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Red rat snake: Pantherophis guttatus

Taxonomic Classification

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class:  Reptilia
Order: Squamata
Family: Colubridae
Genus/Species: Pantherophis guttatus
Common Name: Red rat snake

Listing Status

Federal Status: Not Listed
FL Status: State Species of Special Concern(Lower Keys population only)
FNAI Ranks: G5T2Q/S2 (Globally: Demonstrably Secure, Sub sp. Imperiled [subspecies classification questioned]/State: Imperiled)
IUCN Status: LC (Least Concern)

Physical Description

The red rat snake is the best climbing species of snake in Florida (Tallahassee Museum, n.d.).   Its average length ranges from 30-48 inches (76.2-121.92 centimeters), but it can grow up to 72 inches (182.9 centimeters).  This species varies in color, but usually has a yellowish-tan to orange body color, with large red or faded blotches located on their back, a belly with dark marks, and a “V” on the top of its head (Huegel and Cook 2004, Florida Natural Areas Inventory 2001). 

Life History

The diet of the red rat snake primarily consists of small mammals (i.e. rodents), lizards, birds, and bird eggs.  This species kills its prey by constriction, as they have no toxic venom or fangs.

Male red rat snakes begin courtship by locating a female and moving along its back in a wavelike form to begin mating.  Breeding occurs between the months of April and June while eggs are laid in the summer.  Females lay 3-40 eggs per nest, with one to two clutches being laid per year (Ernst and Ernst 2003, Florida Museum of Natural History, n.d., Bartlett and Bartlett 2003).  Red rat snakes, in the Lower Keys, are usually smaller than those found on the mainland, which may explain why their clutch size is smaller. 

Habitat and Distribution

Red Rat Snake Distribution MapRed rat snakes inhabit pine rocklands, rockland hammocks, mangrove forests, and a variety of disturbed habitats, including urbanized areas.  This species is found in every county of Florida.  The protected population in Florida is known from many localities in the Lower Keys and has been observed or collected on Bahia Honda, Big Pine, Big Torch, Boca Chica, Cudjoe, Geiger, Johnston, Key Vaca, Key West, Indian, Little Pine, Little Torch, Middle Torch, Ramrod, Saddlebunch, Stock Island, Sugarloaf, and Summerland keys (Weaver et al. 1992, museum records, Florida Natural Areas Inventory [FNAI] records)

*Only protected population shown on map.

Threats:

Red rat snakes differ from other species in that human development is not the main threat to their population.  However, other actions from humans, such as illegal harvesting and vehicle collisions, have negatively impacted their population (K. Enge pers. comm. 2010).  Hurricanes pose a threat to the red rat snake, as the accompanying heavy rain and storm surge can inundate its habitat and the habitat of its prey (Bartlett 1997).

Conservation and Management

The Lower Keys population of the red rat snake is protected as a State Species of Special Concern by Florida’s Endangered and Threatened Species Rule External Website.

Biological Status Review Adobe PDF
Supplemental Information for the BSR Adobe PDF

Other Informative Links

Florida Museum of Natural History External Website
Florida Natural Areas Inventory External Website
International Union for Conservation of Nature External Website
Tallahassee Museum External Website
University of Georgia Savannah River Ecology Laboratory External Website

 

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References

Bartlett, D.  1997.  Notes from the field.  Miami and the Keys: a troubled trip.  Reptiles Magazine 5(10):18, 20–22.

Ernst, C. H. and E. M. Ernst.  2003.  Snakes of the United States and Canada.  Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, D.C., USA.  668pp.

Florida Museum of Natural History. (n.d.)  Eastern Corn Snake, Corn Snake, Chicken Snake, Red Rat Snake.  Retrieved April 4, 2011, from Herpetology:  http://www.flmnh.ufl.edu/herpetology/fl-guide/pantherophisguttatus.htm External Website

Florida Natural Areas Inventory.  2001.  Field guide to the rare animals of Florida http://www.fnai.org/FieldGuide/pdf/Elaphe_guttata_guttata_-_lower_Keys_popluation.PDF External Website

Huegel, C. N. and D. G. Cook. 2004.  Florida's Nonvenomous Snakes.  Retrieved May 3, 2011,   from: http://myfwc.com/media/1321795/Guide_to_nonveneomous_snakes.pdf Adobe PDF

Lazell, Jr. J. D.  1989.  Wildlife of the Florida Keys: a natural history.  Island Press, Covelo, California, USA.  254 pp.

Love, W. B.  1978.  Observations on the herpetofauna of Key West, Florida, with special emphasis on the rosy rat snake.  Bulletin of the Georgia Herpetological Society 4(1):3–8.

Tallahassee Museum. (n.d.).  Red Rat Snake.  Retrieved May 3, 2011, from http://tallahasseemuseum.org/index.php?page=red-rat-snake External Website

Weaver, W. G., S. P. Christman, and P. E Moler.  1992.  Red rat snake, Lower Keys population,  Elaphe guttata guttata (Linnaeus).  Pages 187–190 in P. E. Moler, editor.  Rare and endangered biota of Florida.  Volume III.  Amphibians and reptiles. University Press of Florida, Gainesville, Florida, USA.


Image Credit Photo by Kevin Enge, FWC



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