A large adult racer in bad need of a shed on the crawl in the Sacramento Valley.
A little blotched juvenile racer strikes and crawls away defensively in the Modoc County Great Basin Desert.
A juvenile racer found under a rock in late January in Contra Costa County.
Not Dangerous (Non-poisonous) - This snake does not have venom that is dangerous to most humans.
Adults of the species are 20-75 inches long (51-190 cm), but snakes in California are typically under 3 feet long 91cm).
Hatchlings are 8 - 11 inches long (20 - 28 cm).
A slender snake with large eyes, a broad head and a slender neck, smooth scales, and a long thin tail.
Color and Pattern
Plain brown, blue-grey, or olive-green to green above and unmarked off-white or yellowish below.
Young have dark blotches on the sides and 70 - 85 dark blotches on the back.
At one time juveniles were thought to be a different species of snake than the adults due to the dramatic difference in appearance between the blotched juveniles and the plain-colored adults.
Life History and Behavior
Active in daylight.
Mainly terrestrial, but also a good climber.
Can be found in winter at denning sites along with other species of snakes.
Moves very quickly.
Often bites agressively.
Diet and Feeding
Eats lizards, small mammals, birds, eggs, snakes, small turtles and frogs, and large insects.
Cannibalism has been observed. (Herpetological Review 38(2), 2007)
Hunts crawling with head held high off the ground, sometimes moving it from side to side. Prey is killed by being quickly overcome and captured, crushed with the jaws or trapped under the body, and swallowed alive. Despite the species name, this snake is not a constrictor.
Females lay 3 - 11 eggs in mid summer, sometimes in communal nests.
Eggs hatch in late summer. (Stebbins & McGinnis 2012)
Prefers open areas with sunny exposure - meadows, grassland, sagebrush flats, brushy chaparral, woodlands, riparian areas such as pond edges, and forest openings. Found in arid and moist habitats, but not usually found in deserts or high mountains.
This subspecies, Coluber constrictor mormon - Western Yellow-bellied Racer, is found throughout most of california north and west of the Sierras, and south along the coast to the Baja California border. It is also found on Santa Cruz Island.
Outside of California the subspecies continues north through Oregon and eastern Washington into British Columbia, Canada, and east through parts of Idaho, Montana, and Utah into western Colorado, with some isolated populations in eastern Arizona and northwestern New Mexico.
The species Coluber constrictor - North American Racer, is very wide-ranging, occurring from coast to coast and from British Columbia all the way south to Guatemala.
Occurs from sea level to around 7,000 feet in elevation (2134 m).
Notes on Taxonomy
Coluber constrictor consists of 11 subspecies, but some herpetologists consider C. c. mormon to be a full species, Coluber mormon.
According to the SSAR list "Burbrink et al. (in rev.) have demonstrated using mtDNA that C. constrictor may be composed of six independently evolving lineages not concordant with most recognized subspecies."
Coluber - Latin - coluber snake or serpent
constrictor - Latin - one that constricts - misnomer, genus does not constrict mormon - Mormon - "found by Capt. Howard Stansbury's party, in the valley of the Great Salt Lake" settled by Mormon religionists
Stebbins, Robert C., and McGinnis, Samuel M. Field Guide to Amphibians and Reptiles of California: Revised Edition (California Natural History Guides) University of California Press, 2012.
Stebbins, Robert C. California Amphibians and Reptiles. The University of California Press, 1972.
Samuel M. McGinnis and Robert C. Stebbins. Peterson Field Guide to Western Reptiles & Amphibians. 4th Edition. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 2018.
Stebbins, Robert C. A Field Guide to Western Reptiles and Amphibians. 3rd Edition. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2003.
Behler, John L., and F. Wayne King. The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Reptiles and Amphibians. Alfred A. Knopf, 1992.
Powell, Robert., Joseph T. Collins, and Errol D. Hooper Jr. A Key to Amphibians and Reptiles of the Continental United States and Canada. The University Press of Kansas, 1998.
Bartlett, R. D. & Patricia P. Bartlett. Guide and Reference to the Snakes of Western North America (North of Mexico) and Hawaii. University Press of Florida, 2009.
Bartlett, R. D. & Alan Tennant. Snakes of North America - Western Region. Gulf Publishing Co., 2000.
Brown, Philip R. A Field Guide to Snakes of California. Gulf Publishing Co., 1997.
Ernst, Carl H., Evelyn M. Ernst, & Robert M. Corker. Snakes of the United States and Canada. Smithsonian Institution Press, 2003.
Wright, Albert Hazen & Anna Allen Wright. Handbook of Snakes of the United States and Canada. Cornell University Press, 1957.
The following conservation status listings for this animal are taken from the November 2020 California "Special Animals List" and the November 2020 "State and Federally Listed Endangered and Threatened Animals of California" list, both of which are produced by multiple agencies and available here: https://www.wildlife.ca.gov/Data/CNDDB/Plants-and-Animals. You can check the link to see if there are more recent lists.
If no status is listed here, the animal is not included on either list. This most likely indicates that there are no serious conservation concerns for the animal. To find out more about an animal's status you can go to the NatureServe and IUCN websites to check their rankings.
This snake is not included on the Special Animals List, which indicates that there are no significant conservation concerns for it in California.