We’ve got two black rat snakes living in our barn, and I recently encountered one of them on a morning walk. This is the only time I’ve seen them so boldly out in the open. More often, we get the “periscope,” a little black head popping out of the grassy fence line or under a barn stall to check out what we’re up to.
I don’t know if black snakes are more common in some areas, or if they’re just easy to spot because of their deep black coloring, large size – up to 6 feet long – and their fondness for climbing trees and rafters. Either way, they’re by far the snake most often encountered by people I know; making them the subject of the most screams, “snake dances,” and unfortunately, the most snake killings.
About Black Rat Snakes and Black Racers
If you’ve got black snakes around your house, chances are they’re either black rat snakes or black racers. Both are nonvenomous black colored snakes with white or grayish bellies that eat mostly rodents and other small animals, and neither are out to hurt you. They’re only around because there’s food nearby, and that food isn’t you.
- Black Racers: Black racers, on the other hand, are much faster-moving and prefer escape over conversation. They’re more likely to panic, flail around, and bite if disturbed.
Facts About Black Snakes
- Benefits: Black snakes eat large quantities of rodents. If you can get over your fears, they’re good to have around your garage or barn to keep the mice at bay.
Common Black Snake Myths
Myth #1: Black snakes keep poisonous snakes away.
Having a black snake doesn’t guarantee that there are no other snakes around. Black racers do occasionally kill and eat other snakes. Black rat snakes, however, aren’t known for snake killing. In fact, they sometimes will even hibernate with other species of snakes, including copperheads and rattlesnakes.
Myth #2: Black snakes mate with copperheads.
There’s a common myth that black snakes have interbred with copperheads to create a venomous black snake. That’s not true. Baby black snakes have colored markings that are easily mistaken for copperhead markings; but as they grow, those markings fade to black.
Myth #3: Black snakes are completely harmless.
Just because I think black snakes are good to have around doesn’t mean I want to be bitten by one, any more than I’d want to be bitten by a raccoon, a rat, or a stray dog. Any snake bite – even a nonvenomous one – is likely to be painful and full of bacteria which can lead to infection. So it’s best to treat all snakes respectfully, keep your distance, and avoid being bitten.
- Black Snakes: Identification and Ecology (University of Florida)
- Species Profile: Black Racer (University of Georgia)
- Species Profile: Rat Snakes (University of Georgia)