Do Black Snakes Kill Copperheads & Rattlesnakes (keep away?)

We’ve all heard the urban legends that certain kinds of non-poisonous snakes keep poisonous snakes away. Buy which ones, and do black snakes keep poisonous snakes away?

Black snakes, such as black rat snakes, black racers, and eastern kingsnakes, feed on rodents and other food sources for poisonous snakes, which can cause venomous snakes to feed elsewhere. But only the black racer and eastern kingsnake actually kill poisonous snakes such as rattlesnakes and copperheads.

This is a question often asked by rural homeowners, farmers, and ranchers who encounter these common reptiles on their property.

In this article, I will examine the relationship between black snakes and venomous species by exploring their habitats, behaviors, and interactions.

I’ll discuss the different types of species of snakes that are black that are found in various regions, such as black rat snakes, black racers, and eastern kingsnakes. Additionally, I’ll delve into whether rattlesnakes and copperheads are afraid of these non-venomous species or not.

Furthermore, you’ll learn about the danger posed by black rat snakes to humans and if any solid-black snake species are indeed poisonous. I will also examine how these creatures affect the prey population of venomous counterparts like copperhead snakes.

Lastly, my expert advice on what to do when encountering a black snake will provide valuable insights for those living in areas where both non-venomous and dangerous serpents coexist.

So join me as we uncover the truth behind whether or not do black snakes keep poisonous snakes away from your property.

Table of Contents:

How Many Different Kinds of Snakes Are Black?

In North America, there are several species of black snakes inhabiting various habitats, including the black rat snake, eastern kingsnake and black racer snake.

Three of the most common black snakes include the black rat snake (also known as the western rat snake), the eastern kingsnake, and the black racer snake. Each of these nonvenomous snakes has its unique physical characteristics, preferred habitats, and eating habits.

Black Rat Snake (Pantherophis obsoletus)

  • Physical Characteristics: These large constrictors have shiny black scales with a white chin and throat area.
  • Habitats: They can be found in forests, fields, rocky hillsides, and abandoned buildings across eastern United States.
  • Eating Habits: Their diet consists mainly of small mammals like rodents but also includes birds and bird eggs.

Eastern Kingsnake (Lampropeltis getula)

  • Physical Characteristics: Eastern king snakes have smooth scales with a solid black or dark brown coloration featuring light bands or chain-like patterns on their bodies.
  • Habitats: Their habitat ranges from wetlands to dry woodlands throughout southeastern United States.
  • Eating Habits: They are known for their ability to consume other snakes, including venomous species like rattlesnakes and copperheads. Apart from consuming other snakes, these reptiles also feed on rodents, birds and amphibians.

Black Racer Snake (Coluber constrictor)

  • Physical Characteristics: These slender snakes have smooth black scales with a white chin and throat area.
  • Habitats: Racers can be found in grasslands, forests, residential areas, and even near water sources across eastern United States.
  • Eating Habits: Their diet includes small mammals, lizards, frogs, insects, and occasionally other snakes.

A variety of black serpents are present, from the non-venomous rat snake to the hazardous eastern diamondback rattler. As such, it is important to understand whether or not these various species of black snakes can help protect rural homeowners and farmers by keeping poisonous snakes away.

One quick note, western rat snakes differ from an eastern rat snake in that an eastern ratsnake isn’t always black. Eastern rat snakes may be yellow, or have a creamy-colored chin or throat.

Key Takeaway: 

There are several species of black snakes in North America, including the black rat snake, eastern kingsnake, and black racer snake. These nonvenomous snakes have unique physical characteristics and eating habits but can be mistaken for dangerous species like rattlesnakes or cottonmouths. Understanding the different types of black snakes is important for managing land ecosystems while staying safe from poisonous snakes.

Are Rattlesnakes and Copperheads Afraid of Black Rat Snakes, Black Racers, or Black Eastern Kingsnakes?

Contrary to popular belief, having one of these nonvenomous black snakes around your property will not reduce the chances of encountering more dangerous snakes like rattlesnakes and copperheads.

This myth stems from confusion between black rat snakes, racer snakes (Coluber constrictor), and eastern kingsnakes (Lampropeltis getula). Although racer snakes sometimes consume other snake varieties, this does not indicate they are actively repelling venomous species.

