Gardener is killing snakes

Asked June 10, 2018, 8:22 AM EDT


Can anyone please tell me what kind of snake this is? The gardener at my development has killed three of them and it bums me out.

He says they are water moccasins, but I don't agree. The attached photo is pretty decent. Is this a banded water snake?

Thanks in advance,


Oconee County South Carolina

1 Response

Thank you for your question. The snake in your photographs is a black ratsnake, scientific name (Pantherophis obsoletus). It is a non-venomous species and harmless. Typical length is between 4 - 6 feet, and maximum length is slightly over 8 feet.

This species can be found in every eastern/southeastern state except Maine and New Hampshire. They can be found in a variety of woodland habitats, but also in open areas, as well. They are very adaptable, and are often found in suburban areas, especially those with established trees. They are excellent climbers.

As their common name implies, ratsnakes feed primarily on rodents, but they also eat birds and bird eggs. They are also extremely fond of chicken eggs, and are often frequent visitors to chicken coops. Juvenile ratsnakes feed on tree frogs, small lizards and baby rodents.

Juveniles, by the way, look completely different from adults. They are usually light grey with darker rectangular markings down their backs. As they get older, they get progressively darker, until their pattern goes away almost completely. I have attached a photo of a juvenile, so you can see the difference.

I have also attached a photo of a cottonmouth (Agkistrodon piscivorus), which does not occur in Oconee County and a northern watersnake. The southern banded watersnake (Nerodia fasciata) does not occur in Oconee County either, but I have attached a photo of the northern watersnake (Nerodia sipedon), which is common in your county.

These are beneficial snakes and are responsible for consuming large quantities of rodents on an annual basis.

I hope this answers your question, and thank you for contacting Ask an Expert.