Everglades Rat Snake Elaphe obsoleta rossalleni (2023)

In the Wild

The Mythical Everglades Rat Snake

The Everglades rat snake has been the subject of controversy among herpetologists since its description. Its weak differentiation from the yellow rat snake E. o. quadrivittata drew criticism from many herpetologists, who did not consider it distinctive enough to warrant subspecies status. To confuse the situation even more, some suggested that the conversion of the Everglades marshlands to sugar cane fields allowed neighboring yellow rat snakes to invade the area, genetically swamping the Everglades rat snake. The apparent rarity of rat snakes fitting the popular perception of rossalleni has given it somewhat mythical status among herp enthusiasts. Does the Everglades rat snake truly exist or did it ever?

Below:A red-tongued adult from Miami-Dade County, FL

Everglades Rat Snake Elaphe obsoleta rossalleni (1)

The subspecies Elaphe obsoleta rossalleni was described by Wilfred T. Neill in 1949. He named it after his friend, the famous Florida reptile dealer and showman, Ross Allen. Allen founded the Reptile Institute at Silver Springs, FL. Through his collecting exploits, Allen was apparently aware of a distinctive form of rat snake from South Florida. As with several other notable Florida rarities such as the blotched king snake and the South Florida rainbow snake, he probably made Neill aware of its presence. Allen listed "Everglades rat snakes" in his catalog long before the subspecies was officially described by Neill.

Neill diagnosed the subspecies as follows:

A large snake allied to E. obsoleta quadrivittata, ground

(Video) Everglades Ratsnake (Elaphe obsoleta rossalleni) seen climbing a tree in Florida

color of adults rich orange, orange-yellow, or orange-brown; dorsal and

lateral stripes present but not sharply defined, of a dull gray-brown

shade; a vague sublateral stripe, evident posteriorly, on the tips of

the ventrals; chin and throat bright orange; venter bright orange or

orange-yellow; scales with a glaucous sheen, at least anteriorly; iris

orange; tongue bright red. The diagnostic coloration is assumed at an

early age; the smallest specimen examined, 605 mm. total length, was

readily identifiable as rossalleni.

(Video) Everglades Ratsnake (Elaphe obsoleta rossalleni) seen climbing a tree

Below:Saw grass marsh in Miami-Dade County, FL

Everglades Rat Snake Elaphe obsoleta rossalleni (2)

The new form was described as an inhabitant of the marshes, prairies, swamps, and hammocks of the Everglades and Big Cypress Swamp. A large percentage of this region is now agricultural lands. Sugar cane, sod, and corn fields are criss crossed by drainage canals.

Below:Sugar cane field and water hyacinth-choked canal in Palm Beach County, FL

Everglades Rat Snake Elaphe obsoleta rossalleni (3)

Rodents abound on the canal banks and support a robust population of rat snakes. Despite a ready food supply, life is perilous for rat snakes as a host of predators, including several ophidian ones like the Florida king snake and eastern indigo snake, are always on the lookout for the next meal. Rat snakes may be found just about anywhere where they can get off the ground.

Below:An orange juvenile found in an Australian pine in Palm Beach County, FL

Everglades Rat Snake Elaphe obsoleta rossalleni (4)

(Video) Everglades Rat Snake at Hugh Taylor Birch State Park Animal Encounter

In an article in Herpetologica, Neill and Allen describe the microhabitats of E. o. rossalleni:

Many are discovered by night in the "Australian pine" trees (Casuarina equisetifolia) which have been planted along the highways in the area; others are found in roadside sheds, and also in the vicinity of bridges, where they secrete themselves in crevices between the road-bed and the bridge supports.

Below:A juvenile rat snake found in a crack between ties in a railroad bridge in Glades County, FL

Everglades Rat Snake Elaphe obsoleta rossalleni (5)

Years later, our observations have been exactly the same, though we have noticed that the larger specimens that have less to fear from predators are sometimes found under cover objects on the ground or even basking on canal banks. We found a five foot Everglades rat snake stretched out under a metal I-beam (used to support the guard rails along roads) with two four foot Florida king snakes. This husky rat snake had nothing to fear from the smaller king snakes.

