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Non-Venomous. North American racers are not dangerous to people or pets, but they will readily bite to defend themselves. Racers are not aggressive and avoid direct contact with people and pets. Virtually all bites occur when the snakes are intentionally molested.
When approached, racers will typically flee for shelter, relying on speed and agility to avoid capture. However, if they are cornered, both juveniles and adults will strike at the attacker and rapidly vibrate the tip of the tail, which produces a buzzing sound in leaf litter. If grabbed or pinned, they will readily bite the attacker. Nonetheless, these snakes are not aggressive, and striking is only used in defense as a last resort.
North American Racers are opportunistic and diurnal predators with a diet as varied as their choice of habitat. They are known to feed on small mammals, birds and their eggs, lizards, turtles, snakes, frogs, salamanders, fishes, insects and spiders. In Florida, frogs, lizards, and small snakes make up the majority of their diet. Despite their scientific name (Coluber constrictor), racers are not true constrictors and overpower their prey by simply grabbing it in their jaws and pressing it against the ground until it stops struggling or by quickly swallowing it alive.
Juvenile North American Racers are often mistaken for pygmy rattlesnakes. Juvenile racers are long and pencil thin, whereas pygmy rattlesnakes are much thicker for their length. As always, if you are not 100% positive of the identification of a snake, it is best for everyone involved to leave it alone.
Burbrink, F.T, F. Fontanella, R.A. Pyron, T.J. Guiher, and C. Jimenez. 2008. Phylogeography across a continent: the evolutionary and demographic history of the North American racer (Serpentes: Colubridae: Coluber constrictor). Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 47(1): 274-288. DOI: 10.1016/j.ympev.2007.10.020
The eastern racer (Coluber constrictor) is a species of nonvenomous snake in the family Colubridae. The species is endemic to North America and Central America. Eleven subspecies, including the nominotypical subspecies, are recognized, which as a group are commonly referred to as the eastern racers. The species is monotypic in the genus Coluber.
Adult eastern racers can typically vary from 50 to 152 cm (20 to 60 in) in total length (including tail) depending on the subspecies, but a record-sized specimen measured 185.4 cm (73.0 in) in total length. A typical adult specimen will weigh around 556 g (1.226 lb), with little size difference between the sexes. The patterns vary widely among subspecies. Most are solid-colored as their common names imply: black racers, brown racers, tan racers, blue racers, or green racers. "Runner" is sometimes used instead of "racer" in their common names. All subspecies have a lighter-colored underbelly: white, light tan, or yellow in color. Juveniles are more strikingly patterned, with a middorsal row of dark blotches on a light ground color. The tail is unpatterned. As they grow older, the dorsum darkens and the juvenile pattern gradually disappears.
The eastern racers are fast-moving, highly active, diurnal snakes. Their diet consists primarily of small rodents, other mammals (as large as small cottontail rabbits), frogs, toads, small turtles, lizards, and other snakes. Some subspecies are known to climb trees to eat eggs and young birds. Juveniles often consume soft-bodied insects and other small invertebrates, as well as small frogs, small reptiles (including lizards and snakes and their eggs), young rodents, and shrews. Despite their specific name, constrictor, they do not really employ constriction, instead simply subduing struggling prey by pinning it bodily, pressing one or two coils against it to hold it in place instead of actually suffocating it. Most smaller prey items are simply swallowed alive.
They are curious snakes with excellent vision and are sometimes seen raising their heads above the height of the grass where they are crawling to view what is around them. Aptly named, racers are very fast and typically flee from a potential predator. However, once cornered, they put up a vigorous fight, biting hard and often. They are difficult to handle and will writhe, defecate, and release a foul-smelling musk from their cloacae. Vibrating their tails among dry leaves, racers can sound convincingly like rattlesnakes.
Most of the eastern racers prefer open, grassland-type habitats where their keen eyesight and speed can be readily used, but they are also found in light forest and even semiarid regions. They are usually not far from an area of cover for hiding.
Description: Racers are large, relatively slender snakes known for their speed. They have rather large eyes, smooth scales, and in North Carolina are solid black as adults, although some have a whitish chin. As juveniles, racers are gray or brown with dark reddish-brown spots running along their backs. Juveniles are typically gray with darker brown spots. Racers can be distinguished from black rat snakes because of their uniform color, slender bodies, and smooth scales.
Miscellaneous: Although they are often confused with the black rat snake, the black racer can be easily distinguished by their smooth scales. Although racers will often aggressively defend themselves and will usually bite repeatedly if picked up, they do not chase people as is often claimed. When pursued, they often climb into bushes or trees to escape their would-be captor. Though they are fast for a snake, a person can easily outrun one on open ground.
The rubber boa is sometimes confused with the racer because both species have similar coloration. Racers differ in having large eyes, large dorsal scales and a tail that tapers to the tip. Racers are fast, aggressive snakes whereas rubber boas are slow, non-aggressive snakes.
This map from the Washington Herp Atlas illustrates the distribution of western racer in Washington based on records in the WDFW database as of 2016. If you see this species in areas that are not indicated on the map or have more recent observations (less than 10 years), please share your observation using the WDFW wildlife reporting form.
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Background and Range: The northern black racer is one of two large, black snakes found in Connecticut (the other is the eastern ratsnake). It is considered an "important species" in the state as its population is declining due to loss of habitat through succession, fragmentation, and development.
Several subspecies of black racers are found throughout the 48 contiguous states, Canada, and Mexico. The northern black racer ranges from southern Maine, west to Ohio, and south to Georgia, Alabama, and parts of Tennessee. In Connecticut, the species is found statewide but is rare in the extreme northwestern corner.
Habitat and Diet: The black racer prefers open, lightly wooded habitats. These include meadows, fields, powerline rights-of-way, roadsides, and transitional zones between forests and fields. This snake thrives in areas that are mowed or occasionally cleared, and will avoid heavily forested habitats. Winter den sites are usually in old burrows or rocky areas with deep fissure cracks.
An active daytime hunter, the black racer will search for prey over an extensive home range. Its prey consists of smaller individuals of other snake species, toads, frogs, small birds, chipmunks, mice, shrews, other small rodents, and invertebrates such as butterfly and moth larvae, various other insects, and spiders. Juvenile black racers tend to eat more invertebrates. Although this snake's scientific name implies it, the northern black racer does not constrict its food. Instead, the snake pins prey with its body and swallows it whole.
Life History: In colder environments, snakes will brumate during winter. Unlike hibernation when animals are asleep, brumating animals are awake but inactive. Black racers will migrate to their winter dens by late October, often using the same dens year after year and sometimes sharing them with other black racers or other snake species. Black racers usually emerge from their dens by late March and begin breeding shortly after. It is at this time that they become more territorial and defensive. A clutch of 3 to 32 eggs will be laid in June-July, hatching in August-September. The eggs are distinct by having a rather granular texture. Egg clutches are hidden under logs or in burrows, or in a nest cavity in leaf litter or sand. This species has been known to deposit eggs communally. Maturation occurs in 1 to 2 years for males and 2 to 3 years in females. The lifespan of black racers in the wild can be up to 10 years. 041b061a72