Activity and Spatial Patterns of the Eastern Ratsnake (Elaphe alleghaniensis) in the Western Piedmont of North Carolina

Bill Johnson, Pierson Hill, Dr. Mike Dorcas




Abstract - Understanding an animal’s spatial ecology is a necessary component of conservation, particularly where urban development alters habitat. Many species show repeated use of specific locales within their environment and could be imperiled if those frequented areas are disturbed, forcing the animal to move elsewhere. We examined the spatial ecology of the eastern ratsnake (Elaphe alleghaniensis) by radiotracking 13 snakes over a three-year period on the Davidson College Ecological Preserve in Mecklenburg County, NC. Snakes had an average active-season home-range size of 8.7 ha. (measured as 95% kernel). Many of our snakes showed frequent use of particular areas within the environment over the duration of the study; in fact, 35% of total used area was common to successive yearly home ranges. In general, females had larger home ranges and had higher site fidelity than males. Our study shows that eastern ratsnakes do have discrete home ranges and exhibit substantial site fidelity. Understanding these traits is of tremendous importance for conservation because even the most commonly found species will be severely threatened if the areas in which it lives are targeted for human development.