Rat Snake vs King Snake: A Comparison and Practical Tips for Reptile Owners

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Reptiles have always been fascinating creatures, captivating the minds of many animal enthusiasts. Among the wide variety of reptiles, snakes hold a special place, with their intriguing appearance and unique behaviors. Rat snakes and king snakes are two popular types of non-venomous snakes commonly kept as pets. In this article, we will compare the characteristics, care requirements, and temperament of rat snakes vs king snakes. Additionally, we will provide helpful tips for reptile owners, ensuring they have a comprehensive understanding of these captivating creatures.

Comparison Table: Rat Snake vs King Snake

Here’s a comparison table summarizing the key differences between rat snakes and king snakes:

Rat SnakesKing Snakes
Physical CharacteristicsSlender build, dark brown or black blotches on lighter backgroundStout build, colored bands or rings
Habitat and DistributionNorth America, Europe, Asia, and AfricaPrimarily United States and Mexico, extending to Central and South America
Diet and FeedingRodents, birds, eggs, occasionally other snakesRodents, birds, lizards, occasionally other snakes
TemperamentGenerally docile and non-aggressiveGenerally docile, some individuals may display defensive behavior
Housing and Care20-gallon tank for juveniles, larger enclosures for adultsSecure enclosures with proper temperature and humidity gradients
Substrate and HideoutsAspen shavings, cypress mulch, reptile carpetAspen shavings, cypress mulch, reptile carpet
Feeding and HandlingOffer appropriately sized prey, avoid handling after feedingOffer appropriately sized prey, handle with care
Veterinary CareRegular check-ups, parasite screeningsRegular check-ups, parasite screenings

Please note that this table provides a general overview, and there may be some variations within species and individual snakes. It is always important to research and understand the specific needs of your snake based on its species and individual characteristics.

I. Physical Characteristics

Rat Snakes: Rat snakes, scientifically known as Pantherophis guttatus, are medium to large-sized snakes with a slender build. They typically range from 3 to 6 feet in length, although some species can grow even longer. Rat snakes have a distinct pattern consisting of dark brown or black blotches on a lighter background, resembling the pattern of a rattlesnake. This resemblance often leads to confusion between the two species.

King Snakes: King snakes, belonging to the genus Lampropeltis, also come in various sizes, ranging from 3 to 6 feet in length. They have a stout build and a slightly larger head compared to rat snakes. King snakes display a striking pattern of colored bands or rings, which can vary depending on the species and subspecies. These bands often consist of black, white, yellow, and red, giving them a vibrant appearance.

Rat snake

II. Habitat and Distribution

Rat Snakes: Rat snakes have a broad distribution, inhabiting a variety of environments across North America, Europe, Asia, and Africa. They are highly adaptable and can be found in forests, grasslands, farmlands, and even urban areas. Rat snakes are excellent climbers and can be observed in trees, shrubs, and abandoned buildings.

King Snakes: King snakes are primarily found in the United States and Mexico, with a few species extending into Central and South America. They inhabit diverse habitats such as woodlands, grasslands, deserts, and marshes. King snakes are terrestrial and are often found hiding under rocks, logs, or burrowing into loose soil.

III. Diet and Feeding

Rat Snakes: Rat snakes are known for their diverse diet, which includes rodents, birds, eggs, and occasionally even other snakes. As the name suggests, they have a particular affinity for rodents, making them beneficial for rodent control around homes and farms. When kept as pets, rat snakes can be fed pre-killed or thawed frozen rodents, appropriately sized for their girth.

King Snakes: King snakes have a reputation for being voracious eaters, consuming a wide range of prey, including rodents, birds, lizards, and other snakes. Their diet often includes venomous snakes, making them highly valued for pest control. In captivity, king snakes can be fed a diet of pre-killed or thawed frozen rodents, similar to rat snakes.

King snake

IV. Temperament and Behavior

Rat Snakes: Rat snakes are generally docile and non-aggressive snakes, making them suitable for beginner reptile enthusiasts. They are known for their calm temperament and can tolerate handling well. However, it is important to remember that individual snakes may have varying dispositions, so it is crucial to handle them with care and respect their boundaries.

King Snakes: King snakes, like rat snakes, are known for their generally docile nature, although some individuals may display defensive behavior if they feel threatened. They are generally more active and curious compared to rat snakes. When handling king snakes, it is important to be cautious, especially if they have not been accustomed to regular handling.

V. Housing and Care:

Enclosure Size and Setup: Both rat snakes and king snakes require appropriately sized enclosures that provide security and adequate space for movement. A 20-gallon tank is generally suitable for juvenile snakes, while adult snakes will require larger enclosures. Ensure the enclosure has secure locking mechanisms and a well-ventilated lid to prevent escapes.

Temperature and Humidity: Maintaining proper temperature and humidity levels is crucial for the health of your snake. Provide a temperature gradient within the enclosure, with a warm side ranging from 85 to 90°F (29-32°C) and a cool side around 75 to 80°F (24-27°C). The humidity levels should be maintained between 40% and 60% to prevent shedding issues.

Black king snake

Substrate and Hideouts: Choose a suitable substrate that allows for easy cleaning and provides a naturalistic environment for your snake. Aspen shavings, cypress mulch, or reptile carpet are popular choices. Additionally, provide multiple hiding spots using artificial or natural materials, such as logs or rock caves, to give your snake a sense of security.

Feeding and Handling: Offer appropriately sized prey items to your snake, ensuring they are consumed whole without causing any bulges. Avoid handling your snake for at least 48 hours after feeding to prevent regurgitation. When handling your snake, support its body properly and avoid sudden movements to minimize stress.

Veterinary Care and Health Monitoring: Regular veterinary check-ups are essential to ensure the overall health of your snake. Consult with a reptile-experienced veterinarian for routine examinations, parasite screenings, and any concerns related to your snake’s health. Monitor your snake’s behavior, appetite, and shedding patterns to detect any signs of illness or stress.


Rat snakes and king snakes are captivating reptiles that make fascinating pets for enthusiasts of all levels. Understanding the physical characteristics, habitat requirements, dietary needs, and temperament of these snakes is crucial for providing appropriate care. With these details, you can create a comfortable and enriching environment for your rat snakes or king snake. Remember, each snake is an individual, so be observant and adapt your care routine to meet their specific needs.

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