Gray Ratsnake, Pantherophis spiloides

This common species, often referred to as the “chicken snake,” occurs across all of Tennessee.

Description: A large snake (42.0 to 72.0 inches in length) with a variable color pattern. Dorsal color is usually black spackled with bits of white between scales and having a light throat.

Some specimens may be gray with blotches of brown or darker gray on back. Scales are slightly keeled. Belly is whitish in color near the head, but becomes a black checkerboard pattern towards the tail. Juveniles are gray strongly patterned with the brown or dark gray blotches.

Similar Species: Eastern Black Kingsnake and North American Racer both have smooth scales and bodies are more rounded.

Habitat: Lives in a variety of habitats including woodlands (pine and hardwood), field edges, near streams, and around farms and suburban areas. Gray Ratsnakes take shelter in woodpiles, hollow trees, barns, and old houses.

Diet: Preys upon small mammals and birds by constriction; also swallows bird eggs.

Breeding information: Adults usually breed in spring, occasionally in fall. Females lay 6-30 eggs under rotten logs, stumps, or rocks during the summer. Multiple females may nest together. Young hatch in a couple of months.

Status in Tennessee: One of the most abundant snakes in the state. Because they are frequently found around human dwellings, Gray Ratsnakes are vulnerable to being killed by people with a fear of snakes.

Fun Facts:

  • Ratsnakes are excellent climbers and are frequently found near or in trees. Sometimes they can be found basking on a horizontal limb.

Best places to see in Tennessee: A barn or other farm building with grain storage; or brushpiles in a yard.


Conant, R. and Collins, J. 1998. Peterson Field Guides: Reptiles and Amphibians (Eastern/Central North America). Houghton Mifflin Company, New York. 616pp.

Jensen, J. B., Camp C. D., Gibbons, W., and Elliot, M. J. 2008. Amphibians and Reptiles of Georgia, University of Georgia Press, Athens, GA. 575pp.

 Gray Ratsnake