Image Credit : Mickael Leger Photographie
Pantherophis obsoletus commonly known as black rat snake is a nonvenomous species of Colubridae. Juveniles are strongly patterned with brown blotches on a gray background (pictured).
Darkening occurs rapidly as they grow. Adults are glossy black above with white lips, chin, and throat. Sometimes traces of the “obsolete” juvenile pattern are still discernible in the skin between the scales, especially when stretched after a heavy meal.
- Scientific name : Pantherophis obsoletus
- Distribution : Central-East USA, South Canada
- Average Size : 1.5 m (5 ft)
- Life Span : 20 years or more
- Difficulty : Beginner
Rack System – As hatchling I find a 6 qt tub does very well for these species as they are all relatively small and the small confined space is helping them feel safe and secure. Moving into juvenile I personally use 16qt tubs,more floor space and height giving you a little more options on hides and perches if you so desire. Into adulthood I go to the 28 qt and 41 qt as most of these rats have the potential to reach (6-8 feet) although (5-6 feet) is more average.
Tanks – Now I’m gonna start off by saying I don’t like this method as humidity and temperature can be quite trickier to maintain and without good locks chance of escape is much higher. As hatchling I’ve had 10 gallon (0.5 x 0.3 x 0.35 meters (1.7 x 0.9 x 1 feet)) work but these are relatively small babies and will require many many hides to feel secure with this setup. Juvenile 20 gallon long (0.75 x 0.33 x 0.33 meters (2.5 x 1 x 1 feet)) cages work great oppose to the 20 tall and may even work into adulthood although after 1.2 meters (4 feet) I prefer to go bigger. Adulthood 40 breeder (0.9 x 0.45 x 0.45 meters (3 x 1.5 x 1.5 feet)) are my go to great space plenty of height giving you lots options. They make great display cages especially with a natural look. Obviously you can always go bigger if you feel the need.
Snakes love to hide. The more hiding places the more secure these animals feel. You can use cork, bark, leaves, hollowed out rocks and logs to even paper towel rolls and plastic containers. There is really no right way to do this.
This is more of a preference as everyone likes something different. I prefer paper towels for hatchling snakes for the reason that I can monitor if they have fed a lot easier without having to shift around substrate to check if they fed risking a regurgitation. I have tried many different things and my favorite is aspen. It’s cheap easy to spot soiled bedding and can bought in bulk. I have also really liked cypress because it holds a lot more moisture than aspen although it’s really not required with North American Rats.
Lighting – Heating
It is recommended to keep your Pantherophis obsoletus in a natural light pattern that mimics normal daytime according to the season.
My method of choice is ambient temperature I keep my room between 28-29 °C (82-85 °F) with a quality oil filled radiant heater on a quality thermostat. I cannot stress the thermostat enough no matter what method you decide to use. Reasons I like this method are I find it’s a lot easier to maintain a good temperature. It also gives me the option to incubate my eggs on a shelf in the same room without the need of any extra equipment.Other methods are heat tape running under your caging although when I used this method I found that I had to up the temps a tad and I had trouble keeping it all the same. There was a plus to this. I found I could keep many different types of animals not being restricted to just the ones in the set temps of the previous method. Some other ways are heat panels and lamps although I have never used these ways myself.
Always offer a clean source of water and change when is needed. A little tip, try to find something with some weight as they are prone to being knocked over requiring clean up and in most cases a substrate change.
I keep my rat snakes at the humidity level of 60-70%.
Like most snakes these prefer mice and rats. I prefer frozen thawed and most will readily accept them.
Live is always an optional though. There is potential risk of injury biting, scratching, etc etc. Always monitor live feeding and take the rodent out if not accepted. Other potential preys are a day old chicks, quail and occasional egg. Feeding babies once to twice a week, juvenile once a week and adults once a week to once every two weeks. Don’t move your snake around 24 to 48 hours after feeding unless necessary as this can cause regurgitation. If needed to move be gentle.
Everybody wants to hold their snake. Some of these can be quite defensive; tail rattling, striking, fleeing and musking. With time and frequent handling even the most defensive snake can mellow down and most do although some just have an attitude.When you get the ones with defensive personality its always best to not encourage the behavior such as if bit or musked and immediately backing off that’s what it wants. If you continue to back off it will recognize this and will continue this behavior. If you don’t wanna risk the bite a nice pair of leather gloves or hook will usually do the trick. With time these can be great pets.
Maintaining a clean cage is essential. Spot cleaning daily and a full cleaning weekly or bi weekly. F10 is a great cleaner that I prefer. Some people use vinegar water solution. There are countless cleaning agents out there just always make sure that they are safe for your animal before use.
I find no need to worry about humidity with North American Rats except when in shed. Once you see the color starting to dull out and the eyes turning blue/gray I suggest misting the cage with room temp water daily until the process is completed. No one wants a stuck shed.
Potential Health Problems
I’m gonna start off by saying I am no vet and if you notice something odd it is usual best to contact a good herp vet.
In case of a regurgitation wait at least a week to offer food again in order to let the stomach acids build back up.
Respiratory infection – Symptoms include weezing and mucus usually caused from damp caging and suboptimal temperatures.
Parasites-There are many many external and internal. This is why it is always best to quarantine a new animal before introducing it into your collection. External are usually mites and ticks being little black or red moving specs that are actually feeding on the blood of your snakes and can transmit serious and often fatal complications. Internal are often only noticed by lethargy, rapid weight loss, blood in the stool and awful smelling stool and usually always require medication.
The information contained in this care sheet reflect the opinions and methods of the mentioned breeder, based on their expertise and long-established experience.