Eastern Ratsnake Naming

Help us name our new education snake!

The Wildlife Center of Virginia is enlisting the help of the general public in coming up with a name for a non-releasable Eastern Ratsnake that is joining the ranks of the Center’s education ambassadors. In this video, Front-Desk Supervisor Michael Adkins introduces us to this new addition to our ambassador team.

This Eastern Ratsnake was admitted to the Wildlife Center in December 2021. The snake was reportedly taken from an unknown location in the wild and kept for an unknown period of time before a friend of the snake’s former owner intervened and brought the ratsnake to the Center. Because this snake’s original home territory and length of time in captivity are unknown, he is unable to be released into the wild.

In summer 2022, the Center’s outreach staff evaluated the snake’s suitability as an education ambassador and decided that this snake would be a good fit for the team, based on his temperament and personality. As an ambassador, the snake will appear in a number of educational programs, both online and in-person.

The next step for this education animal is to acquire a name – and the Wildlife Center is looking for suggestions! Everyone is welcome to participate. Simply fill out this form with your suggestion by October 1 at 12:00 p.m. Eastern. Once the Wildlife Center has received all of the nominations, the staff will review all the names and will make a decision. The person or classroom with the winning name will receive a one-year Caring for Critters sponsorship of the Eastern Ratsnake! [In the case of multiple entries, the first person or classroom to suggest a name is the official nominator.]

The Center has a history of inviting the public to participate in the naming of an education animal. Other naming contests resulted in Ruby the Red-tailed Hawk, Chayton the Peregrine Falcon, Athena the Barred Owl, Briscoe the Great Horned Owl, and Oscar the Hog-nosed Snake.

What’s In a Name?

At the Wildlife Center, patients are assigned numbers, but education animals [permanent residents] are given names. The education ambassadors help better connect people to wildlife and inspire the action that each of us can take to protect wildlife and the environment. Generally, the Center picks names for the education animals that inspire a connection to wildlife or impart knowledge about an animal. A meaningful name is an opportunity to convey more knowledge about animals and to engage and inspire our supporters to preserve and conserve Virginia’s wildlife.

Other inspirations of ambassadors' names have included:

  • Physical characteristics: Rowan the Red-tailed Hawk;
  • Cultural/Historical Figures: Maggie the Peregrine Falcon, Rosalie the Red-tailed Hawk, and Clifford the Cornsnake;
  • Species characteristics: Kettler, Broad-winged Hawk [these hawks migrate in huge flocks, called “kettles”];
  • Literary characters: Severus, the Eastern Ratsnake;
  • Famous actors: Edie, Falco sparverius, or American Kestrel; Elliott the Western Hog-nosed Snake
  • Rescue location: Grayson the Broad-winged Hawk.

Facts about Eastern Ratsnake #21-3706:

  • Came to the Wildlife Center from Galax, Virginia, though unknown where the snake was taken from the wild.
  • Eastern Ratsnakes are the largest snakes in Virginia, with largest ones measuring up to 80 inches long. This ratsnake is quite large — he weighs in at almost 1.4 kg [just over three pounds]!
  • Center staff suspect that this snake was in captivity for a long period of time; for an adult wild snake, he seems used to being in the presence of humans. This snake is very active and often explores the different levels in his vertical enclosure. He often appears to be watching staff and students from within his enclosure and is very curious and active while being handled by trained staff.

Resources for Classrooms

This snake naming activity can provide teachers and classrooms with the opportunity to incorporate a variety of science topics into their lesson plans and classroom activities, ranging from attitudes toward wildlife to biological adaptations. The Wildlife Center is happy to provide these original worksheets and activity pages, digital resources, and additional reading materials for teachers and educators.

  • UNTAMED: Life is Wild, an award-winning television series co-produced by the Wildlife Center and Virginia Public Media, explores the wild and often perilous world of wildlife, as seen through the eyes of the patients of the Wildlife Center of Virginia. Episode Six of UNTAMED features snakes – a family of wild animals that invoke fear in many people. During this episode, Center staff members highlight the beauty and mystery of snakes and encourage others to foster a respect for this highly misunderstood group of animals. Common causes of admission and injury are highlighted, and host Ed Clark gives viewers several ways to help our wild snake neighbors.

  • After the episode, visit the Untamed Compendium for a library of free classroom materials, including an< UNTAMED Watch-along Worksheet: Snakes (best-suited for grades 5 and up), a Slithering Snake Story Activity (best-suited for grades 2-4), and even a Hog-nosed Snake coloring page!
  • Many people have a deep-rooted phobia of snakes; our cultural traditions and stories often set up snakes as the “bad guys”, and this fear is reinforced in children. Snakes, however, are some of the most harmless and misunderstood wildlife and are important members of our ecosystem as both predator and prey. Facilitate a classroom discussion on this important topic by utilizing the Center’s Snakes as Neighbors page.
  • Take your students' learning experience a step further with the Wildlife Care Academy’s online, on-demand course, All About Snakes. The course offers a variety of learning elements, including videos, PowerPoint lectures led by Wildlife Center staff, printable worksheets, activities, and additional resources to give teachers and students a well-rounded educational experience. Course content is designed to complement and enhance the Virginia Standards of Learning.

Natural History Information about Eastern Ratsnakes

Proper Name: Pantherophis alleghaniensis

Identification: The Eastern Ratsnake is a common snake found throughout Virginia. Their body is uniformly black except the underside which has an irregular black and white pattern. They are the second longest snake in North America, the Indigo snake being the longest with a maximum length of 8.7 feet.

Length: 2-7.5 feet
Weight: 3-5.5 pounds
Lifespan: 30 years in captivity

Similar Species: Eastern Ratsnakes are often confused with Norther Black Racers. The Norther Black Racer’s underside is gray while the Eastern Ratsnake’s underside is black and white checkered.

Habitat: Eastern Ratsnakes are found in eastern and central North America, from the Great Lakes south to the Gulf of Mexico. Their habitat ranges from rocky, timbered hillsides to flat farmlands. Eastern Ratsnakes are excellent climbers and often establish residency in cavities high up in trees. Their predators include hawks, owls and free-ranging domestic cats.

Diet: The Eastern Ratsnakes diet consists of rodents, small birds and their eggs. These snakes are non-venomous and kill their prey by constriction, which is by suffocation rather than crushing. Snakes have a specialized structure in their mouth, the Jacobson’s organ, which enables them to analyze scent particles collected by their forked tongue. Through this sense as well as their senses of touch and sight, Eastern Ratsnakes find food, a mate and avoid predators.

Young: Eastern Ratsnakes produce one clutch of 5-19 eggs per year. The female may lay the eggs in hollow trees, compost or mulch heaps, decomposing logs or sawdust piles. Eggs are usually laid between June and July with the hatchlings emerging in August or September. The young are gray with black or brown blotches on the body that continue to the tail. They are often confused with the young of Copperheads that have a similar body pattern but a bright yellow tail tip.

Behavior: Although Eastern Ratsnakes may be active during the day they are most active after sunset. They may move considerable distances during the night, and are often killed by automobiles while crossing over roads. Eastern Ratsnakes hibernate during the winter and often use the same site repeatedly. Common sites include hollow trees and stumps. Normally there is one snake per den but Eastern Ratsnakes have been known to aggregate with Copperheads in the winter!