Below:An adult rat snake found under tin in Glades County, FL

Everglades Rat Snake Elaphe obsoleta rossalleni (6)

The wild rat snakes in the Everglades region today vary in color. They display a range of color varying from shades of brown to yellow and orange. Most specimens display distinctly lighter stripes than the yellow rat snakes from further north. By reading the above excerpt from the description, one should realize that there was some variation in the wild Everglades rat snakes at the time they were described. Even Neill's description of the type specimen did not really match his diagnosis for the subspecies. He described the head of the type specimen as being "mustard yellow" and the chin and throat as being "brilliant orange-yellow with an elongate white spot along the midline." In addition, Wright and Wright described the dorsal coloration of three specimens descending from south of Lake Okeechobee that were received from Ross Allen in 1949 with terms like "buckthorn brown," "tawny olive," and "sayal brown." None of these terms inplies a bright orange dorsal coloration. None of the specimens that Wright and Wright examined had solid red tongues. They described the tongue of one specimen as being "red splotched with black."

(Video) Everglades rat snake

Below:An interesting adult rat snake with mixed orange and yellow coloration from Glades County, FL

Everglades Rat Snake Elaphe obsoleta rossalleni (7)

Even today, rat snakes from South Florida are readily distinguishable from those from Central and North Florida by their lighter stripes and generally brighter coloration. Certainly Ross Allen would have recognized a distinct difference in the snakes from his home town of Winter Haven in Polk County, FL or his adopted home with which he is most associated, Silver Springs, FL in Marion County as compared with the snakes from south of Lake Okeechobee.

Below:A comparison between a typical dark-striped rat snake with a straw yellow background from Central Florida (Hernando County) and a typical light-striped rat snake with an orange-yellow background from south of Lake Okeechobee (Hendry County)

Everglades Rat Snake Elaphe obsoleta rossalleni (8)

This author (Daniel Parker of Sunshine Serpents) has had the opportunity to follow in Allen's footsteps, having grown up near Winter Haven and now working on a field research project in Allen's former stomping grounds near Silver Springs. Our observations of rat snakes in the wild have led us to conclude that the rat snakes of South Florida are still distinct from those of Central and North Florida, though bright orange coloration might not be the most important characteristic. In our experience, only about 15-20% of the rat snake population south of Okeechobee is truly orange in color. However, many if not most of the rat snakes could be described as being orange-yellow, which seems to fit the description as far as we can tell. We would say that the rat snakes in South Florida are generally more colorful and have lighter stripes than specimens from farther north, be they orange, yellow, or somewhere in between.

Below:A classic adult from Palm Beach County, FL

Everglades Rat Snake Elaphe obsoleta rossalleni (9)

(Video) Everglades rat snake

Listening to people describe the snake they just saw in their backyard or the coloration of the snakes on a reptile show table makes one realize how subjective color perception is. Unfortunately, our observations are limited to the modern era and extensive studies of subjective color descriptions by dead herpetologists and the viewing of old black and white photographs will not eliminate all confusion. Anecdotes from field collectors in the 1970's and 1980's lead one to believe that the finding of a bright orange rat snake was an exceptional event, though that time period was also when much of the founding stock for today's captive Everglades rat snake bloodlines was collected. If you believe that Everglades rat snakes had already been genetically swamped at that time and "pure" examples no longer existed, than that would mean that the captive Everglades rat snakes we have today are just selectively bred yellow rat snakes. Hobbyists will continue to argue on internet forums about what makes a "real" Everglades rat snake and whether it still exists in the wild or even captivity. All this argument is of little concern to modern herpetologists, who lump all of the rat snakes east of the Appalachian Mountains and the Apalachicola River into the newly-described Patherophis alleghaniensis with no subspecies described. Whatever theory you buy into, one thing is certain: The myth of the Everglades rat snake continues.


How big do Florida rat snakes get? ›

The red rat snake is the best climbing species of snake in Florida (Tallahassee Museum, n.d.). Its average length ranges from 30-48 inches (76.2-121.92 centimeters), but it can grow up to 72 inches (182.9 centimeters).

Is it good to have a rat snake around? ›

The snakes are actually a great thing to have around because they can help get rid of some of the other pests running around. “They are free pest control,” explains Dalton. “They are looking for mice and rodents.” You also do not need to worry about them because they are non-venomous snakes.

How big around Do rat snakes get? ›

Description: Adult rat snakes are typically 3-5 ft (91-152 cm), but large individuals may be more than 6 ft (183 cm) long. The appearance of rat snakes varies greatly throughout the geographic range.

