Eastern Racer Snake
Arguably one of the most successful North American snakes, the Eastern Racer Snake has dominated most of the Continental US and populated parts of Mexico and Canada. This species of colubrid snake contains 11 subspecies. Recent molecular work suggest the possibility of more than one racer species being recognized in the future.
- C. c. anthicus, Buttermilk Racer
- C. c. constrictor, Northern Black Racer
- C. c. etheridgei, Tan Racer
- C. c. flaviventris, Eastern Yellowbelly Racer (AKA Yellow-Bellied)
- C. c. foxii, Blue Racer
- C. c. helvigularis, Brown-chin Racer
- C. c. latrunculus, Black-mask Racer
- C. c. oaxaca, Mexican Racer
- C. c. paludicola, Everglades Racer
- C. c. priapus, Southern Black Racer
- C. c. mormon, Western Yellow-Bellied Racer
Collectively, these 11 subspecies make up the species known as Eastern Racers. They are also known as Racer Snakes or Runner Snakes. Adult racers range from 20-60″ depending on the species. The species rarely weighs in over a pound. Typically the species has a solid back and the underside is almost always a single color. Juveniles are vividly patterned from the head and quickly fade to a solid color moving towards the tail. The pattern generally fades as the snake grows older. Juveniles from different subspecies lose their patterns at different ages but generally between 1-3 years old. For more information, be sure to check out the subspecies details for more on the description.
The above map was provided by HerpMapper. Note: The map is composed of Herpers who submit data. There may be gaps in this map due to lack of reporting within a specified area. You can help by providing data.
The primary food source of this species consist of soft-bodied insects such as moths, grasshoppers, and crickets. As adults, they primarily feed on rodents, frogs, toads, lizards, and other snakes. A few species have been known to eat young birds still nesting. One of the adaptations this species has, is the ability to eat opportunistically.
Like all species, there is variation among individuals however, the racer is known for a few characteristics shared by most specimen. They are diurnal, meaning they are day time active. They are usually seen during periods of sunshine.
This species is highly alert. Most have a nervous nature about them. Although they typically are found hunting in open spaces, the racer always seems to have a few hiding places in mind. They are always on the alert. The racer is rarely ever ambushed by Herpers. Generally, unless a Herper flips them, the racer is aware of us long before we see them.
Racers are very curious snakes. they have very large eyes that allow them to see very well. They have some of the best eye sight of all the North American snakes. The racer is regularly seen telescoping above the height of the vegetation around them. Once the racer sees a would be predator (or Herper), it will quickly flee for cover. They are very fast snakes in terms of snake speed. Even though the racer is fast, it can quickly be out ran by a human in an open field. They are sprinters.
When a racer is cornered, the true colors of this snake are shown. The racer will thrash around, defecate and release musk, and bite repeatedly. Racers are also known to “rattle” their tale in fallen leaves.
The racer has concurred many habitats. They have been found in tall pine forest, dump sites, swamps, semi-arid landscape, and grassy plains. This snake has mastered suburbia. In many locations throughout the racers home range, it is the most encountered snake in suburban areas. This species prefers warm weather with plenty of access to direct sunlight.
Phillip’s Personal Herping Notes
In my personal experience, I have best luck in open fields near a source of cover. I will find them along the wood line on the perimeter of grass lots. I have also found them along the road between the road and the woods, telescoping for food.
Racers mate in the spring. Most of the mating takes place in May and June. The female will lay 6-30 eggs shortly after mating. Nests are usually in hollow logs or under cover. Juveniles are born in early fall. They generally reach maturity at the 2-3 year mark. Females produce only one clutch per year.
There are many myths of the racer chasing people. This does not happen. The racer, as mentioned before always has a hiding spot in mind long before a threat is encountered. It is likely this myth originated by people startling the snake while standing between the snake and the desired hiding spot.
