Behavior, growth and age of black rat snakes under natural conditions were investigated by mark-recapture methods at the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center for 22 years (1942-1963), with limited observations for 13 more years (1964-1976). Over the 35-year period, 330 snakes were recorded a total of 704 times. Individual home ranges remained stable for many years; male ranges averaged at least 600 m in diam and female ranges at least 500 m, each including a diversity of habitats, evidenced also in records of foods. Population density was low, probably less than 0.5 snake/ha. Peak activity of both sexes was in May and June, with a secondary peak in September. Large trees in the midst of open areas appeared to serve a significant functional role in the behavioral life pattern of the snake population. Male combat was observed three times in the field. Male snakes grew more rapidly than females, attained larger sizes and lived longer. Some individuals of both sexes probably lived 20 years or more. Weight-length relationships changed as the snakes grew and developed heavier bodies in proportion to length. Growth apparently continued throughout life. Some individuals, however, both male and female, stopped growing for periods of I or 2 years and then resumed, a condition probably related to poor health, suggested by skin ailments.
Additional publication details
Ecology of a Maryland population of black rat snakes (Elaphe o. obsoleta)