Yellow Rat Snakes: Happy Almost Anywhere
Yellow rat snakes seem to be comfortable in just about any situation: they’ll go underground in pursuit of rodents; climb trees to raid birds’ nests; and forage for small animals in fields and forests. Generally docile and somewhat slow-moving, they also accommodate well to domestication, snake-happy as long as they are fed consistently and have a herpertorium with comfortable temperature and places to hide.
In the wild, yellow rat snakes range primarily in coastal areas of the southeastern United States, especially in Florida, Georgia and across the Savannah River into South Carolina. Besides their favored wild habitats – timbered hills, forests, floodplains and swamps – the snakes often take up quarters in abandoned buildings, farmhouses and small homes. They like water and are good swimmers and climbers. When not hunting, they often hang out high in magnolia and live oak trees.
The snakes tend to have a greenish cast, with yellow and orange tints and four dark stripes running the length of their bodies. The striping varies with the snakes’ respective regional habitat. Rat snakes are constrictors and have a widely varied diet in part because their relatively large size broadens the range or prey available to them.
While most yellow rat snakes fall between five-seven feet in length, specimens have been known to reach 10 feet and well over two inches in diameter. They usually emerge at dusk to hunt at night, sometimes foraging during the day as well and often becoming somewhat aggressive at feeding time.
Their defensive strategies include taking a threat posture, emulating rattlesnakes by shaking their tails in clusters of dead leaves, and secreting a foul-smelling odor. When sleeping, they tend to take a curved position that is apparently intended to camouflage them as fallen branches.
Yellow rat snakes’ normal life expectancy is 10-15 years in the wild, but as pets they can live much longer -- up to 30 years. They reach sexual maturity at about four years of age, breeding once a year in late spring or early summer. Oviparous reptiles, the females select a warm, protected place to nest, depositing up to 40 eggs in a single clutch and leaving the eggs to hatch.
The juveniles emerge after 65-70 days of incubation, usually 10-16 inches in length, and immediately begin foraging for small lizards, baby mice and small frogs. They grow fast, quickly doubling in size and moving on to include more adult fare. Fortunately for the babies, yellow rat snakes have an extensive dietary range, making it far less likely that they will be eaten by their parents.
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