Snakes are venomous and not poisonous. This means that venom is injected with a bite into another living creature while poison is administered when it is touched or consumed.
There are certain snakes that are both venomous as well as poisonous. This means that they inject venom when they bite and you are poisoned the moment you touch them on their skin. However, not all snakes are like this.
In the case of Rat snake, it is earlier believed that they were completely non-venomous. Only lately some authentic studies have pointed out that there is a species of rat snake known as Elaphe Radiata of the Asian variety has been found to be slightly venomous.
By and large rat snakes are harmless and they rarely injure or take human life. They kill their prey, mostly rats, frogs, squirrels, small birds and eggs of other birds and small non-venomous reptiles, by constricting them. Most rat snakes are quite long enough to perform the feat of constricting smaller preys.
Death due to Snake Bites
There is little doubt that venomous snake bites may kill a man if not treated immediately at a clinic or hospital that has anti-venom injections. Most snake bites affect the internal organs of the human body or may affect the nervous system. Some snake bites have such instant effect that rarely does the person survive if treatment is done within an hour or so.
In the case of rat snakes, there is no such problem as its bites are mostly non-venomous. Yet most rat snakes are mostly non-aggressive. They will bite if you handle them improperly or even if they think that they are being threatened. They, however, lack two fangs so commonly found in venomous snakes.
Still, you must be careful while handling rat snakes. The bites can be really painful and the saliva contained in a rat snake may have bacteria that may cause infection and hence you ought to rush to the nearest clinic and get yourself treated.
Perhaps, the myth about people dying due to a rat snake bite is because of having been frightened out of life after stepping on to one in darkness. Many people do not have the courage to face any snake as they have been brought up in a society with frightening stories about them being venomous and therefore threat to human life.
Hence, in case you are a person with a weak heart or had a stroke, then it would be wise not to go near one. Further, a rat snake secretes a foul-smelling substance that they release on their predator. This naturally acts as a deterrent.
Behavioral LifeStyles of Rat Snakes
Most rat snakes are quite large and some growing up to 6 feet 7 inches while on the average the snakes are seen to be of the size 5 ft to 6 ½ ft. However, there are also smaller species of rat snake found in other parts of the world. Again, there have also been findings of larger rat snakes measuring up to 10 ft in length.
Rat snakes vary greatly in appearance depending upon the country they breed. They are seen in colors like black, brown, yellow, red, grey and white-colored. They again have different designs on their body. They may come in stripes, blotches or a combination of both these or may have only one single color throughout their body.
Rat snakes hibernate every year when temperatures turn cold. They prefer to hibernate at rocky places and trees like oak or ones that have plenty of cavities so that they may also bask under the sun to increase their body temperatures. They are also found in abundance in places like a deciduous forest with grasses growing. It also means that rat snakes are less active during winter and more during summer or hot weather.
There are studies by experts that have shown that rat snakes develop fatal conditions if they are not allowed to hibernate on time. In the wild, their life span has been seen to be about 15 years while in captivity they can live up as long as 25 years. The newly hatched offspring of a rat snake may reach maturity after 18 to 24 months.
They mate once in a year and the gestation period for the female rat snake is around one month. The females lay about 30 eggs in a clutch. As rat snakes have enough enemies many of the baby rat snakes do not make it to next year.
Global Warming and Its Effects on Rat Snakes
In many parts of the world birds and animals are facing existential crisis brought forth by global warming. In the case of rat snakes, global warming has affected them yet they are not under any sort of threat of existence. Rat snakes behavior has undergone some perceptible changes due to this. The wildly fluctuating temperatures and the sudden advent of changes in weather conditions from warm to cold have made them quite vulnerable.
Although rat snakes adapt well enough in different parts of the world yet such changes and vagaries of weather has greatly affected their hibernation timing and its process. In studies conducted in the US and other countries, rat snakes seem to be getting more confused with sudden warm climates and therefore they break their winter hibernation and come out of it when the sun shines. Again, they have greater difficulties in getting back to hibernation when the weather turns suddenly cold.
This may also prove to be fatal for rat snakes as they may find themselves in danger of death. Further, sudden freezing of temperatures in the northern ranges may also result in death especially among the weakened rat snakes.
The effect of such drastic changes affects their thermoregulation and rat snakes often experience difficulties in proper digestion of their food and other bodily functions.
