50 Shades of “Gray” Rat Snake

Pantherophis alleghaniensis, the Eastern rat snake (gray variant);
Lower coastal plain of Georgia (03 April 2012).

By Poseidon’s rhinestone-adorned trident, what is not to love about the Eastern rat snake (other than its taxonomic status)?

“Other thank its taxonomic status” you ask…? Oh my, yes. There’s more than a little confusion and frustration among the masses when it comes to New World rat snake taxonomy and classification. I’ll leave it to Mike Van Valen’s most excellent blogpost, “The Ratsnake Mess for Dummies,” to describe the nitty-gritty, finer points of the history of the debate, but here’s how it shakes out in my neck of the woods:

Throughout the Florida peninsula, the “Yellow rat snake” is the dominant rat snake you’ll encounter — alongside the “Red rat snake” (aka “Corn snake”) which is a different species altogether, Pantherophis guttatus. Now, the Yellow rat snake is actually the Eastern rat snake, Pantherophis alleghaniensis. In south Florida, however, around the Everglades and such, the Yellow rat snakes take on a more-orangish tone. These south Florida rat snakes are called “Everglades rat snakes,” but really they’re just orange-variants of Eastern rat snakes. “Yellow rat snakes” and “Everglades rat snakes” are simply two color variants of the same species: Pantherophis alleghaniensis. Make sense? So far, so good? Good. Now let’s fuck it all up:

If you head north through the Florida peninsula and start making your way into southern Georgia, the Yellow rat snakes give way to the locally-dubbed “Gray rat snakes.” Now, if you look up “Gray rat snake” on the wikiwiki-wildwild-web, odds are you’ll find something called Pantherophis spiloides, the Gray rat snake. They’ll look a lot like the snake feature here. BUT here’s the thing: the gray rat snakes in Georgia (and east of the Apalachicola River) are just gray-variant Eastern rat snakes, Pantherophis alleghaniensis. Thus, the “gray” rat snakes of south-central Georgia aren’t really Gray rat snakes, they’re actually Eastern rat snakes — just like our yellow-striped Eastern rat snakes in Florida, only they’re gray and blotched instead of yellow and striped. Yes, the “gray” rat snakes of southcentral Georgia are simply Eastern rat snakes that take on a different coloration and pattern as adults from their Floridian brethren of the same species.

Make sense? Maybe. Maybe not. Again, if you’d like to dip your toes into the mouth of madness and learn more about the taxonomic struggle over our New World rat snakes, check out Mike Van Valen’s “The Ratsnake Mess for Dummies.” Also note that none of this madness has anything to do with the Red rat snake, Pantherophis guttatus, also known as the Corn snake (good god).

Anyhow, these photographs are of a gray-variant Eastern rat snake (Pantherophis alleghaniensis) photographed in southcentral Georgia. A few years back, I would’ve called this a “Gray rat snake.” Now I’m afraid to even use the word “gray.” 50 Shades of Gray Rat Snake Taxonomy is enough to drive anyone into submission, it seems.

I rather adored this specific Gray Eastern rat snake. During my two years there, rat snakes were particularly common in this stretch of Lowndes county, and some of them (this one included) had a touch of the striping more typical in the Florida peninsula populations. A bit of a transitional example from the yellow-variant to the gray-variant, if you will… It was also, as you might notice below, a bit reactive and defensive. Honestly, I must admit I get tickled when a (non-venomous) snake gives me a bit of the ole’ defensive mouth hug. I guess there is a little 50 Shades of Gray going on here…? 

You’ll see plenty of Eastern rat snake photographs on floridensis in time (both yellow- and gray-variants). This is easily one of my favorite species to work with!

Learn more about the Eastern rat snake!

One Comment on “50 Shades of “Gray” Rat Snake

  1. Pingback: The Eastern Rat Snake (of the Everglades Variety), 10 November 2018 – floridensis

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