Eastern kingsnakes, which are immune to the venom of rattlesnakes, copperheads, cottonmouth moccasins, and coral snakes, also prey on other snake species when given the chance. They also prey upon other snake species when given the opportunity.

However, their presence alone won’t deter venomous species from occupying a particular area.

The Role of Food Sources in Snake Coexistence

  • Rodent population: Both nonvenomous black rat snakes and venomous snakes, such as copperheads, may be attracted to areas with abundant rodent populations.
  • Habitats: All three types have similar habitat preferences; therefore, black racers, eastern kingsnakes, and black rat snakes may coexist in the same area.

It is uncertain if rattlesnakes and copperheads are afraid of black rat snakes, black racers, or black eastern kingsnakes.

Still, prior to trying out snakes as a pest-removal technique, it is essential to be aware of the potential risks. Therefore, let us now explore whether or not black rat snakes pose any danger.

Are Any Black Snakes Poisonous?

Though their dark coloring may be intimidating, it’s important to remember that not all black snakes are venomous. In fact, the most common species of black snakes in North America – black rat snakes, black racer snakes, and black eastern kingsnakes – are nonvenomous.

To determine whether a snake is venomous or not, there are certain physical characteristics you can look for:

  • Heat-sensing pits: Venomous pit vipers such as rattlesnakes, copperheads, and cottonmouths have heat-sensing pits between their eyes and nostrils which help them locate warm-blooded prey.
  • Triangular heads: Most venomous snakes have triangular-shaped heads due to the presence of large venom glands behind their eyes.

If a snake does not possess these features, it is likely harmless. However, it’s always best to exercise caution around any snake and maintain a safe distance regardless of its appearance.

Danger Posed by Nonvenomous Black Snakes

The primary danger posed by nonvenomous black snakes like rat snakes or racers comes from their defensive behavior when they feel threatened.

If provoked or trapped, these animals may bite to protect themselves; however, the bites are not poisonous and usually just cause a bit of pain. Nevertheless, it’s essential to seek medical attention if bitten by any snake to prevent infection and ensure proper treatment.

Do Black Snakes Eat the Prey of Poisonous Snakes?

Black snakes, such as black rat snakes, black racer snakes, and black eastern kingsnakes, are known for their diverse habitats and varied diet. These nonvenomous reptiles can be found in rocky hillsides, low-lying plains, forests, and even abandoned structures. They have a wide range of prey that they hunt to sustain themselves.

Small Rodents: A Staple Diet

The primary food source for these large non-venomous snakes is small rodents like mice and rats. By keeping the rodent population under control around your property or farm area, they indirectly help reduce the chances of attracting venomous snake species such as copperheads or cottonmouths who also feed on rodents.

Birds & Bird Eggs: An Opportunistic Meal

In addition to small mammals like chipmunks and voles, black rat snakes are also known to feast on birds and bird eggs when given an opportunity. This makes them excellent climbers capable of scaling trees in search of nests with young birds or eggs.

Frogs & Lizards: Diverse Tastes

Apart from mammals and birds, these adaptable predators will not shy away from consuming amphibians such as frogs or lizards if presented with a chance. Their ability to adapt their diet based on availability helps them thrive in various environments across North America.

List of Common Prey Items:

  • Mice & Rats
  • Chipmunks & Voles
  • Birds & Bird Eggs
  • Frogs & Lizards

Black snakes can help reduce the presence of venomous species by preying on them, yet caution should be exercised when interacting with one. When meeting a black snake, it is vital to stay calm and take precautions like abstaining from contact and keeping animals away.

Key Takeaway: 

Black snakes, such as black rat snakes and black racer snakes, have a varied diet that includes small rodents like mice and rats, birds and bird eggs, frogs, and lizards. While they indirectly help reduce the chances of attracting venomous snake species by keeping the rodent population under control around your property or farm area, it is important to maintain a tidy space with few hiding places to deter hazardous snakes.

What Should You Do If You Encounter a Black Snake?

If you encounter a black snake in the wild, the best thing is to leave it alone and keep your distance.

Black snakes usually prefer to keep away from people, but if they feel threatened or trapped, they may react defensively by emitting a musky smell or even biting.

