Corn snakes are one of the sub-species within the rat snake family. The greater rat snake family also includes other species such as the Eastern rat snake, the Texas rat snake, and the Yellow rat snake.
In fact, the old-fashioned synonym for corn snakes is “red rat snakes”.
Rat snakes are members of the subfamily Colubrinae under the family Colubridae. This subfamily also includes king snakes, indigo snakes, and vine snakes. Members of this family share one common characteristic: they are constrictors. This means that they squeeze their prey to death before swallowing the prey whole.
Disclaimer: This is information for entertainment and educational purposes only. Do not approach a wild animal and keep your distance. Only professionals should handle wild animals. Seek professional help immediately if you have been bitten or otherwise harmed. Consult your local wildlife authority for the right advice for your situation and locality.
Corn Snakes vs Rat Snakes
|Feature||Corn Snake||Rat Snake|
|1. Scientific Name||Pantherophis guttatus||Ptyas mucosus|
|2. Size||2 – 6 Feet.||6 – 9 Feet.|
|3. Colors||Reds, oranges, whites, pinks, yellows, grays.||Varies. Generally, black, gray, yellow, brown, red, black-and-white, and orange.|
|4. Range||South-Eastern United States.||South-Eastern United States.|
|5. Hunting Behavior||Hunters & constrictors.||Hunters & constrictors.|
|6. Breeding Season||Spring.||Spring-Summer.|
|7. Lays Eggs||Yes.||Yes.|
|8. Pet Behavior||Usually Docile.||Usually Docile.|
|9. Warm Side Cage Temperature||80-85°F||80-85°F|
|10. Cold Side Cage Temperature||75-80°F||75-80°F|
|12. Cost||Starting about $50 to $70 and up.||Starting about $50 to $70 and up.|
|13. Life Expectancy (In Captivity)||6 to 25 years||12 to 25 years|
|14. Diet||Rodents, frogs, bird eggs.||Rodents, frogs, bird eggs.|
Overview of Rat Snakes
Rat snakes are medium-sized snakes found in parts of Northern and Southern America.
They have such a wide range because there are many species within the family, each of which has its own geographical range.
These non-venomous serpents are known to constrict their prey by squeezing them to prevent proper circulation and then swallowing the prey whole after it dies.
There are two broad categories of rat snakes: the Old World and the New World rat snakes. New World snakes live in North America, and the corn snake is one of them.
Generally, though, rat snakes have keeled scales, relatively thin bodies, and heads that are shaped like wedges. Depending on the species, the snake can have stripes, blotches, a combination of stripes and blotches, or one plain color. They can be red, yellow, grey, brown, or black.
Overview of Corn Snakes
Corn snakes are part of the New World category of rat snakes.
They are primarily found in North America, specifically the southeastern United States. Also known as red rat snakes, corn snakes stand out from the other rat snake species by having reddish-orange skin with random blotches.
As with the rest of the rat snakes, corn snakes enjoy eating rats but also indulge in other types of rodents such as mice, chipmunks, and squirrels.
Corn snakes are non-venomous and docile, making them one of the most preferred species of rat snakes for petting. Besides, they are the best looking as they are brightly colored with impressive body patterns.
Fun Fact: The corn snake can be distinguished from other rat snakes by the stripe extending from the back of its eye past the corner of its jaw, plus the large, bold black and white checkerboard pattern on its belly.
Comparison between Corn Snakes and Rat Snakes
1. Physical Attributes
Rat snakes have unique body characteristics with which you can differentiate them from other types of snakes. For one, they are medium to large in size, and an adult will be anywhere between 3 feet and 6 feet in length. True to this, most corn snakes are between 2 feet and 6 feet in length, with the most common length being 4 feet.
Shape of the Head
All rat snakes have a wedge-shaped head, which resembles that of a turtle, and the corn snake is no exception.While they lack pits on their heads, rat snakes have a shiny, scaly cap on the top of their heads, just above the eyes. The shiny, scaly cap is V-shaped in a corn snake’s case, which is one way to differentiate it from fellow rat snake species.
