Facts About Southern Black Racer Snakes
Southern Black Racers (coluber constrictor priapus) are a common subspecies of the coluber constrictor.
These snakes are nonvenomous and found throughout much of the Southeastern USA, including most of Florida.
Besides the Southern Black Racer, there are ten other subspecies of coluber constrictors.
The scientific name "constrictor" is misleading in some ways, however, when applied to this snake, as its behavior is very different to what many people would expect from a constrictor. Black Racers do not coil themselves around their prey, for example, instead they are more likely to crush their prey into the ground.
As its name suggests, this snake is mainly dark in color, with a black dorsal side, a gray belly and a white chin.
Southern Black Racers prefer to live in wooded areas, brush and thicket, but can also be seen in more open ground, as long as there is cover nearby, such as long grass.
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.
The average size of this snake is between 20 and 55 inches (0.6 - 1.4 m) in length.
The longest Black Racer ever discovered measured 72 inches in length.
Black Racers are predators and live on frogs, toads, small rodents, lizards, as well as other snakes.
They essentially eat any small animal that they can overpower through suffocation or crushing them into the ground.
One of the key facts about Black Racers to remember is that they are fast moving, hence their name, and will use their speed to escape from most situations that they perceive as threatening.
If they are cornered, however, they can put up a strong fight and will bite hard and repeatedly.
They have also been known to charge at people to frighten them on rare occasions.
If they feel threatened, they are also known to vibrate their tails in leaves and grass in order to mimic the sound (and appearance) of a rattlesnake.
As well being very fast moving on land, these snakes are also exceptional swimmers and tree climbers.
Did You Know?
The Southern Black Racer is thought to be colorblind.
Like other snakes, this snake sheds its skin several times a year.
The Black Racer is similar in appearance and habit to its close relative, the Blue Racer. They sometimes interbreed with the resultant offspring having characteristics of both snake types.
Although th Black Racer is a good climber, it spends most of its time on the ground.
Adult Racers are solid black, but juveniles are blotched gray and reddish brown. Adult racers are typically around 24–55 inches (0.6 - 1.4 m) long. They can be longer but rarely exceed 70 inches (1.8 m).
These snakes breed and lay eggs between March and August. The female lays up to 23 eggs. Young, freshly hatched racers measure around 6 inches (15 cm) in length.
As with other reptiles, Black Racers do not protect their young, nor feed their young.
Juveniles are blotched gray and reddish brown in color which serves them well as camouflage.
Did You Know?
Black Racers can sometimes be mistaken for Indigo Snakes. It should be noted that Black Racers have white chins, however, whereas the Indigo Snake's is dark to reddish orange.
Southern Black Racers do not like being handled by people generally. Even if they have been in captivity for many months, they will usually lash out.
As mentioned earlier, normally these snakes will slink away when faced with a human, but they can be aggressive and can even charge at people sometimes.
Although this snake's bite is nonvenomous and therefore not dangerous, it can still be painful.
Enemies and Threats
Man is the biggest enemy of these snakes. Many are killed on the roads by cars.
Because of their white chins, these snakes are sometimes mistaken for the venomous Water Moccasin (also known as a Cottonmouth) in Florida and killed through misplaced fear.
Non-human enemies of black Racers are mainly birds of prey, which swoop down on them from above.
- 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
I live in Spring Hill, Florida, and it is commonly believed that black racer snakes keep rattlesnakes and other venomous snakes away, so no one bothers the black racers in their yards. Is there any truth to this?
I have a two (at least) black racers in my yard (Merritt Island, FL), and I don't mind them at all, except I now have a tame squirrel that I raised from a baby. He lives outside, but comes in every day to visit. I am terrified the snakes will catch him. Are they dangerous to squirrels?