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Introduction

This article includes a brief description, scale counts, distribution maps, typical habitat photographs, a breeding account by the author and a description of the various morphs available to the hobby.

The Everglades Ratsnake, Pantherophis obsoletus rossaleni is a bright orange ratsnake and as the name suggests, this snake can be found in the Everglades in the USA.
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All ratsnakes from the East of the Appalachian Mountains and the Apalachicola River are now considered to be P. alleghaniensis, Burbrink 2001. Previously these may have been described as:

Elaphe obsoleta quadrivittata (Yellow Ratsnake),
E. o. obsoleta (Black ratsnake),
E. o. rossalleni (Everglades or Orange Ratsnake),
E. o. deckerti (Keys Ratsnake)
E. o. williamsi (Gulf Hammock Ratsnake),

depending on where they originated from within this range. As it is sometimes easier to illustrate the specific appearance of these North American ratsnakes by their common name or former classification, I shall be using P. o. rossalleni to describe the Everglades ratsnake.

SCALE COUNTS
Ventrals 218-258
Subcaudals 63-102
Mid Body Dorsals 23-29
Supralabials 8
Infralabials 10-14
Suboculars 0
Anals 2
No. of Maxillary Teeth 16-21
1, Lake Okeechobee Everglades Landscape
2, Big Cypress Swamp
3, The Everglades
P.o rossaleni inhabits the far southern tip of Florida, USA. This landscape is made up of the Everglades, Big Cypress Swamp, pine forests, praries and deciduous forests.


The Everglades has been extensively used for agricultural use, but there are national reserves, which are now wildlife havens, such as the Big Cypress National Preserve. True P.o. rossaleni have become scarce in the wild. Even though captive populations thrive.

The Everglades Ratsnake inhabits elevations under 100m, they are apt climbers and very able swimmers.

Adults can grow to 180cm and quite stocky, if they are nervous and when disturbed then can and will musk and bite readily. When holding these snakes they can appear quite flighty but will calm down after a few minutes.

P.o. rossaleni is not a difficult species to house, when kept in a captive enviroment, my adult is housed in a 3'x2'x2' (91x61x61cm) and I believe they do benefit from a larger enclosure, fitted with climbing branches. Temperatures I provide are 24°C/75°F cool end and 29°C/85°F hot end.

A large water bowl is needed for drinking, bathing and defecating. A moist hide may be used for when sloughing but not an absolute.

Feeding this species in this captivity is not usually a problem, some maybe shy and prefer to drag prey back to their hides, where others will be waiting a the door ready for their food. My adult male knows and watches when food is being offered, appearing agitated/excited, constantly moving by the vivarium door, waiting. Even though they are offered pre-killed prey, they still stike and coil. Mine are fed on appropriate sized rodents and day old chicks.

In the wild the diet of these snakes is made up of mice, rats, birds, bird eggs, frogs, lizards, bats, shrews,squirrels to name but a few. The diet of a ratsnake largely depends on seasons and what is abundant at that time.

Breeding P.o. rossaleni in captivity is quite simple, neither male or female was cooled, they were introduced in April, having the vivarium sprayed with tepid water to increase humidity, the male was immediately interested in the female on introduction, he would actively chase her around the vivarium, twitching his body along hers and biting and pinning the back of her neck. Copulation was witnessed numerous times and lasted about 30 minutes. Mating though only occurred in the males vivarium, when introduced to the females, he was not interested, but when the female was put in with him, immediate attraction!

The female laid 5 eggs roughly 60 days afterwards, eggs were then incubated at 27°C/80°F for a further 60 days until hatching, incubation temperatures should be between 25°C/77°F and 29°C/84°F. Incubation itself can last 55-75 days.

Hatchling Everglades Ratsnake
P.o. rossalleni
P. o. williamsi Photo credit: Charles Thompson

There is a striking similarity between hatchlings of the obsoletus clan, this helps to understand why some taxonomists believe that there are the same species but with locale variants, not actual sub-species. When the hatchling P.o. rossaleni emerge they look nothing like the adult Everglades, the have dark grey saddles and light grey ground colour, as they grow they will go through an ontogenetic change.

The orange pigmentation will gradually show through, along with 4 vertical lines which run down the body, these lines can be from dark orange to dark brown.

The saddles will gradually fade as well, between 2 and 3 years they will now have finished their colour shift. Everglades are also known for having a bright red tongue, usually if the tongue is black this indicates integration in their heritage at some point. Although some P.o. rossaleni do have a black tongue with a red tip.

Everglades are a ratsnake that oozes personality, they are very aware of their surroundings, in the warmer months, I find they become more active during daylight, a pleasure to watch as they explore their environment.

Hatchling Everglades Ratsnake
Adult Everglades Ratsnake


There are colour mutations of P.o. rossaleni, we have the albino, hypomelanistic, blotchless and white sided. The albino is now also refered to as 'Belle Glade' which is the area it was first discovered.

White Sided Everglades Ratsnake
Photo Credit: Don Sodenberg
Blotchless (Belle Glades) Ratnsnake
Photo Credit: Steve Found
Juvenile Evergladed Ratsnake
Photo Credit: Jan Grathwohl Albino
Albino Everglades Ratsnake
Photo credit: Charles Thompson

References :
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Appalachian_mountains http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Everglades
A Monograph of the Colubrid Snakes of the Genus Elaphe Fitzinger - Klaus-Dieter Schulz
Ratsnakes, A Hobbyist's Guide to Elaphe and Kin - Ray Staszko and Jerry G. Walls
This site has information on the following genera of Ratsnakes ... Spilotes, Spalerosophis, Ptyas, Zamenis, Elaphe, Rhinechis, Senticolis, Pseudelaphe, Pantherophis, Bogertophis, Orthriophis, Gonyosoma, Oreocryptophis, Oocatochus, Euprepiophis, Coelognathus, Archelaphe