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A Guide to the Amphibians
and Reptiles of California


Red Racer - Coluber flagellum piceus

(Cope, 1892)

(= Red Coachwhip - Masticophis flagellum piceus)
Click on a picture for a larger view



Coluber flagellum California Range Map
Range in California: Red

Click the map for a guide
to the other subspecies




observation link





Red Racer
Red Racer Red Racer Red Racer Red Racer
Adult, Inyo County desert Adult, Riverside County desert
Red Racer Red Racer Red Racer Red Racer
Adult, coastal Riverside County Adult, coastal San Diego County © Linda Morgan
Red Racer Red Racer Red Racer Red Racer
Adult, San Bernardino County
Photos by Patrick H. Briggs, courtesy Tom Moisi
Adult, Kern County desert
© Brad Alexander
Adult, coastal Los Angeles County
© Gregory Litiatco
Red Racer Red Racer Red Racer Red Racer
Adult, coastal Riverside County Underside of adult, Tehachapi mountins, Kern County © Todd Battey Juvenile, San Diego County Adult with a lot of black on the front, San Diego County. © TexturePop.com
Red Racer Red Racer Red Racer Red Racer
This adult racer was photographed for about 20 minutes as it poked its head in and out then slowly emerged from a hole barely larger than itself in San Diego County
© Douglas S. Brown
Red Racer Red Racer Red Racer Red Racer
Adult, San Diego County near the Orange County border © Stacy Schenkel
Red Racer Red Racer    
Adult, San Diego County near the Orange County border © Stacy Schenkel This juvenile snake, about 15 inches in length, wandered into a house in Orange County. © Kiahna Garcia    
       
Red Racers From Outside California
Red Racer Red Racer Red Racer Red Racer
Adult, Yuma County, Arizona Tracks on a sandy road.
A large racer crossed part of this road in Arizona. When I startled the snake, it quickly doubled back the way it came.
Red Racer Red Racer Red Racer  
Adult, Nye County, Nevada
 
   
Breeding Behavior
Red Racer Red Racer    
Two Red Racers mating in late May in Orange County. © Mark Pugs
   
     
Feeding
Red Racer Red Racer Red Red Racer  
Adult Red Racer eating a San Diego Alligator Lizard, Ventura County.
© Samantha Zahringer.

Samantha Zahringer watched this coachwhip eat the lizard by her back door. Her kids saw the snake raise its neck, sway for a moment, then strike quickly. Two other lizards nearby froze while the snake swallowed. When the snake finished, the lizards finally moved away.

Though they are not mainly snake-eaters, Red Racers will eat whatever they can find and overpower, including snakes. Darrel Roberts found this one eating a young Southwestern Speckled Rattlesnake in his Phoenix driveway one morning.  © Darrel Roberts  
Southern Desert Horned Lizard Southern Desert Horned Lizard Southern Desert Horned Lizard Southern Desert Horned Lizard
Southern Desert Horned Lizard Southern Desert Horned Lizard Southern Desert Horned Lizard Southern Desert Horned Lizard
Jay Snow took this series (left to right, top to bottom) of a Red Racer trying to eat a live Southern Desert Horned Lizard over a period of 44 minutes. The snake failed to swallow the lizard and crawled away. In the last picture you can see that the lizard lay prone for several minutes after the coachwhip left then took up to 15 minutes to clean the saliva off its face before slowly walking away, no doubt thankful for the row of horns behind its head.
© Jay Snow
Coast Gartersnake eating a bird Coast Gartersnake eating a bird    
Coachwhips are excellent climbers. This large adult is eating a
dove high in a tree in Maricopa County, Arizona. © Darrell Roberts
   
       
Plastic Landscaping Netting Can Be Hazardous to Snakes
Red Racer Red Racer    
This Red Racer was found dead, entagled in mesh laid on the ground as part of an abandoned landscaping project on a highway in Palmdale, Los Angeles County.
© Paul J. Burke
   
     
Habitat
Red Racer Habitat Red Racer Habitat Desert Glossy Snake Habitat Mohave Glossy Snake Habitat
Habitat, coastal Riverside County Habitat, San Diego County desert riparian Habitat, early spring, San Gorgonio Pass desert, Riverside County Habitat, Inyo County desert
Red Racer Habitat Red Racer Habitat Red Racer Habitat Desert Tortoise Habitat
Habitat, San Bernardino County desert Habitat, Riverside County desert Habitat, San Diego County desert Habitat, desert flats, