Elaphe obsoleta quadrivittata (Yellow Ratsnake)

Written by Deron Hartman


Common Names: Yellow Ratsnake, Chicken Snake

Scientific Name: Elaphe obsoleta quadrivittata

Range: From the coastal regions of North Carolina south along the coast through South Carolina and into central Georgia and through Florida down to Palm Beach, Hendry, and Lee counties. Intergrades with the black ratsnake (E. o. obsoleta) through its range in North Carolina, S. Carolina, and Georgia. The yellow rat also intergrades with the everglades ratsnake (E. o. rossalleni) in southern Florida and with the gray ratsnake (E. o. spiloides) in north Florida and parts of Georgia. Specimens of intergrade status can be found as far south along the gulf coast of Florida as Hernando county. These are often considered intergrades with the gulf hammock ratsnake (E. o. williamsi), a problematic subspecies found along the Big Bend area of Florida.

Habitat: Found in a variety of habitats including pine flatlands, slash pine scrub, coastal hardwood hammocks, oak hammocks, cypress dome swamps, and deciduous hardwoods. Yellow rats are commonly found around citrus groves, pasture lands, and old abandoned buildings.

Behavior: Yellow ratsnakes are both diurnal and nocturnal. they can be found on warm spring and summer nights crossing roads adn during the cooler months are occasionally found during the day sunning themselves along the edges of woods or on dirt roads. Although often found on the ground, they are agile climbers adn are commonly found in the rafters of old buildings. Juveniles can be found at night on the branches of Australian Casuarina trees hunting for sleeping Anolis species. In general, yellow ratsnakes are aggressive and will defend themselves against an oncoming predator. Most, however, calm down nicely in captivity and make excellent and often long-lived captives. Breeding is accomplished fairly easily. In some parts of their range they have a considerably cool winter while in the southern end of their range they see relatively few cold days. A colling down period is not necessary but can help reproductive success. Often simply shortening the light cycle is usually all that is required. Breeding takes place from March to May with anywhere from 6 to 30 eggs being laid between May and July. Incubation last from 55-60 days. Hatchlings will feed on lizards and pink mice, while adults feed on rodents and birds.

Size: Hatchlings usually 8-10 inches. Average adult length is between 36 and 48 inches, with the record being 84 inches.

Coloration: Hatchlings have a light gray ground color with darker gray blotches and a ventral pattern consisting of whitish-gray and dark checkers. In adults, both the dorsal and ventral coloration varies from dull to bright yellow, with specimens from the southern end of their range often having a yellow-orange color due to genetic influence from the everglades ratsnake (E. o. rossalleni). Dorsal pattern consists of a series of four dark stripes running the length of the body often coupled with faint to sometimes prominent blotches. Some adult specimens may show a fairly well patterned ventral surface with dark checkers as found in juveniles.

Wild Types:

Greenish Ratsnake (E. o. obsoleta x E. o. quadrivittata). The greenish ratsnake is a naturally occuring intergrade between the yellow ratsnake and the black ratsnake so called because of their usually dull, greenish color. They occur over central Georgia and the coastal regions of South and North Carolina, wherever the ranges of the two forms overlap.

Captive Cultivars:

Amelanistic. An albino strain is currently being bred in fairly small numbers. The strain originated from a wild caught specimen from the west coast of Florida near the Tampa area. The colors consist of orange-yellow blotches on a yellowish-white ground color.