However, if they feel threatened or cornered, they may resort to defensive behaviors such as releasing a musky odor or even biting. And if a black snake bites you, while it won’t be poisonous, that doesn’t mean it won’t hurt or possibly require medical attention.

Keep Your Distance

Maintaining a safe distance from any snake is crucial for both your safety and the snake’s well-being.

When you spot a black snake, calmly back away without making sudden movements that might startle it. Remember that these snakes are more afraid of you than you are of them.

Avoid Provoking the Snake

  • Do not try to handle: Even though black rat snakes, eastern kingsnakes, and black racer snakes are not venomous species, handling them can still result in bites which could cause infection.
  • No sudden movements: Sudden or aggressive actions may provoke the snake into feeling threatened and lead to an unwanted confrontation.
  • Giving space: Allow the snake enough room to escape so that it does not feel trapped or cornered by your presence.

Educate Yourself on Identifying Snakes

Becoming familiar with different types of snakes native to your area can help prevent confusion between harmless species like black rat snakes and potentially dangerous ones like cottonmouth snakes or copperheads.

Identifying venomous species can help you make informed decisions when coming across a snake in its natural habitat.

Contact Professionals if Necessary

For your safety, it is wise to seek help from a professional wildlife removal service if you come across a black snake on your property. Professionals possess the capability and expertise to take out the snake without any risk of injury to either themselves or the creature.

Key Takeaway: 

Black snakes are known to eat other snakes, including venomous ones like copperheads. However, it’s important to note that not all black snakes are the same and some may be dangerous or poisonous themselves. If you encounter a black snake in the wild, maintain a safe distance and avoid provoking it by making sudden movements or handling it yourself.


What are black snakes good for?

Black snakes, such as rat snakes and kingsnakes, play a crucial role in controlling rodent populations.

They also help maintain the balance of ecosystems by preying on other small animals and occasionally eating venomous snakes. This makes them beneficial to rural homeowners, farmers, and ranchers.

What does it mean when you see a black snake in your yard?

Seeing a black snake in your yard typically indicates that there is an ample food source nearby, like rodents or insects. It may also suggest that the snake has found suitable shelter or hiding spots within your property. While they can be helpful for pest control, always exercise caution around any wild animal.

Do black racers eat venomous snakes?

Yes, some species of black racers, particularly those found in southeastern United States regions like Florida and Georgia, have been known to prey on venomous snakes such as rattlesnakes and copperheads.

What can I do about black snakes in my yard?

  • Maintain cleanliness: Remove leaf piles where they might hide.
  • Rodent control: Eliminate their primary food source by sealing potential entry points into buildings.
  • Fencing: Install mesh fencing with tight gaps to prevent access to gardens or yards.
  • Habitat modification: Clear tall grasses near homes; trim bushes off the ground level; remove bird feeders which attract rodents.
  • Pet food: Make sure all pet food is kept inside, and in sealed containers.

Now, let’s address the question of whether black snakes keep poisonous snakes away.

While black snakes are non-venomous and generally not dangerous to humans, they do not necessarily keep other snakes away.

In fact, some species of black snakes, like the black racer, are known to eat copperheads, which are venomous. However, this does not mean that black snakes actively seek out and kill other snakes. They simply coexist in the same environment and may occasionally cross paths.

It’s important to note that not all black snakes are the same.

The term “black snake” can refer to several different species, including the black rat snake and the common black snake. While these snakes are generally harmless to humans, they can still bite if they feel threatened.

If you encounter a black snake in your yard, it’s best to give it plenty of space and let it go about its business.


Black snakes are a common sight in rural areas and can be beneficial to have around. They are known to eat rodents, which can help keep your property free of pests. Nevertheless, certain types of black snakes can be hazardous to humans.

Rattlesnakes and copperheads do not seem to be afraid of black rat snakes, black racers, or black eastern kingsnakes. That being said, black racers and eastern kingsnakes will kill rattlesnakes and copperheads.

So in a minor way, they can help control copperhead populations and rattlesnake populations in addition to keeping the rodent population under control.

If you’re looking for ways to keep poisonous snakes away from your property, there is no guarantee that having a population of non-venomous black snakes will do the trick. Instead, it’s best to take preventative measures such as clearing brush piles and tall grasses where venomous species may hide.

Image by Daina Krumins from Pixabay

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