Great Plains Ratsnake

Image of a Great Plains ratsnake
Scientific Name
Pantherophis emoryi
Colubridae (nonvenomous snakes) in the order Squamata (lizards and snakes)

The Great Plains ratsnake is seldom seen. It has numerous brown blotches along the body, a brown eye stripe, and a spear-point marking on top of the head. This medium-sized snake has a light gray or brownish-gray ground color, patterned with dark brown blotches bordered with black. A dark brown stripe between the eyes extends through each eye, along the sides of the head, and onto the neck. There is a spearhead-shaped marking on top of the head. The belly is white with bold, squarish black markings, and black or dark gray stripes under the tail. Like other ratsnakes, Great Plains ratsnakes vibrate their tails when alarmed and will bite to defend themselves, but the bite is harmless.

Similar species: The prairie kingsnake is more common in our state. Its markings are different, including two rows of smaller blotches along the sides; a backward-pointing, arrowhead-shaped mark on top of the head; and a yellow belly with rectangular brown markings. It lacks the brown stripe passing through the eyes and along the sides of the head.

Other Common Names
Great Plains Rat Snake
House Snake
Emory's Rat Snake

Length: 24 to 36 inches.

Where To Find
Great Plains Ratsnake Distribution Map

Mainly wooded areas in the southern half of the state and along Missouri River counties, excluding southeastern counties.

Active from late March to late September, this species is generally nocturnal, spending daylight hours hiding under rocks, logs, and boards, or underground in small mammal burrows. It is mostly found in open woodlands, rocky, wooded hillsides, and possibly near caves inhabited by bats. One researcher found this species overwintering in a cave.

Great Plains ratsnakes hunt in the night for rodents, bats, and small birds.

The Great Plains ratsnake used to be classified as Elaphe guttata emoryi, but scientists have renamed it. Among nonscientists, this snake is also called "house snake," for its being commonly found around abandoned farm buildings. Some books refer to this species as Emory's rat snake.

Life Cycle

Breeding apparently occurs soon after these snakes emerge from their overwintering retreats. Only one clutch, containing 3 to 30 eggs, is laid per season, usually between late June and early July. Hatching probably takes place in September. The young look similar to the young of western ratsnakes (formerly called black rat snakes or black snakes).

Snakes have always captured the imaginations of humans. In myth, religion, and story, snakes perform the role of seducer, sneak, guardian, healer, killer, and transformer. On a more practical level, snakes help humans by consuming many rodents that are injurious to our interests.

Snakes use organs in their tongues and mouths to detect odors and track their prey. As nocturnal predators, they must depend on something other than sight to interpret their surroundings. Many mice and other small mammals are active at night, too, and similarly have a well-developed sense of smell.

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Similar Species
About Reptiles and Amphibians in Missouri
Missouri’s herptiles comprise 43 amphibians and 75 reptiles. Amphibians, including salamanders, toads, and frogs, are vertebrate animals that spend at least part of their life cycle in water. They usually have moist skin, lack scales or claws, and are ectothermal (cold-blooded), so they do not produce their own body heat the way birds and mammals do. Reptiles, including turtles, lizards, and snakes, are also vertebrates, and most are ectothermal, but unlike amphibians, reptiles have dry skin with scales, the ones with legs have claws, and they do not have to live part of their lives in water.