Eastern Racer Coluber constrictor

Adult from Franklin County

Identification

Though commonly known by the moniker "blue racer", most Eastern Racers in Indiana are slate-gray to black with a whitish underbelly. In northwestern Indiana, Eastern Racers are blue with dark "masks" around the eyes. These slender snakes are aptly named for their speed and alertness; both of which are almost diagnostic as no other Indiana snake moves so quickly or gracefully. Though adults are uniformly dark on top, juveniles are gray-blue with red-brown blotches that fade with age. Though, not quite as long as Gray Ratsnakes, Eastern Racers can reach total lengths of around five feet (1.5 m). Coloration and geographic range separate the four of the eleven recognized subspecies that occur in the Midwest.

Adult from Newton County
Neonate from Brown County
Eggs from Floyd County

The Southern Black Racer (C. c. Priapus) and Northern Black Racer (C. c. constrictor) are uniformly shiny black above and dark gray below. Their throats are white, but little of this color extends onto the supralabial (upper lip) scales. Internal anatomical differences distinguish these subspecies. Geographic location differentiates this subspecies in the Midwest. The Blue Racer (C. c. foxii) is uniformly bluish gray, turquoise or olive with a white to yellow chin. The Eastern Yellow-Bellied Racer (C. c. flaviventris) is pale blue-gray to brown above with a bright yellow belly. In the Midwest, geographic location is the best way to distinguish between the Blue and Eastern Yellow-Bellied Racers.

Both Black Kingsnakes and Gray Ratsnakes are similar in appearance, but tend to have some visible patterning as adults. While Black Kingsnakes have diffuse speckling, Gray Ratsnakes tend to have more extensive checkered and diffuse banding. Eastern Racers are also more slender and have longer tails than either of the other common Indiana "black snakes". Juvenile Eastern Racers are similar to other blotched snakes in Indiana (Northern Watersnakes, Eastern Milksnakes, and Prairie Kingnsnake) but are more slender and have proportionally longer tails.

Ecology and Conservation

Eastern Racers prefer dry open fields, meadows, forest clearings, and prairies. They are active during daylight hours and can be relatively easy to spot in the field because they often forage with their head and neck raised above their body. Eastern Racers often bask in the sun in low brush and can quickly disappear from view, thus earning the name “racer.” They are the only species in the Midwest that will occasionally charge at a person; however, this behavior is a bluff and the Eastern Racer will retreat if challenged. Eastern Racers eat a variety of rodents, insects, amphibians, other reptiles, birds, and bird eggs.

Old Field in Monroe County
Rocky bluffs in Clark County

The Blue Racer is listed as a state species of Special Concern in Wisconsin and Minnesota.

Distribution

Eastern Racers are found throughout Indiana but are only prevalent in open habitat such as old fields, prairies, and meadows. These snakes are fast, diurnal predators that are most often seen on the move. Contrary to popular belief, Eastern Racers do not chase people, though they may give a short pursuit when cornered or threatened. This behavior is a bluff and when faced with someone who stands their ground, the snake will retreat. Eastern Racers will only bite when grabbed or pinned down.

In the Midwest, the Northern Black Racer is only found in southern Ohio, but its range extends south to parts of Tennessee, Kentucky, and Alabama, west to the Mid-Atlantic region, and north to southern Maine. The distribution of the Southern Black Racer extends from southern Illinois and Indiana, southwest to Arkansas and extreme northeast Texas, and east to south-central Florida. The Blue Racer is found from southeastern Minnesota to Wisconsin and Michigan, and south to Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio. In the Midwest, the Eastern Yellow-Bellied Racer is found in Iowa and Missouri. Its range also extends from Montana and North Dakota, south to the Gulf coast of Texas.

Taxonomy

Indiana is home to two subspecies--the Southern Black Racer (C. c. priapus) and the Blue Racer (C. c. foxii). The former is distributed through the northern portion of the state, and the latter in the southern portion; many animals in Indiana appear intermediate between these two subspecies. These snakes are members of the family Colubridae, which is represented by a total of 28 species in Indiana.

Literature Cited

Conant, R. and J. T . Collins. 1998. Reptiles and Amphibians of Eastern and Central North America. Third Edition, Expanded. Houghton Mifflin, New York, NY.

Minton, S. A. Jr. 2001. Amphibians and Reptiles of Indiana. Indiana Academy of Science, Indianapolis, IN.

Distribution Map
Distribution map of Eastern Racer (Coluber constrictor)
Photographs