Facts About Southern Black Racer Snakes

Updated on June 27, 2018
PaulGoodman67 profile image

Paul graduated from university in 1987. He has done a variety of jobs, including librarian and researcher. He currently lives in Florida.

Southern black racer. It is not uncommon to find these black racer snakes in Florida in suburban yards. They are less fearful of people than many other snakes, and can become aggressive or even charge at people if they feel threatened.
Southern black racer. It is not uncommon to find these black racer snakes in Florida in suburban yards. They are less fearful of people than many other snakes, and can become aggressive or even charge at people if they feel threatened. | Source

What Kind of Snake Is a Southern Black Racer?

The southern black racer (Coluber constrictor priapus) is a common subspecies of the Coluber constrictor. These snakes are non-venomous and are usually found throughout the southeastern United States, especially Florida. Besides the southern black racer, there are ten other subspecies of Coluber constrictors.

Coluber Constrictor Subspecies

  1. Buttermilk racer (Coluber constrictor anthicus)
  2. Northern black racer (Coluber constrictor constrictor)
  3. Tan racer (Coluber constrictor etheridgei)
  4. Easter yellow-bellied racer (Coluber constrictor flaviventris)
  5. Blue racer (Coluber constrictor foxii)
  6. Brown-chinned racer (Coluber constrictor helvigularis)
  7. Black-masked racer (Coluber constrictor latrunculus)
  8. Mexican racer (Coluber constrictor oaxaca)
  9. Everglades racer (Coluber constrictor paludicola)
  10. Southern black racer (Coluber constrictor priapus)
  11. Western yellow-bellied racer (Coluber constrictor mormon)

Quick Facts About the Southern Black Racer

Poisonous?
Endangered?
Appearance
Habitat
Diet
No
Yes
Black with a white chin
Wooded or grassy areas, brush, and thickets, suburban yards
Frogs, rodents, lizards, and other snakes

Are Southern Black Racers Poisonous?

Southern black racers are not poisonous. Instead of using venom, these snakes prefer to crush their prey into the ground and swallow it whole. With a scientific name like "constrictor," this behavior is very different from what many would expect. In any case, they rarely suffocate their prey by coiling themselves around it.

What Do Southern Black Racers Look Like?

As its name suggests, this snake is mainly black in color, with a black dorsal side, a gray belly, and a white chin. The white chin causes some to kill this snake, believing it to be the extremely dangerous cottonmouth, often called a water moccasin, a snake that also has a white chin. Other snakes that are similar in appearance to the racer are the indigo snake, the rat snake, and the garter snake.

Juvenile racers are blotched gray to reddish brown, and are smaller than the adults, which have an average size of between 20 to 55 inches (0.6 to 1.4 meters). The longest black racer ever discovered was 72 inches in length.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Black racer waiting  for prey in dry leaves.  Photograph taken in in Carrboro, North Carolina, 2006.  Although the snake is an accomplished hunter, they are nonvenomous and therefore not threatening to humans, although their bite is still painful.Southern black racer (Coluber constrictor priapus) with a raised head.A black racer examines a green hose.Black Racer on Merritt Island, Florida. These snakes are common in Florida and can often be found in suburban yards. They feel less threatened by humans than most other snakes.
Black racer waiting  for prey in dry leaves.  Photograph taken in in Carrboro, North Carolina, 2006.  Although the snake is an accomplished hunter, they are nonvenomous and therefore not threatening to humans, although their bite is still painful.
Black racer waiting for prey in dry leaves. Photograph taken in in Carrboro, North Carolina, 2006. Although the snake is an accomplished hunter, they are nonvenomous and therefore not threatening to humans, although their bite is still painful. | Source
Southern black racer (Coluber constrictor priapus) with a raised head.
Southern black racer (Coluber constrictor priapus) with a raised head. | Source
A black racer examines a green hose.
A black racer examines a green hose. | Source
Black Racer on Merritt Island, Florida. These snakes are common in Florida and can often be found in suburban yards. They feel less threatened by humans than most other snakes.
Black Racer on Merritt Island, Florida. These snakes are common in Florida and can often be found in suburban yards. They feel less threatened by humans than most other snakes. | Source

Where Do Southern Black Racers Live?