What are the characteristics of a rat snake? ›

Eastern rat snakes, formerly known as black rat snakes, are large non-venomous snakes between 3.5 and 7 feet (one and two meters) long. They have shiny black scales on their back and a light colored belly, and their throat and chin are white.

Do rat snakes chase you? ›

It will not chase you, and if you are a few feet away, it will not be able to strike you. Most snakes, whether venomous or harmless, will retreat to a hiding place if a person is around. None of the venomous snakes are likely to be abundant but people should be cautious around debris where one has been sighted.

Are rat snakes aggressive? ›

Black rat snakes are eager to avoid contact with humans and are not naturally aggressive, but people who encounter them and are not knowledgeable about them tend to be frightened nonetheless because of their large size.

What time of day are rat snakes most active? ›

These snakes are often found in barns and old buildings where their primary prey, small rodents, occur in abundance. Hutchison (1956) found one in the mouth of a cave. Eastern Ratsnakes are diurnal and nocturnal. They are often active just after sunset.

What attracts rat snake? ›

Leaving uncovered garbage out overnight may attract rats and mice to your home which in turn will in turn attract snakes. Snakes like to hide in tall grass and under piles of undisturbed debris like rocks and wood.

What do you do if you see a rat snake? ›

There really is no reason to kill a ratsnake—they are beneficial animals and not out to harm anyone. If you see one outside and you really feel you must do something, a quick spray with a garden hose should make the animal move along.

Can a rat snake hurt you? ›

Like nearly all colubrids, rat snakes pose no threat to humans. Rat snakes were long believed to be completely nonvenomous, but recent studies have shown that some Old World species do possess small amounts of venom, though the amount is negligible relative to humans.

What happens if a rat snake bites you? ›

If you do get bitten, bites from the Indian Rat Snake can be very painful, but are just punctures and harmless. Visit a hospital immediately. They may treat it like a regular wound. It's advisable to take a picture of the snake for information.

Do rat snakes bite hard? ›

Most common rat snakes can bite in self-defense, especially if provoked. Although the bite of a rat snake isn't fatal, it can be rather painful. Bites from rat snakes are also full of bacteria that can infect you. Even though they do not contain venom, these snakes can grow quite large.

Can a rat snake hurt my dog? ›

You still have to keep an eye on the bite area.... wash it thoroughly, remember that snakes eat rats, after all..... and get it checked out if the dog shows signs of being unwell or there's any sign of infection, but thankfully dogs normally recover pretty quickly from non-venomous bites on their own.

Do rat snakes come out during the day? ›

They are most active during the day, but still prefer to stay nearby protective cover. Black rat snakes hibernate in the winter, often with other snakes such as the venomous rattlesnake or copperhead. Diet: Black rat snakes are excellent for pest control, preying mostly on rodents.

What does a Florida rat snake look like? ›

Most adult Gray Ratsnakes are about 42-72 inches (106-183 cm) in total length, with a record length recorded of 84.25 inches (213.9 cm). Adults are light gray with darker gray blotches down the back. The belly is sandy-gray with dark square blotches. The underside of the tail typically do not have two dark stripes.

Should you run zig zag from a snake? ›

The snake doesn't care what kind of pattern you run in. You can run in a "S" pattern, you can zig-zag, or you can do "I'm up, he sees me, I'm down" all the way home and it won't make a bit of difference.

Should you run when you see a snake? ›

Leave it alone. Snakes are generally shy and will not attack unless provoked, so it's best to leave them be. If you see a snake inside your home, get all people and pets out of the room immediately.

Do rat snakes come out at night? ›

Rat snakes are semi-arboreal, which means they spend some of their time in trees, said Savitzky. While rat snakes are nocturnal in warm areas, they are still active during the day fairly frequently. You may see them lying out in the sun or foraging in the forest or on the plains.

What eats a rat snake? ›

The black rat snake's most common predators include foxes, hawks and owls. It protects itself from predators by coiling its body and vibrating its tail in dead leaves, imitating the sound of a rattle. If they are picked up or handled, they may also release a foul-smelling musk to deter predators from eating it.

Can a rat snake eat a cat? ›

Snakes will act defensively and may attempt to attack your cat if they feel threatened. Snakes are opportunistic animals, which means that they will attack small animals if given the opportunity. Domestic cats can qualify, and a snake might kill and eat a cat if they see the opportunity.

