North American Racer

North American Racer (Coluber constrictor)

General: Also called the black racer, this snake exists in 11 different subspecies across North America. It gets its name from the speed with which it slithers through its grassy and shrubland habitat.

Black racer

Black racer./J. Mays

Racers are black or blue-black with a pale belly and measure 3 to 5 feet long. They are not venomous. Racers are active during the day, when they hunt down and eat insects, lizards, small rodents, other snakes, and birds and their eggs.

Status: The northern black racer (Coluber constrictor constrictor) and the blue racer (Coluber constrictor foxii) live in the East and the Upper Midwest, respectively. Their populations are declining in those regions, where they are considered Species of Greatest Conservation Need in most states. Residential development, the maturing of forests, and the building of roads have reduced and fragmented their habitats.
How to Help Racers: Racers need grasslands, old fields, shrublands, and other habitats that lack tree-canopy cover and therefore grow plenty of thick low-level vegetation. They thrive in and along the edges of young forests, including those that are growing back following clearcut timber harvests or fires. Conservationists recommend habitat management practices that restore and maintain large patches of young regrowing forest and sunny shrubland.

Click on the map at left to see a larger image.

Both public and private landowners can make young forest habitat. The Young Forest Guide explains how.

Learn more about black racers at this webpage from the University of New Hampshire Extension Service, a partner in the Young Forest Project.

For more detailed information, including references to scientific papers, download Under Cover: Wildlife of Shrublands and Young Forest. This publication can also be purchased from the Wildlife Management Institute.

Visiting a habitat demonstration area within this species' range is a good way to increase your chances of seeing black racers and other young forest wildlife.