What’s On the Menu?

By Monique Aarts

The Gray Ratsnake’s menu is fairly diverse since it’s an opportunistic predator. This means it isn’t specifically made to eat and hunt one or two species, but will eat a large variety of species including mice, rats, shrews, moles, rabbits, birds and bird eggs.

A Red Squirrel is a large – but manageable – meal for a big Gray Ratsnake. Photo: Simon Lunn.

Gray Ratsnakes are constrictors, just like Boa Constrictors! This means that ratsnakes constrict the larger mammals they eat. To constrict, they wrap their bodies around their prey and literally squeeze the life out of them, killing them and then swallowing them whole. A ratsnake will often take prey twice the size of its head – imagine if you tried to swallow a whole watermelon! How does a ratsnake accomplish such a feat? It’s able to unhinge its jaws in two places: top to bottom and side to side.  Bird eggs and nestlings are not constricted but are quickly seized by the snake and swallowed whole.

The larger the ratsnake, the larger the prey it will eat. For example, infant rat snakes will eat smaller reptiles, frogs and reptile eggs whereas their larger parents are more likely to eat mammals up to the size of a Red Squirrel! Larger ratsnakes will even eliminate smaller prey from their diets.

Gray Ratsnakes are extremely valuable to our ecosystem. Since they are such avid tree climbers, Gray Ratsnakes are one of the most important nest predators. They also serve a vital rodent control service to those of us who share our habitat with them! Keeping the Gray Ratsnake from becoming extinct is crucial for the health of our ecosystem.

For more information, visit: http://mysite.science.uottawa.ca/gblouin/publications/017_2003_brs_diet.pdf

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