Do snakes come out at night? ›

The snakes may come out during the night especially when it is during the hot weather since the snakes will wait until night fall and they can delay the hunting up to the time that the environment is cool during evening. There are others that may be active at the sunset naturally.

Will rat snakes come in your house? ›

It is common to see snakes in a home if there is a mice problem. The mice will attract rat snakes, who would actually help out, if you can tolerate them, he said.

What month do snakes usually come out? ›

Snake activity picks up as temperatures fall in late summer and early autumn before they go into hibernation, which can be as early as September or as late as December.

Do moth balls keep snakes away? ›

Mothballs are commonly thought to repel snakes, but they are not intended to be used this way and have little effect on snakes.

What smell do snakes hate? ›

What scents do snakes dislike? There are many scents snakes don't like including smoke, cinnamon, cloves, onions, garlic, and lime. You can use oils or sprays containing these fragrances or grow plants featuring these scents.

What keeps rat snakes away? ›

Natural repellents including sulfur, clove and cinnamon oil, and vinegar may help repel snakes. Pour these substances around the perimeter of your property, any place you have noticed snake activity.

What chemical kills snakes instantly? ›

Calcium cyanide is a good chemical for killing snakes taking refuge in burrows, while there are several gases that sometimes work in fumigating dens.

What plant will keep snakes away? ›

Snake-repellent plants, such as marigolds, allium, lemongrass, mother-in-law's tongue, garlic, wormwood, pink agapanthus, snakeroots, basil and yellow alder will all keep snakes away naturally.

Can you smell a snake in your house? ›

In most cases, you won't know if you have a snake in your home until you see it, but some venomous snakes, like copperheads (which are found in 28 U.S. states), can smell like cucumbers, according to experts.

Do rat snakes keep copperheads away? ›

Myth #1: They keep poisonous snakes away

The black racer snake in North America does occasionally kill and eat other snakes. Black rat snakes, however, aren't known for snake killing. In fact, they sometimes will hibernate with other species of snakes, including copperheads and rattlesnakes.

Why do black racers chase you? ›

Answer: This is a common myth. Although non-venomous, black racers are very fast moving and so can cause panic if they are coming your way. However, it is not their normal habit to chase people deliberately. More likely you are both heading in the same direction, trying to get away.

What happens if you get bit by a black rat snake? ›

Rhabdomyolysis: Black Snake venom is strongly myolytic and may lead to rhabdomyolysis. If not treated adequately, a bite victim may develop massive myoglobinuria which may subsequently result in oliguria or acute renal failure. If severe, the patient may require dialysis.

Can a snake chase you down? ›

The belief that the snake may chase the humans is not true since there is no way that the snakes may pursue the person actively in order to hurt them. The snakes normally bite because of two reasons, it can be to subdue the prey or for the self defense.

What does a rat snake bite feel like? ›

Sharp, throbbing, burning pain around the bite that you may not feel for a little while after the bite. You may also feel pain all the way up whichever limb was affected, such as in the groin for a bite on the leg or the armpit for a bite on the arm.

Do snakes leave their teeth when they bite? ›

Few non-poisonous snakes like python and very rarely vipers could leave their teeth while biting which may result in local sepsis. Banking on this rare occurrence, the snake charmers exploit the patients.

Are rat snakes fast? ›

But to their surprise, the nonvenomous rat snake came in a close second at 274 meters per second squared. That's lightning-quick, considering that a Formula One race car accelerates at less than 27 meters per second squared to go from 0 to 60 in just one second.

Can rat snakes climb walls? ›

Snakes can climb brick walls and stone walls. They wedge their bodies into the grooves between bricks, and push themselves along using strong core muscles. Lightweight and fast-moving snakes, such as rat snakes, are particularly good at climbing. Snakes struggle to climb smooth walls, such as plastered walls.

Do rat snakes eat copperheads? ›

But I realized recently that I had succumbed to a myth that is common here in Virginia — that the eastern ratsnake (Pantherophis alleghaniensis) is a natural enemy of copperheads and will kill any copperheads they meet. It turns out that this is not true.

Do dogs scare away snakes? ›

While it's not entirely conclusive that snakes will stay away from doggos and that doggos can keep them away, it's obvious that, due to a canine's insane sense of smell and hearing, they're the perfect snake hunters. With that in mind, it's easy to conclude that pups might be one of the best bets to keep snakes away.

