachwhip.

Coachwhips prefer sandy and loose dirt ecosystems, including coastal dunes, fields, sandhills, pine forests, and prairies. Rat snakes are found in more arid environments but also flourish in farmlands, fields, and rainforests.

Coachwhip vs Rat Snake: Behavior 

The hottest part of the day is the coachwhip’s favorite time for activity. In the winter, they brumate just like the rat snake, and Brumation is a form of snake hibernation.

Rat snakes are also active during the day and constrict their meals, so they crush them to death. Coachwhips are found prowling around with their heads up because they use their keen eyesight to locate prey.

Rat snakes are climbers and spend a lot of their time lounging in trees. In more developed environments, they like the tops of buildings and eaves, and fences and walls are obstacles they will easily overcome.

Coachwhip vs Rat Snake: Are They Dangerous?

Coachwhip Snakes Close-Up

Coachwhips and rat snakes are nonvenomous.

©Alexander Wong/

Neither the coachwhip nor the rat snake is very dangerous to humans. While bites are possible, both snakes are nonvenomous, so their bites are relatively harmless. Neither snake has fangs.

Coachwhips will stand their ground by biting if their upright posture hasn’t deterred a threat. The rat snake and the coachwhip rattle their tails defensively and release a musk when threatened. Their musk smells foul, and it’s used to disgust predators into retreating.

Rat snakes are commonly found in gardens and shouldn’t cause alarm. They’re considered non-aggressive. Coachwhips will attack when cornered more readily than a rat snake, and their bite is painful since they have tiny teeth.

The photo featured at the top of this post is © Macat

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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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