Fast Moving and Built for Speed, but Harmless
The southern black racer (Coluber constrictor priapus) is a common, non-venomous snake found in Florida and parts of the southeastern U.S. Its black body, gray belly and distinctive white chin are covered with rows of smooth dorsal scales. Adults are two to three feet long, although some reach six feet. It is believed to be color blind and like other snakes sheds its skin once a year.
Southern black racers like tall grass, shrubbery, thick brush and wooded areas. Most active in the daytime – thus the need for speed – it is often seen in residential areas. It is shy and timid by nature, but is less alarmed by the presence of humans than other snakes. If threatened, it may vibrate its tail, mimicking the behavior of a rattlesnake. It does not like being handled, and can become aggressive. While its bite is harmless, its needle-sharp teeth will hurt and may draw blood.
Black racers play a vital role in Florida’s complex ecology by eating small rodents, frogs, toads, lizards, eggs and other snakes as well. Unlike most constrictors, it does not coil itself around its prey. Instead, using its jaws, it overpowers its prey through suffocation or pressing its prey into the ground and swallowing it whole.
Racers breed at two to three years of age. Breeding occurs from March through June. Females lay up to 20 eggs and forget them. Hatchlings are about six inches long, and gray with reddish brown blotches. Black racers are on their own at birth – just 40% survive the first year; survivors may live 10 years.
Although it spends most of its time on the ground, the black racer is a good swimmer and great climber. It can often be found in trees or utility poles. The snake causes power outages by climbing up and onto overhead transformers or into an underground transformer.
The black racer is sometimes mistaken for the indigo snake. Black racers have white chins; the indigo snake’s chin is dark to reddish orange. Hawks, eagles, raccoons and skunks are the black racer’s main animal predators. Vehicles take their toll while others are killed out of fear of snakes or a mistaken identity.
Column & photos by Sandi Staton – email@example.com
Read the full Nature’s Reflections article in the June 2018 SECO News online.