(Baird & Girard, 1853)
Pantherophis emoryi, commonly known as the Great Plains rat snake, is a species of nonvenomous rat snake native to the central part of the United States, from Missouri to Nebraska, to Colorado, south to Texas, and into northern Mexico. It is sometimes considered by hobbyists as subspecies of the corn snake, which is commonly kept as a pet. The two are sometimes interbred to produce varying pattern and color morphs.
The epithet, emoryi, is in honor of Brigadier General William Hemsley Emory, who was chief surveyor of the U.S. Boundary Survey team of 1852 and collected specimens for the Smithsonian Institution. As such, it is sometimes referred to as Emory's rat snake.
Additional common names for Pantherophis emoryi include the following: brown rat snake, chicken snake, eastern spotted snake, Emory's Coluber, Emory's pilot snake, Emory's racer, Emory's snake, gray rat snake, mouse snake, prairie rat snake, spotted mouse snake, Texas rat snake, and western pilot snake.
The Great Plains rat snake is typically light gray or tan in color, with dark gray, brown, or green-gray blotching down its back, and stripes on either side of the head which meet to form a point between the eyes. They are capable of growing from 3 feet to 5 feet long.
Great Plains rat snakes prefer open grassland or lightly forested habitats, but are also found on coastal plains, semi-arid regions, as well as rocky, moderately mountainous regions. They can often be found on farmland, which often leads it to be erroneously called the chicken snake, and other areas with a relatively high rodent population, which is their primary diet. They will also eat birds, and occasionally snakes, lizards and frogs, all of which they subdue by constriction. They are primarily nocturnal, and oviparous, laying clutches of as many as 25 eggs in the late spring. Like most rat snakes, when agitated, the Great Plains rat snake will shake its tail vigorously, which by itself makes no noise, but when it shakes amongst dry leaf litter, it can sound remarkably like a rattlesnake, and often leads to misidentification.
Warning signs of agitation are curling up tightly, shaking its tail rapidly, and hissing. Though this snake has very small teeth and is nonvenomous, it will bite, and its bite is painful for a normal adult human, and will take a couple days to heal. However, as a whole, this species of snake is very calm, even so far as to allowing itself to be picked up if in an open area, and will generally not bite unless they have no other means of escape.
This species has undergone extensive reclassification since it was first described by Spencer Fullerton Baird and Charles Frédéric Girard in 1853 as Scotophis emoryi. It has often been placed in the genus Elaphe, but recent phylogenetic analyses have resulted in its transfer to Pantherophis.
Pantherophis emoryi has been elevated to full species status and downgraded to a subspecies of Pantherophis guttatus multiple times. Most recently, Burbrink suggested that Pantherophis guttatus be split into three species: Pantherophis guttatus, Pantherophis emoryi, and Pantherophis slowinskii.
- The Reptile Database. www.reptile-database.org.
- Beolens B, Watkins M, Grayson M. 2011. The Eponym Dictionary of Reptiles. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. xiii + 296 pp. ISBN 978-1-4214-0135-5. (Pantherophis emoryi, pp. 83-84).
- Wright AH, Wright AA. 1957. Handbook of Snakes of the United States and Canada. Ithaca and London: Comstock. 1,105 pp. (in 2 volumes) (Elaphe emoryi emoryi, pp. 218-223, Figure 68, Map 23).
- Utiger U, Helfenberger N, Schätti B, Schmidt C, Ruf M, Ziswiler V. 2002. Molecular Systematics and Phylogeny of Old and New World ratsnakes, Elaphe Auct., and related genera (Reptilia, Squamata, Colubridae). Russian Journal of Herpetology 9 (2): 105-124.
- Burbrink FT, Lawson R. 2007. How and when did Old World ratsnakes disperse into the New World? Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 43: 173-189.
- Pyron RA, Burbrink FT. 2009. Neogene diversification and taxonomic stability in the snake tribe Lampropeltini (Serpentes: Colubridae). Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 52: 524-529.
- Burbrink FT. 2002. Phylogeographic analysis of the corn snake (Elaphe guttata) complex as inferred from maximum likelihood and Bayesian analyses. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 25: 465-476.
- Baird SF, Girard CF. 1853. Catalogue of North American Reptiles in the Museum of the Smithsonian Institution. Part I.—Serpents. Washington, District of Columbia: Smithsonian Institution. xvi + 172 pp. (Scotophis emoryi, new species, pp. 157–158).
- Conant R. 1975. A Field Guide to Reptiles and Amphibians of Eastern and Central North America, Second Edition. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. xviii + 429 pp. + Plates 1-48. ISBN 0-395-19979-4 (hardcover), ISBN 0-395-19977-8 (paperback). (Elaphe guttata emoryi, pp. 191–192, Figures 43-44 + Pl 28 + Map 150).
- Smith HM, Brodie ED Jr. 1982. Reptiles of North America: A Guide to Field Identification. New York: Golden Press. 240 pp. ISBN 0-307-13666-3. (Elaphe guttata emoryi, pp. 184–185).
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