Colors and Patterns
Different species of rat snakes have varying body colors and patterns. For instance, the Eastern rat snake is black, the yellow snake rat is yellow, and the gray rat snake, just as the name suggests, are gray with black blotches on their backs and bellies.
Corn snakes have reddish scales with large blotches which are either orange or brown in color. Now, blotches and stripes are the most common patterns on all snake rats. Some, like the Eastern rat snake, have a combination of blotches and patterns on their bodies. Elsewhere, the yellow snake rat is yellow all over, with very minimal body patterns, if any.
Pupils and Teeth
It is a known fact that venomous snakes have vertical pupils that look like a cat’s, while the non-venomous snake variants have round pupils, like those of humans. Since rat snakes and corn snakes are non-venomous, they both have round pupils.
Additionally, rat snakes do not possess fangs. They have small teeth that are hardly equipped to cause any sort of pain. If any rat snake, including the corn snake, bites you, they will only leave a small scratch in the shape of a horseshoe.
2. Behavioral Attributes
The behavior of rat snakes varies across the different species.
For instance, the Eastern rat snakes also referred to as black rat snakes are known to be pretty shy. On the other side, corn snakes are just about the most docile serpents known to man.
Additionally, rat snakes happen to be semi-arboreal. This means that while they are largely nocturnal, it is not uncommon to see them slithering around during the day. You could also spot them basking in the sun as a way of regulating their body temperature. This habit is common with all rat snake species, including corn snakes.
Also, rat snakes are known to be amazing swimmers. Some species of rat snakes, such as the Everglades rat snake, make use of their swimming prowess to get away from potential predators.
During winter, rat snakes go into a prolonged state of sleeping, scientifically referred to as hibernation. Just like the other rat snake species, corn snakes are the least active during cold weather. When it thaws out, they emerge from their hibernating spots to forage for prey.
Fun Fact: Some people refer to the black rat snake as the “pilot snake” in the mistaken belief that this snake pilots or guides the venomous rattlesnake to hibernation dens.
Related Article: Do Pet Snakes Need Light at Night?
3. Defense Mechanism
All rat snakes (including corn snakes) produce a foul-smelling musk when threatened by a predator or when a person picks them up.
This is an attempt to put off the predator and allow the snake enough time to run away to safety. Moreover, rat snakes tend to make use of Batesian mimicry, where they imitate poisonous rattlesnakes by vibrating their tails vigorously.
The problem with the Batesian mimicry technique is that it could backfire on the snake when a human kills it thinking it’s poisonous.
Even so, corn snakes are the least aggressive among all the rat snake species. For this reason, they get along with humans the best, which is why they make such great pets.
4. Are They Venomous?
Rat snakes and corn snakes are not venomous. They only pretend to be venomous.
For example, most rat snakes vibrate their tales like the rattlesnake as a way to defend themselves against predators. Otherwise, they are completely harmless to humans, and their bites do not have any detrimental effects.
Often, corn snakes are confused for the venomous copperheads, and as a result, get killed in the wild. While they look alike, you can tell a corn snake and a copperhead apart by their body patterns. While corn snakes have random blotches, copperheads have hourglass markings.
Furthermore, corn snakes have a black and white checkered belly, which is common with all rat snakes. In any case, if you can’t tell whether it is a copperhead or a corn snake, it is best to maintain a safe distance between you and the snake.
Due to their behavioral differences, rat snakes are widely distributed throughout North and Central America.
Eastern rat snakes inhabit areas in Louisiana and Southern Wisconsin. Texas rat snakes, as per their name, are commonly found in the state of Texas.
Yellow rat snakes are common in the coastal areas of North and South Carolina, Florida, and Georgia. They have a particular affinity to wet areas. Gray snakes are common in the central regions of the United States.
As for corn snakes, they are primarily found in the southeastern United States, with the most population concentration in Florida. They like living in forests, mangrove swamps, grasslands, and rocky places. You will also find rat snakes in urban parks, dumps, and abandoned buildings.
