Black Racer Snake Coluber constrictor
Family: Colubridae - Harmless Egg-Laying Snakes
Typical Adult Size: 30 to 60 inches
Eye Pupil: round
Dorsal Scales: smooth
Anal Scale: divided
Black Racers are slender black snakes of adult size from 30 to 60 inches in length. They are called "racers" because they are active, fast moving snakes. Usually, these snakes quickly slither to the safety of thick grass or brush when encountered. If cornered or grasped, they will bite viciously in defense. In South Carolina there are two subspecies of racers: northern (Coluber c. constrictor) and southern (Coluber c. priapus). Outwardly these subspecies are essentially identical. The northern subspecies is generally found above the fall line and the southern subspecies below. The species scientific name "constrictor" is a mistake. Racers are not constricting snakes.
Adult Black Racers are satiny or shiny black above and gray or bluish-gray on the belly. They have a white on the chin and throat. Juvenile racers begin life strongly marked with blotches of dark gray, brown and red. By the time they are 20 inches in length they should have acquired the adult coloration.
When most persons have encountered snakes they describe as "black snakes" they have usually encountered either the Black Racer or the Black Rat Snake. If the "black snake" quickly slithered away it probably was a Black Racer. If it froze in place or crawled deliberately away, it was probably a Black Rat Snake.
Black Racers are diurnal (daylight) hunters. They eat rodents, birds, frogs, lizards and insects. I once heard a loud squawking noise from my yard. It was about noon on a bright, warm summer day. Upon going outside to investigate, I found in the middle of the lawn a large Black Racer swallowing a medium-sized Bullfrog. It was the Bullfrog that was squawking.
The Black Racer is the only native snake species which I have ever seen attack a person who was not trying to capture or molest it. It was a warm May morning. My brother and I were loading bales of fescue hay onto a truck. My brother felt something hitting against his leg. Looking down he found a small adult Black Racer trying to bite him through his pant leg. Racers were common in the area so he just grasped the snake and tossed to the side so it would not be run over by the truck. Within a moment, the spunky little snake was back attacking his leg. This time he carried the snake further away before releasing it. Of course, the snake could not inflict any harm through the bluejeans. We speculated that we may have interrupted a male during courtship, but we did not see another Racer in the vicinity.
|Black Racer, Coluber constrictor|
|adult (33 inches)|
|adult (approx. 30 inches)|
|juvenile, showing newborn pattern (approx. 14 inches)|
|juvenile, 2 - 3 months, showing substantial reduction in pattern (16.5 inches)|
|juvenile, about to loose pattern|
|adult, holding still to avoid detection|
|adult (approx. 54 inches) spreading neck in threat display while retreating|
|adult in bush|
June 23, 2010
Contact: South Carolina Reptiles and Amphibians