Black rat snake, Pantherophis obsoletus

Black rat snakes are active, entertaining and suitable for beginners

At a glance...
  • Black rat snakes make amazing, active display animals
  • Docile temperaments make them a good beginner choice
  • Make excellent swimmers, so are very entertaining to watch
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Do Black rat snakes make good pets?

Black rat snakes are a close relative to the ever-popular Corn snake, and is found throughout Central North America where their preferred habitat includes heavily wooded areas, flat farmland, abandoned buildings and rocky outcrops. They are an active species that love to climb, so make great display animals that are always on show.

Young Black rat snakes can be a little defensive, but they usually tame down easily enough, although they are the longest snakes in the genus Pantherophis, so they make a better pet for intermediate and experienced hobbyists.

Similar to other Rat snakes, Black rat snakes can secrete a foul smelling musk when they feel threatened, which is an interesting adaptation to deter predators, which could include other snakes, hawks and owls.

At Swell Reptiles, all of our Black rat snakes were captive bred in the UK, leaving you safe in the knowledge that your new snake came from a reliable source, with a minimal negative impact on their native ecosystem.

What size vivarium does a Black rat snake need?

Black rat snakes are one of the largest species of Rat snake, with the potential to reach 180cm (6ft) in length and are also very active. Therefore, they should be provided with a large vivarium so they have plenty of space to stretch out and explore. We recommend a minimum adult enclosure size of 120 x 60 x 60cm (4 x 2 x 2ft), for example, the VivExotic Repti-Home Bearded Dragon Vivarium Large.

What temperatures do Black rat snakes need?

As with all reptiles, Black rat snakes are ectothermic and rely on external sources to regulate their own body temperature. Their enclosures should, therefore, have a temperature gradient that runs from warm to cool from one end of the enclosure to the other.

The ideal basking temperature for a Black rat snake is between 30-32°C (86-89°F) and a cool end temperature between 22-25°C (71-77°F). This should be achieved using either a basking lamp or ceramic heater installed into the vivarium ceiling and connected to the relevant thermostat (a dimming thermostat for a basking lamp, a pulse thermostat for a ceramic heater).

Do Black rat snakes need UV?

Black rat snakes have been proven to benefit significantly from the presence of a low-level UVB, giving them a UVI between 2-3. This is usually done using an Arcadia ShadeDweller Max positioned 25-40cm (10-15”) above the basking area, or if this distance will need to be greater (but no greater than 45cm/18”), an Arcadia ProT5 Kit - Forest 6%.

What substrate should I use for my Black rat snake?

We recommend using either a soft chip reptile bedding or a sand-soil mix such as Arcadia EarthMix Arid for Black rat snakes. These substrates do not hold moisture, so will not work to increase the overall humidity within the enclosure, which is important for this species whose humidity requirements are not dissimilar to the average room in the UK.

How do I decorate a Black rat snake’s vivarium?

Black rat snakes are excellent climbers, despite being terrestrial snakes, therefore your enclosure should incorporate lots of branches and foliage either from life or artificial plants for them to slither around and climb up, providing them with mental stimulation and enrichment.

At least two hiding areas, one at either end of the enclosure, either from hiding caves or natural decor pieces such as cork bark or log tunnels should also be provided, along with a water bowl deep enough to soak in.

What do Black rat snakes eat?

Black rat snakes are carnivorous and naturally feed on small rodents, lizards, birds, bird eggs, frogs and even other snakes from their own and other species, so should be fed on a diet primarily made up of reptile frozen food in captivity. Mice make a better staple option for this species than rats, as rats are much higher in protein and fats and can lead to obesity and related health issues in these more slender-bodied snakes.

How do I buy a Black rat snake?

If you would like to purchase one of our UK captive-bred Black rat snakes, please come into our store and see us where you can collect the snake.

To ensure our livestock only goes to suitable homes, we will ask you a few quick questions and also to see some images of your set-up, which should already have the correct temperature and humidity requirements and adequate lighting installed. We reserve the right to refuse adoption to anyone we feel is unprepared to adopt.

If you would like to learn about some alternatives to the Black rat snake you can check out our snake care guides, such as our Western hognose snake care guide.

Common names Black rat snake, Western rat snake, Pilot black snake
Scientific names Pantherophis obsoletus (previously Elaphe obsoleta)
Country North America
Captive-bred Yes
Adult size 150-180cm (5-6ft)
Natural habitat Woodlands, fields and rocky outcrops
Housing 120 x 60 x 60cm (4 x 2 x 2ft)
Ideal temperature 30-32°C (86-89°F) (warm end); 22-25°C (71-77°F) (cool end)
UVI 2-3
Ideal humidity 40-50%
Diet Carnivorous
Average lifespan 15-20 years
Personality Docile, youngsters can be defensive
Ease of handling Easy
Cohabitable No
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