Q: I always lift the cover off my gas BBQ with caution because I never know what I might find. This time I found a snake. I washed him off with a hose but do you have any idea what he is?
A: The following information was adapted from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission: “There are only two species of rat snakes native to Florida, but they are so variable in color and pattern you’d think there were many more.
The red rat or “corn” snake is the only large, red-orange snake likely to be encountered in developed areas of Florida. Because of its color, this snake is frequently mistaken for the dissimilar, venomous copperhead. Actually, the copperhead is rare in Florida and found only in the heavily timbered counties flanking the Apalachicola River. Throughout most of the peninsula, however, the adult rat snakes are orangish with four narrow, brown stripes running the length of the body. These are commonly called yellow rat or “chicken” snakes.
The red rat snake may grow to a length of 72 inches, but averages 30-48 inches. The gray and yellow rat snakes may reach a body length of 84 inches, but those most commonly seen are 42-72 inches. Both species are found throughout Florida in almost every habitat, but are shy and secretive, spending most of their time in trees, under brush and mulch piles, or inside old buildings and other structures.
Rat snakes are the best climbers of Florida’s snakes, thanks to powerful constricting muscles and specially edged belly scales that they press into tiny irregularities in order to climb vertically up tree trunks and other surfaces. Young rat snakes feed mostly on lizards and frogs, but adults graduate to rodents and birds, which they kill by constriction. They are quite useful in controlling rats and mice. In late spring to early summer, females lay up to 30 eggs, which hatch in mid- to late summer. Rat snakes tame easily, but will defend themselves aggressively when cornered. When threatened, they may also vibrate their tails rapidly”.