by Kyle D. Sweet, CGCS
The summertime months on the islands bring about an abundance of wildlife activity, especially that of our warm weather loving native reptiles. Such is true for the Yellow Rat Snake, also known as the Eastern Rat Snake, Chicken Snake or Everglades Rat Snake. Beyond the island, this non-venomous, long – lived, slow – moving snake can be found from coastal North Carolina south throughout the Florida panhandle and peninsula.
I was recently reminded of the large size that these partially arboreal snakes grow to when a colleague and I spotted one at least six feet in length on the golf course. They average between 36 – 72 inches with the record length being 90 inches in length.
Juvenile Yellow Rat Snakes are gray with dark blotches, whereas the adults are yellow to yellow-gray with four prevalent longitudinal stripes. In some cases, the adults retain the juvenile’s dark dorsal blotches, which presents the snake with a somewhat mottled appearance.
This snake, like many others, is primarily active at night, burrowing, climbing and feeding veraciously on rodents. They can be found during the day, sunning themselves during cooler weather or by over -turning rocks, boards and large tree trimming debris such as branches and logs. Tree trimming activity can also bring about a siting of this snake as they are often coiled up in the center of a palm tree or sprawled out along a shaded branch.
As their name implies, rodents are the mainstay of their diet, but their diet also includes lizards, frogs, birds and their eggs. The source of one of its names, “Chicken Snake” comes from the fact that they will eat young chickens and chicks. In all cases, the Yellow Rat Snake constricts its prey in its strong coils and swallows it whole.
They lay their eggs in early summer and peak hatching occurs from July – September. Upwards of 30 eggs are laid at a time, often in moist soils, leave piles or damp, rotting logs. When the snakes emerge, they are already 12” long. The dense vegetation of Sanibel provides great cover for this snake as well as for many rodents ad smaller animals that Yellow rat Snakes feed upon, providing for great habitat for the survival of this snake.
It has been many years since a venomous snake was documented on Sanibel, meaning that what you are seeing out there is not venomous. Your cooperation in not destroying snakes when encountered is very important. Additionally, if one is seen crossing a road while you are biking, driving or operating your golf cart please slow down and allow them to cross. Vehicles of all sorts are the #1 reason for mortality of snakes on the islands.
The agile, but slow – moving Yellow Rat Snake is sure to catch your eye eventually. Maybe in a tree or maybe making its way across the lawn, this important snake should be appreciated for its pest control abilities and not disturbed or destroyed.
Yellow Rat Snake Cool Facts:
Yellow Rat Snakes “freeze” when encountering danger, which is why so many are killed on roadways. When the “freeze” they take on a rippled posture.
Yellow Rat Snakes are excellent climbers and are considered partially arboreal. The angles of it’s belly scales help it to grip irregularities on trees and rocks, making it an excellent climber that is capable of completely vertical climbs. ( As photographed travelling up the trunk of a cabbage palm)