What is a Pilot snake?

Kreed5821

Senior Member
Thread starter #1
I've always heard my grandparents talk about "pilots". Today while on my way to their house, I killed a copperhead. My grandpa wanted to see it to make sure it wasn't a pilot. He said he couldn't tell because its head was so messed up
! That was my doing! Anyway, I asked him how to tell the difference and he said they (pilots) don't have as shiny of a head and are bigger. This leads me to believe that pilots are copperheads with dull color. I've seen two copperheads together once when one had recently shed its skin and was very brightly colored compared to the one next to it. You wouldn't have thought them to be the same kind of snake at first glance. Do ya'll have any idea about "pilots"?
 

Al33

Senior Member
#4
Until now, I had never heard of a pilot snake. :huh:

Just curious, how did the "pilot" name for a snake come to be?
 

fredw

Retired Moderator
#5
Think it is a black rat snake

BLACK RAT SNAKE
Elaphe obseleta obseleta

HABITS AND HABITATS
These snakes are primarily diurnal or daylight active but typically stay close to protective cover as they prowl for their prey, mostly rats, mice, and other small rodents. They are excellent climbers and are often found high in trees where they may sometimes feed on nesting birds, bird eggs, and even squirrels. They may occupy many types of habitats ranging from deep woods to forest edges, overgrown fields and meadows. They often enter abandoned or little used buildings, barns and even attics and wall spaces in search of rodents, making these snakes valuable but often unwelcome guests as they feed on destructive pests. Black Rat Snakes usually breed in Spring and the eggs are laid during early summer, usually in rotting stumps or in decaying vegetation. Garden mulch piles are often utilized, resulting in frantic human behavior when hatchlings or eggs are discovered! The young snakes, when cornered or threatened, will often coil in a defensive posture, hiss, and strike repeatedly. They also rapidly shake or vibrate the tail resulting in many people mistaking this dangerous-looking small snake for a baby rattlesnake or even a copperhead due to its bold behavior and color pattern, Many adult Black Rat Snakes also react in the same manner when threatened with danger.

HISTORY
Old timers sometimes refer to the Black Rat Snake as the "Pilot Snake" in the mistaken belief that this Snake pilots or guides the venomous rattlesnake to safe denning areas in the forest. Another common name is the Chicken Snake because the Black Rat is sometimes found near chicken coops and henhouses where they may sometimes feed on chicken eggs. Because of its adaptability to a variety of habitats including those close to people, humans often encounter the Black Rat Snake. Although it is one of our most valuable snakes, human fear and prejudice against all snakes often result in this shy and beneficial species being killed on sight.
 

Kreed5821

Senior Member
Thread starter #7
My grandparents don't consider a black snake as a pilot. They say a pilot is poisonous and a lot like a copperhead. They had a black snake on their porch last night.
 

GA DAWG

Senior Member
#8
I've also always thought a pilot and copperhead was the same thing.My grandpa calls them pilot snakes anyhow.
 
#9
Pilot Snake

In my South, the Pilot has always been a Copperhead. Have also heard the Copperhead referred to a "Highland Moccasin".

You can see in this the problem with common names. If you see some critter which is unknown to you, just name it yourself. The alternative is to learn the accepted name for the birds and bees. Better still, learn the Scientific Names.

Vernon
 

No. GA. Mt. Man

Gone But Not Forgotten
#10
Up in mine and Mr. Holt's neck of the woods old folks called copperheads pilot snakes.
 

Kreed5821

Senior Member
Thread starter #11
No. GA. Mt. Man said:
Up in mine and Mr. Holt's neck of the woods old folks called copperheads pilot snakes.
I'm not far at all from your neck of the woods. We live in northern Habersham County. My grandparents are 75 years old. Guess that qualifies them as some of them old folks, but don't tell PaPa that!
 

