Texas Ratsnake (Black Rat Snake)

Colubridae (nonvenomous snakes) in the order Squamata (lizards and snakes)

Often called the "black snake," this is one of our state's largest and most familiar snakes. Generally shiny black, but some individuals show dark brown blotches. Small patches of red sometimes appear between the scales along the sides. The upper lip, chin, and lower part of the neck are usually white. The belly is white, mottled with gray, or may be checkered with black. Young are light gray or tan, with distinct dark brown or black blotches on the back and sides. A black band passes between the eyes and angles down toward the mouth. After a year or two of growth, the color changes to a more uniform black.

Length: 3½-6 feet.
Habitat and conservation: 
A forest-dwelling species, preferring rocky, wooded hillsides or sections of woods along streams and rivers (especially in former prairie and savanna areas of the state). They take shelter in brushpiles, hollow trees, farm buildings, and old houses where mice are plenty. They are excellent climbers and often bask in trees. They overwinter in mammal burrows, rock outcrops, old rock quarries, and other places, including rotted stumps or root systems of dead trees.
Texas ratsnakes eat a variety of rodents, small rabbits, bats, bird eggs, small birds, and, on occasion, lizards. Prey is killed by constriction. They are excellent climbers and often climb trees to raid bird nests (including bluebird boxes) for eggs and young. Young Texas ratsnakes eat frogs, lizards, and insects.
Distribution in Missouri: 
Statewide. It may intergrade (hybridize) with the gray ratsnake (Pantherophis spiloides) in the southeastern corner.
Common. This species was long known as the black rat snake, and many know it simply as "black snake." Recent research has led scientists to reclassify this species in relation to its relatives, so its name has changed accordingly. Herpetologists, like ornithologists, carefully apply common names that correspond exactly to the scientific names. When scientific names change, the common names usually change, too.
Life cycle: 
This species is active in early April through early November. In spring, early summer, and autumn, they hunt in the daytime; in hot weather, they are nocturnal. Courtship and mating is usually in spring but also occurs in summer and fall. Eggs, usually 6–30, are laid in June or early July in rotten stumps or logs, sawdust piles, or under rocks. Eggs hatch in autumn.
Human connections: 
Only someone who has dealt with a mouse or rat problem can truly appreciate this natural, nonpoisonous hunter of rodents. These snakes reduce damage to crops and stored grain by rodents without the use of deadly poisons. This far outweighs the occasional theft of a few hens' eggs or baby chickens.
Ecosystem connections: 
As a predator, this snake helps keep populations of other animals, especially rodents, in check. Although it can defend itself by trying to bite, by vibrating its tail ominously, and by smearing a stinky musk on attackers, this snake often becomes food for hawks and other predators.