How to Identify a Juvenile Rat Snake

Juvenile rat snakes look extremely different from adults.

Juvenile rat snakes look extremely different from adults.

Rat snakes are certainly friends in the garden and they reside in every state of the Appalachias.

The adults can have some color variations, but typically the black rat snake is black with some white coloration between the scales. Gray rat snakes can potentially be mistaken for copperheads with their varied pale to dark gray coloring marked with a pattern of dark gray or brown blotches. Yellow rat snakes can resemble large garter snakes with four dark stripes running the length of a yellow, olive, or orange body. Adult rat snakes can reach a length of 6′.

If you find a smaller snake with a pale gray body, a pattern of dark gray blotches, and a checkered underbelly, it is likely the juvenile for any of the above rat snakes. Again, some people may mistake these snakes for copperheads, but young copperheads have a brown/copper coloration with no checkered underbelly and a brilliant yellow tip to their tail.

All rat snakes eat… rats… as well as other small animals including garden pests such as voles. They frequently enter the crawl space underneath houses to munch on the mice they find there. If you are finding rat snakes in your yard it is likely you are the host to a very healthy ecosystem.

Eliza Lord

I'm a Greenville, SC native (the Appalachian foothills) who wears the hats of Greenville Master Gardener & Upstate Master Naturalist. I love to write about food and sustainability.

15 thoughts on “How to Identify a Juvenile Rat Snake”

  1. Susan - September 15, 2009 12:35 am

    I’ve always wondered… We have a kitty that we allow outdoors (supervised, as she has NO killing/survival instincts or front claws), Aaron & I have been concerned when we’ve seen these little guys in rock beds. I do have one question about habitat (please forgive my stupidity): We saw a young snake swimming (near land) @ Jocassee that we couldn’t positively identify as a copperhead… Would that be a place where one might find a rat snake?

    I love your blog!!

    1. Sustainahillbilly
      Twitter: appalachianfeet
      - October 26, 2009 1:51 pm

      I would suspect it was a northern water snake. They can have very coppery coloring, but it varies in that species like the coats of cats. It could also be a rat snake, though. It could be almost any snake. :)

      Except for water moccasins, which we do not have at Jocassee. Some northern water snakes look nearly identical to them, though, which confuses people.

  2. Kat Carter - October 28, 2010 6:21 pm

    I am finding the juvenile rat snakes in my house.. i found 2 of them in 4 days… .. wondering if theres more.. So I am guessing that they are harmless.. can I pick one up?? Ive always liked snakes they dont bother me.. but I have a curious 2 yr old.. and the thaught of one being in my bed room.(where i found the 2nd one) makes my skin crawl. the first one was on my kitchen sink posted up on my sponge…

  3. Pingback: How to Identify a Brown Snake (Storeria dekayi) | Appalachian Feet

  4. Stephanie - June 10, 2012 5:47 am

    I just found a little snake chilling right on my bed next to my purse and insulin. He was barely over a foot long, and was black with a barely noticable pattern on his back. He didn’t try to strike when I got close, he went in my pillow case lol. But when we got him outside I saw he had round eyes, which I know means he wasn’t venomous. He didn’t act very aggresive, just scared, and we let him go down the road in the woods. I can’t help but be creeped out that he was on my bed, and what kind of snake he might have been? Any ideas?

  5. Robert - July 1, 2012 11:31 am

    My wife found one on the counter top this morning. And we do have a healthy supply of field mice in our community in southern calvert county md.

  6. R Masilon - September 24, 2012 1:12 am

    I came home from the grocery store day before yesterday and there was a pretty juvenile rat snake (1 foot long, I think) on the steps but the neighbor’s cat was way too interested in it. I got a nice photo and then picked it up to show the 10 year old boy across the street. I wonder, will I be seeing more? I’d like to, that’s for sure!

  7. Marai - November 6, 2012 4:54 pm

    So in order to identify it I have to grab it and look at its belly. No, thank you.

    1. Sustainahillbilly
      Twitter: appalachianfeet
      - January 16, 2013 10:03 am

      If you don’t startle it, it may be sitting in a manner where you can see the belly without touching it.

  8. Moggy - January 12, 2013 2:23 pm

    Ick, we just found one of these in our basement – in the middle of January!

  9. Michelle - May 16, 2013 10:15 pm

    We found one in my daughters bedroom tonight and I think by the pic it is one. Flipped out right now and hoping he doesn’t have friends

  10. Maria - October 26, 2013 10:59 pm

    My mom and I have found 3 Juvenile rat snakes within 1 day. When I told my mom she screamed like a 2 year old. I’m 14 years old doing all the work with the snake. At first we had thought it was a rattle snake because it was rattling the tail. So I called my dad and he came over and we looked upon the internet that it was a Juvenile rat snake and that the snake was vibrating its tail because he or she was scared. But my dad said that they are very friendly pets he used to have a gray rat snake that was 5 feet long and he would carry it everywhere.But if you do find one take a heavy blanket or towel and plop it on top of it and drag it outside, or get a pair of those garbage tongs the really long ones and just pick it up like that and take it outside.

  11. Kirby - April 26, 2014 12:21 pm

    Last summer we caught and released what I was told was a rat snake in my back yard. it was about four feet in length and not very happy with the trash can I caught it in. Today I found one that looked to be about eighteen inches in length. Unfortunately, my dog found it first. I did identify it by the belly pattern, so I feel okay about it (and its siblings?) being there, as I just want my daughter and dog to be safe when outside. We have a lot of mice and pack rats in our area, so I appreciate their beneficial nature! I guess my question is, how common are these snakes in Southern AZ?

  12. Jacqueline Hubbard - May 14, 2014 3:13 pm

    We have a brown snake in our flower bed and I have never seen one like it. The skin looks similar to brown suede shoes and he/she is between a medium and a dark brown. No markings that we could see. He/she was really long. Couldn’t find it in our venomus snake book. It also was wider overall than the brown small snakes talked about above. HELP!!

  13. Pingback: News: Eliza on TV, Upcoming Events, and Our Favorite “How To” Articles | Appalachian Feet

Comments are closed.