Gray Ratsnake (Pantherophis spiloides)


What does it look like?

The Gray Ratsnake, is also commonly known as the Black Ratsnake or the Eastern Ratsnake. It is non-venomous and is Ontario’s largest snake, reaching up to 2 metres in length. This elegant snake has a shiny black body with a white chin and throat. The belly is white or yellowish with dark spots that often produce a checkerboard pattern. Young snakes are grey with dark blotching on the body and tail.

Where does it live?

The two populations of Gray Ratsnake in Ontario can be found in different types of habitat. The Frontenac Axis population requires a variety of habitat types including deciduous forests, wetlands, lakes, rocky outcrops and agricultural fields. The Carolinian population is found in a mix of agricultural land and deciduous forest, preferring habitat where forest meets more open environments. Adults are strongly attached to their home ranges and often return to the same nesting and hibernation sites. They often lay eggs in logs or compost piles that serve as incubators. Sometimes several females will use the same site to deposit eggs.

What threatens it?

The most significant threats to the Gray Ratsnake are the loss and fragmenting of habitat and persecution by people. Other serious threats include motor vehicles and the destruction of suitable hibernation sites. Since ratsnakes hibernate in groups at the same site year after year, destroying these sites can have a large impact on the local population. The Gray Ratsnake is slow to mature and reproduce which may also inhibit recovery of this species.

Where else has it been found?

Gray Ratsnakes are widely distributed throughout the eastern and central United States, extending as far north as southern Ontario. There are two widely separated populations in Ontario: the Carolinian in southwestern Ontario and the Frontenac Axis in southeastern Ontario.

Rideau Waterway Land Trust, P.O. Box 91, Seeley's Bay, Ontario, K0H 2N0 Canada. Phone: +1 (613) 305-3507

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