Southern Black Racer: Coluber Constrictor Priapus

Due to its diurnal habits, the nonvenomous Black Racer is one of the most frequently encountered Florida snakes. Though Florida hosts several other dark serpents, the Black Racer is easily identified from a distance by its slender, elegant build, quick movements, jet black upper parts and contrasting white chin and belly. Young racers look completely unlike the adults and are ornately patterned in rust and gray. The juveniles’ gaudy coloration gradually darkens and disappears with age.

Facts About the Southern Black Racer Snake

Common in grasslands, open woodlands and suburban areas, the racer is often found near water where its prey is plentiful. A lively daytime predator with excellent vision, it is plain to see how this speedy, agile snake got its name as it actively hunts down frogs, rodents, lizards, fish, insects and other snakes. Despite the snake’s common name, the Racer is not a constrictor. Rather, it simply overpowers its prey and usually swallows it alive. Because of its predations on crop-damaging and disease-carrying rodents, the Black Racer has been colloquially called “the farmer’s friend” and designated the state reptile of Ohio.

How Does the Southern Black Racer Breed?

Mature Black Racers can grow 30 to 60 inches in length with a record length of 72 inches. Part of a complex of several very differently-colored but closely-related snakes collectively known as the Eastern Racer, the species as a whole ranges across much of the United States east of the Rocky Mountains, as far north as southern Canada, and south into Mexico, Guatemala and Belize. Breeding and nesting occurs in the spring with females laying up to 30 eggs under debris or in a burrow.

Are Southern Black Racer Snakes Venomous?

The Racer is nonvenomous and is harmless to humans. They usually rely on their speed to escape from potential predators. They will also, especially when young, ward off potential threats by vibrating their tail tips in a rapid tattoo which, on dry leaves, can sound convincingly like a rattlesnake. However, like many wild animals, if cornered, racers will put up a spirited fight, biting hard and vigorously. If seized, they will writhe, flail, bite and release a rank-smelling musk in a bid for freedom. Like all wildlife, the Black Racer is to be respected and is best appreciated from a distance.

What Does the Southern Black Racer Snake Eat?

Like all snakes, the Southern Black Racer snake is carnivorous, subsisting mostly on amphibians and small mammals. However, this speedy predator has also been known to eat insects, lizards, moles, small snakes, birds, eggs, frogs, and rodents. Basically, anything it can catch and overpower. The natural enemies of black racers include cats and dogs, coyotes, and birds of prey, including the broad-winged hawk and red-shouldered hawk. Even these speedy snakes are no match for the element of surprise these birds use when hunting their prey. They simply swoop down and grab the snake.

Ecologically, their diet is considered garden-friendly, since they prey upon many of the animals that eat garden plants and crops.

How Fast is a Black Racer Snake?

Southern Black Racers are speedy snakes, slithering around at speeds of approximately four miles an hour (6.5 kilometers an hour). This is about the same rate as a human walking fast or jogging slowly. They use their speed to flee into nearby tall grasses, trees, or bushes to hide from predators. They are also agile climbers and adept swimmers. Their smooth scales and skin play a role in their speed, and they generally shed their skin yearly.

The snake usually chooses flight over fight, but if they are cornered, they will lash out and bite repeatedly. While they are not venomous, the bites are painful and can become infected. Therefore, these snakes, like all snakes, should be approached with caution.

How Many Babies Does a Black Racer Snake Have?

The Southern Black Racer generally breeds between March and August. The females lay about 23 eggs per clutch. The young snakes are about 6 inches (15 cm) long and can fend for themselves upon emerging from their eggs. Like most snakes, the southern Black Racers don’t protect their young.

Approximately 40% of the newly born Southern Black Racers will survive through the first year of life. The average amount of snakes that reach adulthood out of a clutch of eggs is approximately eight.

The young racers coloring is blotched gray to reddish-brown, and of course, are smaller than the adults, whose average size is 20-55 inches. The longest recorded length of an adult Southern Black Racer is 72 inches.