The gray rat snake (Elaphe obsoleta spiloides) is a medium/large constricting snake ranging from southern Indiana south to the Florida Panhandle, and west to Mississippi. It is a blotched snake, with a dark gray or brown pattern over a lighter ground color. They tend to be darker in color at the northern end of their range, becoming lighter as they move south. They are a very hearty snake and usually adapt well to captivity and regular handling with proper snake supplies and snake habitat products.
Hatchlings range in size from 10-15 inches long and reach a size of 4-6 feet as adults. Males grow faster and reach larger sizes than females.
Gray rat snakes can live for 10-15 years, with a record of 25 years for a captive specimen.
Lighting, Temperature, and Humidity
No special lighting is required. Make sure to establish a light cycle, with a day/night difference to avoid stress. Natural light works well for this, just make sure the cage is not in direct sunlight. Gray rat snakes are very tolerant of temperature. A gradient from 72 degrees F to 82 degrees F will allow them to find a comfortable spot for their needs.
Follow all manufacture guidelines of whatever product you use and make sure to monitor the temperature frequently. Humidity can be kept at the middle of the range (30-70%). A large water bowl will allow the snake to soak and regulate their own moisture requirements.
Gray Rat Snake Substrate
I prefer newspaper for the ease of cleaning. Non-toxic shavings can also be used, as well as one of the tank liners that are available on the market. As stated earlier, make sure there is a reptile hide in the cage. This will help prevent the snake from burrowing under the newspaper/liner. With substrate, gray rat snakes are not picky and whatever the keeper prefers will do just fine.
Usually, feeding is not a problem. Gray rat snakes are powerful constrictors that enjoy live reptile food, feeding readily on appropriate-sized mice and rats. They will also take birds, chicks, and even eggs. To witness the snake feed can, in it self, be a treat. Watching a gray rat snake tackle an egg is something to witness if you have never observed it. If using a store-bought egg, make sure to heat it up a little in a bowl of warm water. This will make it appear more natural to the snake. In the wild, gray rat snakes on the prowl will wipe out nests, eating the eggs or hatchlings that they find.
The only problem you might encounter with respects to feeding is hatchlings. Most snakes will start on pink mice, but some require small lizards or tree frogs. I find this is more common with the gray rat snakes from the southern part of the range. If that is the case, keep some lizards or frogs frozen to rub on and scent the pink. Usually after a few feedings they will take the rodents, and once they start there is no looking back. Feed an appropriate item every 5-10 days, with the younger snakes being fed more often to compensate for their increased metabolism.
Always keep fresh water available. I prefer a large non-tip plastic dog bowl for ease of disinfecting. I use a bowl large enough that the snake can soak in it without the water overflowing all over the cage. Any sturdy, heavy container will do fine.
Handling and Temperament
Gray rat snakes have a reputation for being aggressive. I think they are just confidant snakes that don’t take any flack. Wild-caught snakes can be a little rowdy at first, but in my experience, calm down quickly. Use a snake hook to pick them up out of the cage, and handle them off of the hook. This approach puts the snake at ease and prevents any fight or feeding responses. Handle them confidently and let them crawl through your hands without any hard restraint. Even the most belligerent gray rat snake will usually adapt to these procedures and become a well mannered captive. When taming a snake, if a problem arises, simply place the snake back in the cage and give it a day or two before trying again. Patience, calmness, and consistency are the keys.
Gray rat snakes breed in April to June after emerging from hibernation, with the specimens in the south breeding earliest. Eggs are laid in late May to July, with the young hatching usually in August to September.