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Pantherophis guttatus
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Subphylum: Vertebrata
Class: Reptilia
Order: Squamata
Suborder: Serpentes
Family: Colubridae
Subfamily: Colubrinae
Tribe: Lampropeltini
Genus: Pantherophis
Fitzinger, 1843[1]

Pantherophis is a proposed[citation needed] genus of nonvenomous colubrid snakes endemic to North America and Central America, commonly called ratsnakes or rat snakes. All are powerful constrictors and help control rodent populations. Some taxonomic classification systems have accepted the proposed classification, while others have not.

Although Pantherophis was originally proposed in 1843, in more recent history these species were placed in the genus Elaphe. In 2002 Utiger et al. raised a taxonomic suggestion to resurrect the genus Pantherophis based on mitochondrial DNA evidence suggesting the New World ratsnakes are more closely related to king snakes than to the Old World ratsnakes.[2] This was confirmed by later phylogenetic studies.[3]

However, the ICZN rejected the renaming, and thus Elaphe remains the more widely recognized and broadly accepted genus name. The ITIS also identifies all species names that use Pantherophis as "invalid" names – using Elaphe consistently for listings marked as valid.[4]


The following species are included:[1][5]

Fitzinger designated Pantherophis guttatus as the type species for the genus Pantherophis.


In recent years, there has been some taxonomic controversy over the genus of North American ratsnakes. Based on mitochondrial DNA, Utiger et al. (2002) showed North American rat snakes of the genus Elaphe, along with closely related genera such as Pituophis and Lampropeltis, form a monophyletic group separate from Old World members of the genus. They therefore suggested the resurrection of the available name Pantherophis Fitzinger for all North American taxa (north of Mexico).[6]

The reception to the proposed reclassification has been mixed. In 2008, the Society for the Study of Amphibians and Reptiles (SSAR) accepted the taxonomic change to Pantherophis.[verification needed][1] While NatureServe and GBIF[7] use Pantherophis names, ITIS identifies all species names that use Pantherophis as "invalid" names – using Elaphe consistently for listings marked as valid.[4] CITES also recognizes Elaphe and does not recognize Pantherophis.[8]


  1. ^ a b c Crother BI (chair) (2012). Scientific and Standard English Names of Amphibians and Reptiles of North America North of Mexico. 7th ed. SSAR Herpetological Circular 39. 84 pp. PDF at SSAR. Accessed 4 July 2011.
  2. ^ Utiger, Urs; Notker Helfenberger; Beat Schätti; Catherine Schmidt; Markus Ruf; and Vincent Ziswile (2002). Molecular Systematics and Phylogeny of Old and New World Ratsnakes ... Russian Journal of Herpetology 9(2):105-124.
  3. ^ Pyron RA, & Burbrink FT. 2009. Neogene diversification and taxonomic stability in the snake tribe Lampropeltini (Serpentes: Colubridae). Mol. Phylogenet. Evol. 52: 524-529.
  4. ^ a b ITIS Search results for "Pantherophis" (accessed August 2015).
  5. ^ Pantherophis, The Reptile Database
  6. ^ Scotophis obsoleta at The Center for North American Herpetology. Accessed 20 June 2008. Archived April 14, 2009, at the Wayback Machine.
  7. ^ GBIF Backbone Taxonomy Species List, GBIF (accessed August 2015).
  8. ^ CITES Trade Database, CITES (accessed August 2015).

Further reading[edit]

  • Fitzinger L. (1843). Systema Reptilium, Fasciculus Primus, Amblyglossae. Vienna: Braumüller & Seidel. 106 pp. + indices. (Genus Pantherophis, p. 25.)
  • Utiger U, Helfenberger N, Schätti B, Schmidt C, Ruf M, Ziswiler V. (2002). Molecular systematics and phylogeny of Old World and New World ratsnakes, Elaphe Auct., and related genera (Reptilia, Squamata, Colubridae). Russian Journal of Herpetology 9 (2): 105-124.

External links[edit]