Many rat snakes variety have therefore changed their lifestyles in order to accommodate these problems. It is no wonder that you may find rat snakes now coming out of their shelters during the night and becoming nocturnal. This may be all right yet during the night time they also become prey to raccoons, owls, hawks and other creatures of the night. This undoubtedly may reduce their populations as predators of the night are quite efficient of hunting for prey in the darkness.
It is obvious that rat snake would need to change habitat due to such drastic climate changes. In fact, a rat snake has to keep its body heated and get as much sunshine or it may affect many of its normal activities. Due to this many snakes have been seen to shift their habitat and cross other predators and are therefore easy prey to them. The chief among the other predators is other snakes especially the King Cobra which has its habitat in the rain forest parts of India and South Asian countries.
Rat Snakes as Pets
Rat snakes are commonly found in places where people live. They are good climbers and effortlessly climb trees, windows, doors and parapets and walls. This makes human homes easily accessible to them as they know quite well enough that where there is human population there will be their favorite food the rodents. Although rat snakes are not dangerous they do pose a problem when they bite. The bite from a rat snake is not life-threatening they may need treatment.
However, rat snakes attack only when provoked. When they get frightened they will vibrate their tail and hiss aggressively at their opponents. This makes the rat snakes to be mistaken for a rattlesnake in many parts of America.
Yet rat snakes do well as pets and are as much in demand like that of corn snakes. Although corn snakes are less problematic to deal with a black rat snake maybe your best alternative to make it a pet. The rat snakes like the corn snakes and perhaps a trifle more needs to be cared for in captivity. When disturbed the rat snakes are quick to secrete musk-like odor from their skin.
However, if you handle them regularly this will never happen and they may even recognize your touches and warmth of your hands.
However, rat snakes as pets can be great only if you do proper care for it. They need quite a large enclosure with enough light streaming into it. It is better to place the enclosure where direct sunlight would fall or you may use artificial lighting. In case of artificial lighting, it should be borne in mind that you ought to turn them on and off at an intermission of 12 to 14 hours to resemble day time and night time.
Rat snakes ought to have enough space to move about in the enclosure. You ought to keep a bowl of water or may construct a large water hole within the enclosure so that the rat snake may drench itself in water as and when it wishes. It must be remembered that rat snakes do quite well with water nearby and are also good swimmers. This doesn’t mean that you need a pool of water in the cage, but small enough to fit into the little space.
As far as food is concerned you may either purchase food from online stores or you may catch live rats and mice so that they may be put inside the cage with ease. You may, therefore, need to have a mesh covering the cage on all its sides or three sides namely the front, left and right side. It is better to get pre-killed food from stores duly ice packed so that it could be easily consumed by your snake.
Again, your rat snake would surely get used to swallowing pre-killed mice or smaller mammal and you can do so every week as rat snakes do not go hungry frequently. They also need a few days time for their prey to get digested properly. If you had caught a rat snake from the wild then the chances of them surviving is very little. Hence, it would be better if you make your purchase from pet stores that breed these creatures.
Cleaning and Hygiene
If you do not clean your enclosure containing your pet rat snake then it would die of disease and infection. Hence, you must at least clean the enclosure at least twice a week. You must also need to clean the artificial hole that you may have provided for its hiding and the bowls containing water and then spray some kind of disinfectant.
You also need to make sure to clean the enclosure when your rat snake has shed its skin. For this, the rougher surface is better and you may even provide a branch of a tree for it to climb and help in shedding its skin. Sometimes rough stones and generally rough surface flooring is made so that your rat snake can move around freely. Do not keep sand as it generally would get into the nostrils of your rat snake making breathing difficult.
In case you detect that your rat snake is getting more lethargic or stays quiet for a long time then you must at once note that it is sick. Usually, rat snakes do not stay long in one place. They simply love to move about. They would love to climb to any stub of a tree that you may have provided inside the enclosure In case you find it has an infection on the mouth or skin or its sick then you must have it attended by a veterinary doctor. Sometimes, serious sickness may ensue and if not properly treated may result in the death of your favorite rat snake.
If you are handling your rat snake regularly then it would coil around you without any problems. But make sure that there aren’t any children near you. This is because if they coil around a child and give a squeeze then it may be fatal for the child. Some stores have their own information booklets as to how to handle a pet rat snake as well as how to look after them.
Are Rat Snakes Poisonous or Venomous: Conclusion
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For more information on caring for snakes, take a look at our other snake articles.