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North American Ratsnake

Name Pantherophis species
Type Nocturnal, burrows/tunnels & will climb
Where am I from? USA, Canada & Mexico
Handle-ability Will tolerate, but don’t like to be woken up
Length/size up to 6ft, medium bodied snake
Suitable for Intermediate
Life span Ave 20 years


Rat snakes housing can range from a simple set up with newspaper for substrate and cardboard box hides to an elaborate naturalistic setup in a vivarium. There are a few basics to get right though. The general rule of thumb is to give your Ratsnake a container/vivarium in which the length plus the width is about the same length as the snake. A larger vivarium can be used, as long as plenty of hiding places are provided. At least one hide will be required at both the warm and the cool end of the vivarium, to allow your Rat snake to thermo-regulate whilst feeling secure. One of the most popular substrates for Ratsnakes is Aspen, which looks good, allows the Rat to burrow and is easily spot cleaned. Ratsnakes will climb, if given the opportunity, and appreciate a branch or similar in their enclosure.


Ratsnakes come from temperate North America, and so high temperatures are not required. The cool end of the viv can be room temperature, with a hot spot of 25-28C being adequate. This is best provided by a heat-mat covering no more than a third to half of the enclosures floor space. Always make sure that heat-mats are protected by a suitable thermostat to avoid burns to your snake. It is best to always check temperatures accurately with a digital thermometer.


Rat snakes do not require any special lighting, or UVb light. Unless in a particularly dark room, most people keep their Rats without lighting, but to allow better viewing lights can be used, and will be of no detriment to the snake, as long as they do not increase the ambient temperature too much. Any lights used should be guarded and on a thermostat.


Rat snakes do well at normal room humidity of around 50%. Always provide a bowl of water large enough for your snake to bath in if it wants to. A quick spray of the vivarium when your snake is about to shed may be beneficial.


Rat snakes are strictly carnivorous, and are usually fed whole mice of the appropriate size. Pinky mice are fed to hatchlings, and the size increased as the snake grows. A Rat snake only requires feeding once every week on an item no bigger than 1.5 times the size of the widest part of the snake. It is not necessary to supplement the diet of a Ratsnake, but an occasional vitamin supplement such as Nutrobal may be administered by dipping the rump of the rodent in the supplement, and some keepers feel that this is beneficial.


Rat snakes are fairly easy to breed. Introduce the female to the male in spring. Mating usually occurs fairly quickly. 4-6 weeks later the female will usually lay a clutch of between 6 and 30 eggs in a moss filled hide put in especially for the purpose. The eggs are best incubated in the damp moss in which they were layed, at about 28C(84f). After a couple of months the baby Rats will hatch from the eggs.

Buying Tips

Ask to handle the snake to gauge it's health and temperament. Baby Rat snakes can be fast and occasionally nippy, but they usually grow out of this with regular handling. Look for clear skin which is taught and firm, and smooth scales, clear bright eyes, and no faecal staining around the vent. A healthy Rat should move easily, have no clicking, wheeze or hiss when it breathes, and should not have a protruding spine.


There are literally hundreds of both genetic and line bred pattern morphs of Ratsnake some of which are stunningly beautiful. The most common include amelanistic, anerythristic and leucistic Rats