Southern black racers prefer to live in wooded areas, brush, and thickets, but can also be seen in more open areas. Like all cold-blooded specimens, which regulate their temperature by moving in and out of sunlight, this snake will reside in any place where there is both exposed and covered ground.

As they are very active in the daytime and less afraid of humans than most snakes, it is fairly common to see these snakes in suburban yards. Although they are not venomous, they can be aggressive, especially if handled. These snakes will never tolerate being picked up, and will defecate a foul smelling musk if provoked.

What Do Southern Black Racers Eat?

Black racers are predators that live on frogs, toads, lizards, snakes, rodents, and other small mammals. They essentially eat any small animal they can overpower through suffocation or by crushing them into the ground.

While these snakes are the enemies of the aforementioned specimens, the natural enemies of black racers are domestic dogs and cats, coyotes, and birds of prey such as the red-shouldered hawk and the broad-winged hawk. These birds use their extraordinary eyesight to identify black racers and attack them from above. The element of surprise these birds employ when attacking black racers renders their speed and ground awareness ineffectual.

How Do Southern Black Racers Behave?

One of the key facts to remember about these snakes is that they are fast moving, as suggested by their name. They will use their speed to escape from most threatening situations, and to add to their impressive ground mobility, they are also great swimmers and climbers.

While usually choosing flight over fight, if they are cornered, they are not afraid to bite repeatedly and with extreme force. They have also been known to charge at people to frighten them.

How Fast Is the Southern Black Racer?

Racers are fast snakes, slithering at a top speed of about four miles per hour (6.5 kilometers per hour), about the speed a human walking quickly. If threatened, they use this speed to flee into bushes, tall grass, or the low-hanging branches of nearby trees.

Do Southern Black Racers Shake Their Tails?

If these snakes feel threatened, they are known to vibrate their tails in leaves and grass in order to mimic the sound (and appearance) of a rattlesnake. Because of this, they are often found resting or hunting in grassy areas.

Southern Black Racer Shaking Its Tail

When Do Southern Black Racers Breed?

Southern black racer snakes breed and lay eggs between March and August. The female can lay up to 23 eggs, and, once hatched, the young, freshly-hatched snakes measure around six inches (15 cm) in length. As with other reptiles, they do not protect nor feed their young.

Are Southern Black Racers Endangered?

The black racer is considered an endangered species, according to the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies. In Maine, racers are limited to the southern third of the state and could be lost entirely if their habitat continues to be destroyed by human activities.

Man is the greatest enemy of these snakes. They are often killed accidentally on highways, or intentionally by humans operating out of fear. By educating the public and teaching them how to identify these non-venomous snakes, perhaps their numbers will cease to decline.

Do Southern Black Racers Keep Poisonous Snakes Away?

There are a few myths associated with black racers that this article aims to expel, one of these being that they fight off venomous snakes. While black racers do sometimes eat other snakes, there is no evidence that they actively target venomous snakes. In fact, they prefer rodents to other types of prey, and they sometimes hibernate with venomous snakes like copperheads and rattlesnakes.

Another myth is that black racers mate with copperheads to create venomous, black snakes. This is not true. The myth stems from the appearance of juvenile black heads, which have colored markings similar to those of the copperhead. These markings fade to black, though, as the snake reaches adulthood.

Yet another myth is that black racers are entirely harmless. While it is true that they are not venomous, their bites are very painful and may become infected if not cleaned and treated properly. Still, if you see a black racer in your garden, you should let it be. Simply keep your distance to avoid being bitten.