C. c. anthicus, Buttermilk Racer
AKA: Ash snake, spotted black snake, spotted racer, variegated racer, and white oak racer
The Buttermilk Racer, C.c. anthicus, is uniquely patterned. Unlike most of the others in the racer complex, the buttermilk has multiple colored flakes on the dorsal. This subspecies can reach up to 60″ in length. The buttermilk racer is only found in southern Arkansas, Louisiana, and southern and eastern Texas. This racer prefers Longleaf and mixed pine-hardwood forest.
The buttermilk racer regularly integrate with Eastern Yellow-bellies (C.c. flaviventris) along the western edge of its range.
C. c. constrictor, Northern Black Racer
AKA: Black Racer, Black Snake, Black Runner
The Northern Black Racer, C.c. constrictor, is one of the largest of the eastern racer complex. The northern black racer can regularly reach 60″ and has been known to reach 71″ in total length. This racer has a coal-black dorsal.
The northern black racer ranges from southern Maine and central New York south to northern Georgia and Alabama.
The northern black racer is regularly confused with other solid black snakes where their ranges overlap. They are commonly confused with black rat snakes and the black phase of eastern hognose snake.
This race is listed as endangered in the state of Maine. The presence of this race in Canada has been heavily debated.
[table caption=”Black Snake Guide” width=”500″ colwidth=”20|100|50″ colalign=”left|left|center|left|right”]
,Northern Black Racer,Black Rat,Black Phase Hognose,
Scales,Smooth,Slightly Keeled,Heavy Keeled
Underside,Plain or Lightly Speckled,Checkered,Lightly Colored
Head,Large eyes with white chin and sleek head,slightly widened head,Wide head with upturned snout
Background color,Sleek black and glossy,black with usually some pattern hidden with slight gloss,black with some pattern hidden usually dull
Overall Body Shape,Long and thin,Long a bit thick,Short and stocky,
C. c. etheridgei, Tan Racer
The tan racer, as the name implies, is generally a solid tan or brown in color snake. The tan racer may have some speckling especially in the Texas part of its range. The juveniles are vividly marked and this marking fades once the snake is about a year old. They generally max out around 60″ in length. The tan racer is found in Louisiana and Texas. There is some integrating between the tan and the buttermilk have been reported in Texas.
Although most racers inhabit primarily open spaces, the tan racer prefers more cover. The primary habitat is Longleaf pine flatwoods. Land clearing is reducing the prime habitat of the tan racer. As more land is cleared in this snake’s range, the buttermilk racer, being resident to open habitat, is slowly invading what was once tan racer range.
C. c. flaviventris, Eastern Yellowbelly Racer
Please Note: Many people within the Eastern Yellow Belly Racer range refer to this subspecies as the blue racer. Be sure to view the correct range description to determine the proper subspecies you are referencing.
The Eastern Yellow Belly Racer is an unpatterned olive-brown to grayish snake. They are slightly smaller than the maximum racer size, maxing out near 50″ in length. This snake has a cream to yellow underside with especially bright yellow under the snake’s chin, across the lip scales, and on the sides of the neck. Juveniles keep their markings slightly longer than most other racers, with some keeping their juvenile markings until nearly 3 years of age. The markings fade closer to the tail. This solid tail color slowly advances up the snake’s dorsal until it has completely faded.
The Eastern Yellow-belly is one of only 3 subspecies officially to be documented in Canada. The other 2 are the Western Yellow-belly (flaviventris) and the Blue (mormon). There is some debate on flaviventris and mormon as it is generally excepted that most of the specimen in Canada are intergrades. All 3 subspecies are currently protected in Canada.
C. c. foxii, Blue Racer
The Blue Racer is a pale blue or bluish-green snake with a white to bluish white underside. There are isolated populations that have been documented as having a reddish dorsum. The blue racer can sometimes look gray in color as well. The head of the blue racer is usually darker than the rest of the specimen. The chin is white. They are found in extreme southern Ontario and northwestern Ohion west to southeastern Minnesota, eastern Iowa, and Illinois.
