Nonvenomous Snakes Around the Yard

June 25, 2005 updated 11/12/09

This is article number one in a series on nonvenomous or “good” snakes in Florida.

Black SnakeBlack Racer

One of central Florida’s most familiar snakes is the "blacksnake" or, more properly, the southern black racer. The adult racer is a slender, satiny snake, plain black or slate gray with a white or gray chin and throat. Maximum length is about 70 inches, but most are 36-60 inches long. Black racers are nervous, irritable and fast-moving. When given a chance to escape, they generally do so very quickly. Unlike many snakes, the black racer hunts actively during daylight hours, one reason why they are frequently noticed. The eyes, with their rich, chestnut-brown irises, are large in relation to its head, betraying the racer's keen vision.

Part of the racer's success is due to its wide diet; they have been referred to as "slithering garbage pails." Racers capture a tremendous variety of animals, including other snakes, lizards, frogs, birds, rodents and insects. While hunting in open areas, the racer often raises its head high above the ground, cobra-style, to survey its surroundings better.

The black racer is a “good” snake as it is not poisonous and helps keep our rodent and insect population down. Leave them alone and let them do their job.

Rat Snakes Rat Snake

There are only two types of rat snakes native to Florida, but they are so variable in color and pattern you'd think there were many more. The red rat snake is usually some shade of yellowish-tan to orange, with a row of large, dark-edged red or rusty blotches down the center of the back. The black and white belly resembles a piano keyboard.

The other type of rat snake has several names to match its appearance, which varies in different parts of the state. Young of this species are gray with irregular darker gray blotches on the back. In the panhandle, the adults retain this color pattern and are known as the gray rat or "white oak" snake. Throughout most of the peninsula, however, the adults are orangish with four narrow, brown stripes running the length of the body. These are commonly called yellow rat or "chicken" snakes.

The red rat snake may grow to a length of 72 inches, but averages 30-48 inches. The gray and yellow rat snakes may reach a body length of 84 inches, but those most commonly seen are 42-72 inches. Both species are found throughout Florida in almost every habitat, but are shy and secretive, spending most of their time in trees, under brush and mulch piles, or inside old buildings and other structures.

Young rat snakes feed mostly on lizards and frogs, but adults graduate to rodents and birds, which they kill by constriction. They are quite useful in controlling rats and mice. Nonpoisonous rat snakes will defend themselves aggressively when cornered. When threatened, they may also vibrate their tails rapidly.

This is first in a series on good snakes you may find in your garden.
Compiled by Ed Ayen, is a Master Gardener, affiliated with The university of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.