Sources

  • Palmer, E. Laurence, ed. (1974). Fieldbook of Natural History (2 ed.). McGraw Hill. ISBN 0-07-048425-2.
  • The Reptile Database. www.reptile-database.org.
  • Stejneger, L.H., and T. Barbour. 1917. A Check List of North American Amphibians and Reptiles. Harvard University Press.

Questions & Answers

  • How do I get a black racer snake out of my garage?

    You have three options: leave it alone as it's basically harmless and will kill small pests, brush it out of the garage using a broom, or put some gloves on, pick it up, and carry it outside. You should be sure that it is a black racer and therefore non-venomous, before considering handling it.

  • Do black racer snakes have black heads and red or brown bodies?

    Black racers are completely black, apart from a white chin and a grey underbelly. There is no red or brown. There are, however, other subspecies of the Coluber constrictor which are colored differently, such as brown racers, tan racers, blue racers, or green racers.

  • Do black racers like water? We saw a snake in our pool.

    They are good swimmers and don't mind being around humans, so are often found in yards. It's therefore feasible that it was a racer in your pool. They will eat animals such as frogs and toads which are found in watery environments, but they also live and hunt in a variety of other terrains not just near water.

  • I got bit several times by a black racer. I know they are nonvenomous but do they carry any diseases to be concerned with?

    You should still be concerned about infections, even though black racers are not venomous. First, run the bite area under fresh water, no soap. Next, clean the wound with a mild anti-bacterial soap. Don't use soaps that contain alcohol, which can cause irritation, or hydrogen peroxide, which can slow the healing process. Dry the bite area by dabbing with a clean, dry cloth or towel. I would advise against bandaging the wound, unless there is a risk of cross contamination, as it can increase the chances of a bacterial infection. If you experience any sign of infection or an allergic reaction, seek medical treatment immediately.

  • What should I do if a black racer bites me and holds on?

    Most snakes will bite and release when it is a defensive bite. If the snake won't or can't let go, however, don't be tempted to try and pull the snake away, as this can tear your skin. You may also break the snake's teeth. This is because their teeth are curved to give them a better grip on prey. Instead you should firmly hold the snake behind its head and slowly push it towards the wound. Once the teeth are out, you can then pull the snake away.

© 2011 Paul Goodman

Comments

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    • profile image

      Veronica Palumbo 

      2 months ago

      Thank you for providing so much information about these snakes.

    • profile image

      Karen, st.pete, fl 

      5 months ago

      I have a 2 1/2 ft. black racer my female cat brought in through the cat door, it's been in now for days but I can't ind him any advice?

    • profile image

      Cathy Margoshes 

      7 months ago

      I guess the cats brought this black racer into the house, it was about 18" long. It was curled up and I scoop it into a box and set it free outside. The cats are always staring at an overgrown corner in the neighbors yard so I suspected they was something living there. Now that I had a taste of one do I need to check that area for a mom or eggs.

    • profile image

      pejohnston 

      8 months ago

      I've lived in western Broward County (FL) in the middle of a fully developed and largely manicured subdivision for two years. Last year, it was the weird Cuban bullfrogs coming in my yard...this year it is the black racer snakes. Perhaps the former begot the latter. I don't know why these racers try approaching the house door....you would think they know it isn't a bush. Nonetheless, I have two small dogs and my worry is for them. When we see the snake, we catch it with one of those snake pole-grabbers (we bought a five footer for piece of mind) and transport it in the bag supplied to a drainage pond running along the uninhabited side of the road, hoping they do not have a sense of directional memory!

    • profile image

      riley 

      8 months ago

      i need more facts im doing a school project

    • profile image

      Florence nyash 

      8 months ago

      I have a great fear of snake, you can imagine my reaction when i found two inside the house within a span of 8 hours and another one a month later which was today. Found it resting under the couch. Where to they come from and why do they keep coming to our house? Haven't spotted any rats or mice just a few lizards.