What happens if a dog eats a rat snake? ›

Snakes can harbor bacteria such as Salmonella, and parasites such as the tapeworm Spirometra and the roundworm Gnathostoma. Dogs with a Salmonella infection usually will not display any symptoms but may transmit this disease to their humans.

Can dogs sense snakes in the house? ›

A: No, most breeds cannot smell reptiles. Only the breeds with the most developed sense of smell—retrievers, Blood hounds, Bassets, Beagles — are able to detect snakes merely by smell.

What can be used to scare away snakes? ›

Some of the more common ones include:
  • Napthalene: Napthalene is a common ingredient found in many commercial snake repellent products. ...
  • Sulfur: Powdered sulfur is a great option to repel snakes. ...
  • Clove & Cinnamon Oil: Clove and cinnamon oil are effective snake repellents.
26 Apr 2019

How far away relocate a rat snake? ›

It is recommended that snakes be relocated no more than 1/2 mile away for point of capture.

What temperature do snakes go away? ›

Typically, snakes become less active when temperatures dip below 60 degrees. To survive, snakes often look for snug, safe burrows to keep warm.

What is the rarest snake in Florida? ›

The rim rock crowned snake is said to be the rarest legless slitherer in North America. Not only does this small snake spend most of its life underground, hiding in crevices or burrowing beneath rocks, only about 26 individuals are known to exist.

What is the biggest snake found in Florida? ›

In June, a team of python trackers from the Conservancy of Southwest Florida caught the python that holds the record, which measured 18 feet.

What is the largest native snake in Florida? ›

The eastern indigo snake (Drymarchon corais couperi) is a large, black, non-venomous snake found in the southeastern United States. Reaching lengths of almost 9 feet, it is the longest native snake in the United States.

Are there giant rats in Florida? ›

The Nutria (Myocastor coypus, also known as the coypu, is a large rodent that lives in semiacquatic environments. Nutria came to North America by way of the fur trade, but they have become an invasive species in Florida and other parts of the United States. Their feeding and burrowing behaviors are destructive.

What is a super snake in Florida? ›

The resulting hybrid could lead to something of a “super snake,” a well-adapted reptile suited for both swamps and dry land. And, in fact, South Florida's Burmese pythons have been spotted in both environments. An 11-foot Burmese python captured after eating white-tailed deer fawn.

What is the fastest snake in Florida? ›

As their name suggests, black racers are large, dark-colored snakes. They can get up to six feet long, and they're quite strong and fast. Black racers' top speed is about 4 miles per hour, which may not sound like much, but that's fast for a snake!

What is the meanest snake in Florida? ›

Diamondbacks are the largest, most dangerous and most feared venomous Florida snake. They're not endangered, but dwindling habitat is a threat to them. If you come across a 6-foot rattler, keep in mind that it can strike from a distance of 4 feet, about as long as a typical shovel.

What are the 6 most venomous snakes in Florida? ›

In Florida, we have six such species: the Harlequin Coralsnake, the Eastern Copperhead, the Florida Cottonmouth, the Pygmy Rattlesnake, the Timber Rattlesnake, and the Eastern Diamond-backed Rattlesnake.

Who is the king of all snakes? ›

Their most remarkable type of prey, however, is other snakes! California Kingsnakes are “kings” because they hunt and devour various snake species, including other kingsnakes and even rattlesnakes – they are immune to rattlesnake venom!

What is the biggest rat in Florida? ›

Gambian Pouched Rat (Cricetomys gambianus) | FWC.

Can big rats hurt you? ›

What to Do If You Get Bitten by a Rat? Rat bites are very dangerous, so in case you are bitten, you should immediately seek a medical professional. Scratches are just as dangerous because rats tend to lick their paws a lot and the diseases that spread through their saliva are also on their paws.

What is a Rex rat? ›

Rex rats, similar to other Rex pets (cats, guinea pigs, rabbits), have curly fur with few guard hairs. Their whiskers may even be curly. They may feel wooly, especially male rats. Rex rats may lose hair as they get older. Sometimes this variety is also called a Manx.

Will a rat snake hurt my dog? ›

You still have to keep an eye on the bite area.... wash it thoroughly, remember that snakes eat rats, after all..... and get it checked out if the dog shows signs of being unwell or there's any sign of infection, but thankfully dogs normally recover pretty quickly from non-venomous bites on their own.


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