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Endangered Species: The black rat snake

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By Cheryl Santa Maria
Digital Reporter
Wednesday, February 12, 2014, 4:35 PM

Snakes often get a bad rap, but they're a critical part of our ecosystem.

The black rat snake, for example, feeds on mice and rats, helping to keep urban spaces clean.

It is not venomous and presents no real threat to humans.

Holding the title of Canada's largest snake, this species measures up to 2.5 metres once full-grown. It is an excellent climber one of the few tree-dwelling snakes found in the country.

It can be seen across the eastern U.S. and as far west as far as southern Minnesota through to south-central Texas. In Canada, it is only present in Ontario.

Found in farmer's fields, along rocky hillsides, in forests, marshes, and some rural areas this species, as its name implies, tends to contrast with its surroundings: it is completely black except for its chin.


MORE ENDANGERED SPECIES: Learn about the spotted owl, another Canadian species at-risk.


Hatchlings are pale, but their skin becomes darker with age.

Black rat snakes are listed at threatened by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Species in Canada (COSEWIC), and there are a few reasons for that.

Photo courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons/Carolyn

Photo courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons/Carolyn

"This large snake occupies a restricted region in Ontario and is threatened by ongoing development and by expansion of the road network," COSEWIC writes.

"Roads represent a significant threat because of the snakes’ late age of maturity and low reproductive rate. Snakes are also killed ... because they move slowly and may bask on roads."

WHAT YOU CAN DO TO HELP

  • If you find a black ratsnake on your property, leave it be. Many humans mistake snakes for pests and illegally kill them. If you prefer to have the snake removed, contact the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources. You may be eligible for a stewardship program that supports the protection of threatened and endangered species.
  • Report any illegal activity related to plants and wildlife to 1-877-TIPS-MNR (847-7667).
  • Watch for snakes on the roads, especially between May and October.
  • Help protect this species through the Toronto Zoo Adopt a Pond program.

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