Rat snakes normally go foraging for food at night, especially during the warmer months.
When it is a bit cooler, you may see them looking for food during the day as well. Essentially, they avoid roaming around when it is too hot.
When hunting, rat snakes hunt for prey, but they also ambush when necessary. They tend to hang around places where their prey, which primarily consists of rodents, are easily found. These places include barns, abandoned buildings, and corn granaries.
Fun Fact: It is said that corn snakes acquired their name because they would be seen roaming around corn farms and corn granaries. It was originally thought that they eat corn, but in the real sense, the serpents hang around the areas waiting to pounce on rodents that may pass by.
When they catch their prey, rat snakes constrict them to death before swallowing them whole. Constriction involves squeezing, which overwhelms the prey’s circulatory system causing suffocation and, inevitably, death.
Despite their name, rat snakes do not feed exclusively on rats. They also devour other small rodents such as chipmunks, mice, and squirrels. On top of that, they also eat lizards, birds, and bird eggs. Those snakes that inhabit areas that are close to water bodies also prey on frogs.
As a species of rat snakes, corn snakes eat all the animals mentioned above. Keep in mind that despite their name, corn snakes do not eat corn.
Read More: What do Corn Snakes Eat?
The mating season for rat snakes is dependent on the climate. Usually, these serpents mate when it is warm, like during late spring or summer.
The males use pheromones to attract females and engage in battle with each other, whereby the strongest male wins the right to copulate with a particular female.
Rat snakes are oviparous, meaning that their eggs spend little to no time inside their mother’s body. Instead, the mother snakes hatch the eggs soon after conception to incubate in a hidden place, such as a pile of compost. Female rat snakes lay two clutches of eggs on a good year, but only one clutch when the climate is not favorable.
Each clutch of eggs contains about 12 to 20 eggs, which hatch after two months of incubation. Baby rat snakes are independent from the moment they hatch, and their parents offer no parental care whatsoever.
Just like other rat snakes, corn snakes reproduce during the warmer months of the year. They lay eggs twice a year, where a clutch of eggs has 10 to 20 eggs. Also, the hatchlings are self-sufficient from the minute they break from the eggs.
9. Human Interaction
Rat snakes (including corn snakes) are non-venomous and pretty harmless to human beings.
If anything, they are helpful as they assist in driving away unwanted rodents around homes and barns. Furthermore, they make amazing snake pets as they are relatively small and easy to maintain. The most popular species with snake hobbyists are black rat snakes and corn snakes.
While black rat snakes are shy and easy to control, corn snakes are a delight to look at. The latter is also very docile, making it more human-friendly than other species of rat snakes.
If you want to take a rat snake for a pet, you should consult with a breeder or a snake vet for guidelines. Taking care of a snake is way different from taking care of a dog or a cat. First, you have to ensure that you have a decent enclosure that has enough space for the snake to roam around. In the case of rat snakes, the enclosure should be full-proof as these snakes tend to be good escape artists.
Also, you should provide the right temperature and humidity to keep the serpent comfortable. Furthermore, you should feed it and hydrate it as often as required to keep it healthy and prolong its lifespan.
More Snake Comparisons:
- Bullsnake vs Rat Snake
- Rattlesnake vs Rat Snake
- Ratsnake vs Cottonmouth
- Kingsnake vs Rat Snake
- Copperhead vs Rat Snake
- Corn Snake vs Milk Snake
- Corn Snake vs Garter Snake
Corn snakes are a species of snakes that belong to the rat snake family. They are also known as the red rat snakes as they have red and orange scales. While rat snakes are spread through North and Central America, corn snakes are concentrated in North America, specifically the southeastern United States.
Rat snakes are non-venomous and pose no harm to human beings. For this reason and others, they make perfect pets, especially for beginner hobbyists.
Joe is a freelance writer for FaunaFacts. Joe has written extensively about snakes for the site, but also contributes content about a range of animals.