    • profile image

      Crazy Survivalist 

      8 months ago

      I saw one the other day. I decided to throw a stick at it to see how it would react. It darted toward me. I didn't know if it was venomous or not so I took off. Now that I know it's not, it sounds like a good food source

    • PaulGoodman67 profile imageAUTHOR

      Paul Goodman 

      9 months ago from Florida USA

      It's difficult to say for sure, but I think you might be witnessing the black racer's attempts to mimic a rattlesnake. They are known to do this and I've experienced it myself.

    • profile image

      Brett Rowe 

      9 months ago

      Do you know why a Black Racer waves it's neck

      I have a beautiful 40 inch one that hangs around my wood pile

      and one time I was blocking her path she darted away two feet then came back slowly as I watched her she waved her neck, she then tried again stopped waved her neck then went behind me while I was laying on a lawn chair stopping twice and waving then finally under my feet beside a wall then shot into my wood pile.

    • profile image

      Nancy Colwell 

      18 months ago

      Just surprised by one on my patio. Jumped a mile but they are harmless.

    • profile image

      still shaking 

      3 years ago

      heard and saw a bird swooping around and around. when I looked down at the pile of leaves, there was the snake. still trying to decide what to do. thanks for the article, it helped!!

    • profile image

      asnakelover 

      5 years ago

      This article, though informative, does not adequately describe their behavior in captivity. I have 3 adults, all wild caught, (well, one was found in a pool and the other two were found in the road, one actually got run over, but their tough) and they are as tame as any rat snake. They feed readily on live prey and after being tamed down for a week each, have never struck at me or anyone else.

    • profile image

      chick 

      6 years ago

      do they live in virginia? i have a mean baby snake in a jar right now!

    • profile image

      smassie57 

      6 years ago

      Years ago when living in Palm City, FL, my wife opened the front door to the house to find a Black Racer on the door step. It scared both of them! The snake made a mad dash for the first safe place it could find, which was in the house and up inside the couch.

      I got a call at work. COME GET THIS SNAKE OUT OF MY HOUSE!!!

      Ever try to get a snake out of a couch? No?! Well, it tain't easy. And when Paul here says they will strike out, he's not kidding. They are very grumpy snakes and if they have something to push against, they can strike farther than their own length. Uhm yeah, take my word on that.

    • profile image

      Lin 

      6 years ago

      I saw a black racer so freaked out

    • profile image

      gbenga 

      6 years ago

      hw they take managed with all these snakes

    • cgreen7090 profile image

      cgreen7090 

      7 years ago from Tennessee

      Although I cringe at the thought of encountering these, I do appreciate the need for education about them. Thanks for publishing a hub dedicated to black racers. Recently upon leaving church after a rainstorm, my son and his friend stepped on one trying to come in out of the rain. It whipped away so fast, we barely knew what to think. I'm glad they are not poisonous, although we do have cottonmouths, copperheads, and rattlesnakes in Tennessee. Keep writing!

    • PaulGoodman67 profile imageAUTHOR

      Paul Goodman 

      7 years ago from Florida USA

      I encounter Southern Black Racers fairly regularly down here in Florida, I've seen five of them in the last six months. As soon as I know it's not a Water Moccasin/Cottonmouth, I relax a bit. It's important to remember that snakes form an important part of the ecosystem, even if us humans don't like them.

    • jperry106 profile image

      jperry106 

      7 years ago from Castle Hayne NC

      I really came upon a Black Racer and if I did I might do the same as everyone else. Most people believe that the only good snake is a dead snake.

    • DeborahNeyens profile image

      Deborah Neyens 

      7 years ago from Iowa

      I hate snakes, so I had to read this! (Kind of like not being able to look away from a car accident.) : ) Interesting article.

    • Jlava73 profile image

      Jennifer Vasconcelos 

      7 years ago from Cyberspace and My Own World

      Gross Snake,Great Article!

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