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Reptiles Guide

Rat snakes

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A yellow rat snake
A yellow rat snake

Rat snakes are a large, polyphyletic, group of snakes from the Colubrid subfamily Colubrinae. There is considerable variation between different types of rat snake but most are medium to large, rodent eating snakes.

Previously most were assigned to the genus Elaphe but many have been since renamed. The validity of some genera is debatable but for the purpose of this article a more liberal taxonomic stance will be taken. Rat snakes have traditionally been divided into two groups, New World and Old World species.

Examples of snakes found in the Elaphe include:

  • Elaphe bairdi
    Elaphe bimaculata
    Elaphe carinata
    Elaphe climacophora
    Elaphe conspicillata
    Elaphe davidi
    Elaphe dione
    Elaphe emoryi
    Elaphe erythrura
    Elaphe flavirufa
    Elaphe flavolineata
    Elaphe gloydi
    Elaphe guttata
    Elaphe helena
    Elaphe hohenackeri
    Elaphe leonardi
    Elaphe lineata
    Elaphe longissima
    Elaphe maculata
    Elaphe mandarina
    Elaphe moellendorffi
    Elaphe obsoleta
    Elaphe perlacea
    Elaphe persica
    Elaphe porphyracea
    Elaphe prasina
    Elaphe quadrivirgata
    Elaphe quatuorlineata
    Elaphe radiata
    Elaphe rufodorsata
    Elaphe scalaris
    Elaphe schrenckii
    Elaphe situla
    Elaphe subradiata
    Elaphe taeniura
    Elaphe vulpina

New World Rat Snakes

New World rat snakes belong to the Colubrine tribe Lampropeltinae, and as such are closely related to Lampropeltis (milk snakes and king snakes), Pituophis (gopher snakes, pine snakes and bull snakes), Rhinocheilus (longnose snakes), Arizona (glossy snakes) and Stilosoma (short-tailed snakes). The entire Lampropeltinid group is descended from Old World rat snakes that crossed the Bering Land Bridge sometime within the last twenty to thirty million years.

The New World rat snakes consist of the genera Bogertophis (Trans Pecos and Baja rat snakes), Elaphe (Pantherophis) (Corn snakes, Fox snakes and American rat snakes), Pseudelaphe (Central American rat snake) and Senticola (Green rat snake).

Good Pictures at: http://www.kentuckysnakes.org/snake_details.cfm?snake_number=33&option=non-posionous

Old World Rat Snakes

The Genera Elaphe, Euprepiophis, Oreophis, Orthriophis, Rhinechis, and Zamenis constitute Old-World rat snakes.

Additional Note

It is worth noting that, though the polyphyletic nature of the genus is almost undisputed, many species are conservatively referred to as Elaphe sp. See, for instance, Black Rat Snake and Grey Rat Snake, subspecies of Pantherophis obsoleta.


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