North American Racer

Scientific Name
Coluber constrictor
Also Known As
Black Racer, Eastern Racer, Yellow-bellied Racer
Range
All of Florida
Diet
Small Rodents, Birds, Amphibians
Life Expectancy
6 Years
The North American Racer

Photo 38822778 © Kory Roberts, CC BY-NC

North American Racer conservation status - Least Concern

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This Snake is Not Venomous

North American Racers in Central Florida

The North American racer (Coluber constrictor) is a slender, agile species of nonvenomous colubrid snake found throughout central Florida. Often confused with similar-looking snakes, racers can be identified by key physical and behavioral characteristics. This comprehensive guide provides detailed identification tips, biology facts, and prevention methods for North American racers in central Florida. Read on to learn racer habits, reproduction, diet, health risks, signs of activity, and professional removal options if you encounter these snakes on your property.

Appearance and Identification

North American racers can be distinguished from other snakes by their slender build, large eyes, and distinctive color patterns

Adult North American Racer

Photo 62278570 © Robert Simons, CC BY-NC

Adult North American Racers

  • Size: Adult racers average 3-5 feet (0.9-1.5 m) in length. The record length is 7 feet (2.1 m).
  • Color: Adults may retain juvenile blotches, develop uniform gray coloration, or adopt localized adaptations like the blue racer. The ventral surface is white, gray, or yellowish.
  • Pattern: Most adults become solid colored, losing their blotches. Some retain fragmented blotches or stripes along the back.
  • Head: The enlarged head helps racers swallow prey whole. The scales are smooth and the eyes large.
Juvenile North American Racer

Photo 225762248 © Tommy Hamrick, CC BY-NC

Juvenile North American Racers

  • Size: Newborn racers average 10-13 inches (25-33 cm) long. They grow rapidly, reaching over 2 feet (61 cm) by their first year.
  • Color: Juvenile coloration consists of gray or brown blotches on a lighter grayish background along the back and sides. The belly is white or yellow.
  • Pattern: Young snakes have dark brown or black blotches on the dorsal side and along the lateral areas. These are rectangular or trapezoid in shape.
  • Head: The head is distinctly wider than the neck, with large eyes and round pupils.

Racers have smooth dorsal scales and a pointy snout that distinguishes them from other harmless species like rat snakes, kingsnakes, and corn snakes. Their slender build and enlarged head for swallowing prey whole are key identifying features.

Maturation Rate

Young racers grow quickly, reaching sexual maturity by 2-3 years old. They mate in the spring following their second winter. North American racers have indeterminate growth, meaning they continue growing slowly throughout life. Most growth occurs during the first 3 years until maturation.

Habits and Behavior

North American racers are active during the day (diurnal) in warmer months but may become crepuscular in hot weather. They prefer open habitats like fields, prairies, and marsh edges over dense forest. Racers are quick to flee if approached, giving them their name. They can reach speeds up to 18 mph when evading threats.

Racers are highly territorial, using visual and chemical cues to recognize their home range. Males engage in combat dances of coiled posturing to defend territories. If picked up, racers may emit a foul musk, bite, and defecate to get free. Their defensive display consists of flattening coils, hissing, and vibrating the tail.

Despite their speedy nature, racers rarely bite in defense. They utilize camouflage and rapid escape to avoid confrontation. Bites typically only occur while handling the snake. Their enlarged head allows them to swallow eggs whole, aided by mild backward-curving teeth.

Reproduction and Lifespan

Mating occurs in the spring after emerging from brumation. Males engage in breeding balls where one female is courted by multiple males. Females lay clutches of 5-30 eggs in loose soil or rotting wood. The white, leathery eggs measure 1-1.4 inches (2.5-3.5 cm) long.

Incubation lasts 9-10 weeks before the 6-13 inch hatchlings emerge. North American racers can live up to 6 years in the wild. Their rapid speed aids in evading predators like hawks, coyotes, and bobcats.