Western Racer

October 26, 2015
Heidi Rockney and Karen Wu
Western Racer.

Western Racer. 
Photo: Heidi Rockney

Name: Western Racer (Coluber constrictor)
Order: Snakes (Squamata)
Family: Common Snakes (Colubridae)

Western Yellow-bellied Racer from Heidi Rockney on Vimeo.

What they look like

  • Depending on the subspecies, adult racers can be around 35 to 75 inches long.
  • They have narrow heads and long, slender, smooth bodies usually of a solid dark color, including black, gray, blue and olive brown.
  • Their undersides are always a light color, ranging from white to yellow. 

Where they live

  • View a map of where they live.
  • Racers can be found from southern Canada to Guatemala.
  • There are many subspecies of racers, each of which have very different ranges.
  • The western yellow-bellied racer (Coluber constrictor mormon) is a subspecies that can be found in eastern Washington as well as California, Nevada, western Colorado, Oregon, and southern British Columbia.
  • Racers are most often found in dry sunny areas with cover, including open woodland, open fields, hedgerows, thickets, and wood edges. They have also been seen in wetter areas like marshes, bogs, and lake edges.

What they eat

  • Young racers start out eating small animals, mostly insects, spiders, small frogs, small reptiles, and young rodents.
  • As they grow, they can eat larger animals, including nestling birds and their eggs, squirrels, small rabbits, small turtles, and larger snakes.

Breeding

  • Sometime between June and early July, females search for a suitable nest site, which can include a rotted stump or log, old mammal burrow, or a nest cavity in leaf litter or sand.
  • They lay 3-32 white oval eggs that will hatch in August or early September.

Cool Biology Facts

  • Despite its name, racers usually move at a speed of only 4 miles per hour.
  • If a predator manages to come really close, the racer will smear secretions from its scent glands all over its body.

Threats

  • Racers are abundant in most places, although they are rare in Maine, Louisiana, and the Canadian province of Ontario and are given legal protection in those areas.
  • Main threats include pesticide use, which threatens the insect-eating young, and habitat loss.
  • View their status on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species
Distribution Map

Map of Western Racer distribution in Washington state. Learn more on the NatureMapping Foundation website.

Explore more of the Amphibians & Reptiles of Washington or check out All About Amphibians.

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