AppearanceA medium to large serpent, the gray ratsnake typically reaches an adult size of 99–183 cm total length; however, the record is 215 cm.
Unlike other ''Pantherophis'', whose conspicuous juvenile pattern fades into adulthood, the gray ratsnake in the southern part of its range does not undergo drastic ontogenetic changes in color or markings. Instead, it retains the juvenile pattern of dark elongate dorsal blotches separated by four, or more, pale gray body scales, a light gray crown with dark striping that forms an anteriorly facing spearpoint, and a solid band which covers the eyes and extends rearward to the posterior upper labial scales.
However, in the northern part of its range it is black in adulthood, like ''P. alleghaniensis'' and ''P. obsoletus''. The venter is usually off-white or pale gray with darker irregular blotches, and a double row of black spots behind the divided anal plate of the vent.
The dorsal scale rows around midbody are usually weakly keeled. Because the gray ratsnake shares its range with other members of its genus, hybrids of midlands x eastern ratsnakes are not uncommon.
DistributionNative to North America, ''Pantherophis spiloides'' is commonly found in the forests of the eastern and central United States. It occurs relatively continuously throughout the major part of the eastern half of the United States, along the western edge of the Appalachian Mountains, from southwestern New England to the Gulf of Mexico, westward to the Mississippi River, and northward from northern Louisiana to southwestern Wisconsin.
In Canada, this species is known to occur in two disjunct regions of southern Ontario: the Carolinian forest region along the north shore of Lake Erie in the southwest, and the Great Lakes/St. Lawrence region in the southeast.
StatusThe gray ratsnake is considered common across much of its range, but is listed as "of special concern" in Michigan and is also listed as rare in Wisconsin. The gray ratsnake is listed federally in Canada as "endangered" and "threatened". In the state of Georgia, all indigenous, nonvenomous snakes are illegal to kill or capture, and are considered to be in the custody of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.
BehaviorWhen startled, the gray ratsnake, like other ratsnakes, stops and remains motionless with its body held in a series of wave-like kinks. The gray ratsnake will defend itself by raising its head and bluffing a strike. If handled, it will musk a victim by releasing the foul-smelling contents of its cloaca, and will bite if necessary.
However, the gray ratsnake is less likely to bite than other members of its genus, and wounds from a bite rarely require more than a small bandage.
HabitatAn agile climber, the gray ratsnake is at home from the ground to the tree tops in many types of hardwood forest and cypress stands, along tree-lined streams and fields, and even around barns and sheds in close proximity to people.
Within its range, almost any environment rich in rodents, and vertical escape options, proves a suitable habitat for the gray ratsnake.
ReproductionBreeding in ''P. spiloides'' takes place from April to July. Females deposit 5 to 27 eggs around mid-summer, and the 25–30 cm hatchlings usually emerge in September.
FoodA scent-hunter and a powerful constrictor, ''P. spiloides'' feeds primarily on rodents, birds, and bird eggs as adults, while neonates and juveniles prefer a diet of frogs and lizards.
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