PREVALENCE: Very common
ACTIVE PERIOD: Most active during the day
KEY ID FEATURES: Dark brown, black or tan with faint vertical banding from head to mid section and black or grey checkering towards the tail ~ 1.5-2 meters when mature
BEHAVIOR: Very fast and readily willing to bite, but will almost always try to flee when encountered
SIZE: Large - 2m+
OTHER: Can be mistaken with cobras
QUICK ASSESSMENT 0-10
IMPORTANT: Most snakes can be found to have significant variance in coloration and pattern even within the same species. There can also be extreme differences in appearance from juveniles to adults so it is important to never assume you have properly identified a snake.
Generally black/brown or tan in color with faint vertical banding on the upper half of the body and a checkered pattern towards the tail. A lean snake, the Common Rat is slender relative to its length and when fully grown will only be 4-6cm in diameter at roughly 2 meters long. Large round eyes with round pupils on a slender head usually flat color on top with black vertical stripes on the scales along the jaw. These jaw scale stripes are a key differentiator between the Common Rat, Cobras and the Indo Chinese Rat Snake.
The Common Rat Snake as with many rat snakes will puff up their neck when threatened. The Common Rat's neck expands vertically making them look taller rather than displaying the notorious 'hood' seen on cobra species. A harmless defensive tactic but can be unsettling for the inexperienced. These snakes will almost always flee extremely quickly if they sense you approaching and despite a bite from a mature specimen being a bit painful they pose almost no danger to humans and have no venom. They will musk readily if handled as well. (Click here if the video block does not load:https://youtu.be/AAE4lc-LfaY)
Common Rat Snakes are found all over Hong Kong including Hong Kong Island. They eat rodents, lizards and occasionally birds and as such can be found from forested areas to areas around lakes and rivers as well as water culverts and jogging trails. Active during the day they are frequently encountered in Hong Kong.
NO SNAKE SHOULD EVER BE HANDLED BY ANYONE BUT EXPERTS: Common Rat Snakes can often look similar to Chinese Cobras and King Cobras at a quick glance due to their colors, patterns and general size/shape. Because of this and their propensity to bite they should be observed at a distance and never approached or handled, not that you'd have a good chance of catching one even if you tried!