Augie

Senior Member
#14
fredw said:
BLACK RAT SNAKE
Elaphe obseleta obseleta

HABITS AND HABITATS
These snakes are primarily diurnal or daylight active but typically stay close to protective cover as they prowl for their prey, mostly rats, mice, and other small rodents. They are excellent climbers and are often found high in trees where they may sometimes feed on nesting birds, bird eggs, and even squirrels. They may occupy many types of habitats ranging from deep woods to forest edges, overgrown fields and meadows. They often enter abandoned or little used buildings, barns and even attics and wall spaces in search of rodents, making these snakes valuable but often unwelcome guests as they feed on destructive pests. Black Rat Snakes usually breed in Spring and the eggs are laid during early summer, usually in rotting stumps or in decaying vegetation. Garden mulch piles are often utilized, resulting in frantic human behavior when hatchlings or eggs are discovered! The young snakes, when cornered or threatened, will often coil in a defensive posture, hiss, and strike repeatedly. They also rapidly shake or vibrate the tail resulting in many people mistaking this dangerous-looking small snake for a baby rattlesnake or even a copperhead due to its bold behavior and color pattern, Many adult Black Rat Snakes also react in the same manner when threatened with danger.

HISTORY
Old timers sometimes refer to the Black Rat Snake as the "Pilot Snake" in the mistaken belief that this Snake pilots or guides the venomous rattlesnake to safe denning areas in the forest. Another common name is the Chicken Snake because the Black Rat is sometimes found near chicken coops and henhouses where they may sometimes feed on chicken eggs. Because of its adaptability to a variety of habitats including those close to people, humans often encounter the Black Rat Snake. Although it is one of our most valuable snakes, human fear and prejudice against all snakes often result in this shy and beneficial species being killed on sight.

This link with a picture is from Wi. but seems to be the same as Freds post described.
http://www.dnr.state.wi.us/org/land/er/herps/snakes/blackrat.htm
 

Kreed5821

Senior Member
Thread starter #15
Vernon Holt said:
No sweat kreed, if your Grandpop is 75 he already knows he is an old codger.

Vernon[/QUOT/]


You are right, sir. I just don't mention it to him. He was stouter than me until he hit 65 or so. At 55 he could still carry three 100lb bags of hog feed up a fifteen foot bank to his hog house.
 

Kreed5821

Senior Member
Thread starter #16
Thanks for the link Augie, now I know what a pilot snake is. But it is not what my grandparents have known as a pilot. What they know as a pilot is a poisonous snake with slightly different color than a copperhead. Somewhere along the way, someone must have mistakenly called a copperhead a pilot because of its duller color compared to another copperhead and the name stuck. That is all I can figure. My grandpa is very accustomed to black snakes. As I said, they found one on their porch the other night when I killed the copperhead. I've actually seen one shake its tail in dry leaves trying to imitate a rattler. There is another snake in GA that has something like cartiledge in its throat to make a rattling sound. I've only seen them at a USFS demonstration when I was in school. Anything that rattles is enough to scare me in the woods! Especially if I hear it and can't see it!
 
#17
a lot of dirrerence between a black rat snake and a copperhead. have heard the term pilot snake before but can't remember what snake it referred to. when it comes to it I'll take Mr. Vernon's word over most text material. it may be different regions of the country commonly call different kinds of snakes "pilots". Interesting and informative post-- good question--Thanks, Kreed.
 

deersled

Senior Member
#18
I always thought it was a rat snake also. Ratsnakes appearance change as they age. A young one could "maybe" be confused with a copperhead. An immature (1-3 ft) ratsnake looks alot different than a mature (5-7ft) one. But they are very, very beneficial. Just leave them rat eating machines alone.
 

Kreed5821

Senior Member
Thread starter #19
I asked my other Grandpa, who is several years younger than the first, about it and he said he has heard a lot of people call copperheads pilots. I know my Grandpa wouldn't mistake a black snake for a copperhead. I've been able to tell the difference for as long as I can remember. When you grow up hunting every chance ya get and playing in the woods every day, you'd best find out the dangers. The road I grew up on has always had a lot of copperheads killed on it. My Grandpa's fenceline is mostly in the woods off of that road. I've seen plenty of copperheads. Never seen a rattler over in here though.


Anyway, thanks for the info ya'll!
 
#20
The snake I have always refered to as a rattlesnake pilot or highland moccasin is not colored the same as the common copperhead, but is colored much like the timber rattler and has a pointed tail with no rattles. I have never seen a copperhead over about 3.5 feet. I have personally dispatched a highland moccasin over 5 feet in length. I guess it is possible it is copperhead in a different color phase, but the snake I recognize as a rattlesnake pilot or highland moccasin does not resemble a copperhead. The highland moccasin is most certainly poisonous.

I killed a huge one when I was about 16 yrs. old that my cousin took home and coiled in a phone booth on Houston Ave. in Macon. You should have witnessed that !!!
 
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