Although they are good climbers, it is seen most frequently on the ground. Most research shows this subspecies to climb far less than other members of the C. constrictor complex. The blue racer is more social than most other racers during hibernation. They are frequently seen hibernating in large numbers and with other snake species.
Once common within it’s range, the blue racer numbers are falling. This is due to needless persecution by humans, den site destruction, and habitat loss. Minnesota has listed this snake as a species of special concern since 1984. This race is listed as endangered in Canada.
C. c. helvigularis, Brown-chin Racer
The Brown-chin Racer is a slate black snake. The lip scales and chin are tan or brown. Some specimen have a rusty color to chin and lip scales. They are found in the Apalachicola and Chipola River Valleys in the Florida Panhandle and adjacent Georgia. There has not been much documentation of integrates with other subspecies.
C. c. latrunculus, Black-mask Racer
The black-mask racer is slate gray to tan in color racer with a black stripe behind each eye. The underside is pale grayish-blue. This species was once thought to only reside in southeastern Louisiana.
In 1997, a paper was released by the Journal of Arkansas Academy of Science, describing the blackmask racer living in Arkansas. The article, written by Stanley E. Trauth, discusses the possibility of the blackmask living there as well. He explains finding a series of color slides in the Arkansas State University Herpetology collection, presenting with a postocular stripe on the sides of the head of several specimens from eastern Arkansas. The article concludes that, Southern (C.c.priapus) is the most wide spread race found in Arkansas, Buttermilk (C.c.anthicus) in south-central part of the state, and Eastern Yellowbelly (C.c.flaviventris) was found in the northwestern part of the state. The second most widely-distributed race in the state was, in fact the blackmask.
The article is a good representation of a scientific approach.
C. c. oaxaca, Mexican Racer
The Mexican Racer is the smallest of the racers. It is characterized by an overall greenish gray color. There is usually a darker hue extending down the middle of the snake’s dorsal. There is many times a darker hue present between the dorsal scales as well. The throat of the species normally has a white or pale yellow color. There are some isolated populations within the Texas range where the snake may have a pink color to the chin. The rest of the abdomen is generally a pale yellow to yellowish-green.
C. c. paludicola, Everglades Racer
The everglades racer is a variable snake. It can be bluish, greenish, or brownish gray on the dorsal. The underside is normally white or cream with pale gray or powder blue markings. This racer generally reaches 50″ in length although, some have reached the 60″ benchmark. It is found in the southern Florida Everglades and east of Cape Canaveral.
C. c. priapus, Southern Black Racer
The Southern Black Racer is very similar in appearance to the Northern Black Racer. There are a few subtle differences. The southern black racer, comparing the whole subspecies, generally has a more white chin. This is not a for sure diagnostic as northern black racers do have quite a bit of white on the chin. The iris of the eye, in southern racers are usually red or orange. The eyes can not be completely relied on either, as some southern racers do not carry this trait. The male organs of the southern racers are larger than that of the northern counterparts. Blood testing is the only sure way to determine the two subspecies apart in females that do not have the red or orange eyes with predominantly white chins. The best way to tell the two apart will be based on range information.
The Southern Black Racer is found from the coastal plains from extreme southeastern North Carolina to the Florida Everglades. It is also found in the Florida Keys. Moving west, this subspecies can be seen in the southeastern Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas, southeastern Mississippi Valley to southern Illinois and southern Indiana.
There is some integrating among racers near range boundaries. This is especially true where the northern and southern subspecies meet up.
C. c. mormon, Western Yellow-Bellied Racer
The Western Yellow-Bellied Racer is normally a green, olive-green, yellowish-brown, or reddish-brown colored snake. There are isolated populations with a bluish-brown coloration. This bluish color is noted in the picture above. This subspecies is found from southern British Columbia to Baja California east to southwestern Montana, western Wyoming, and western Colorado.
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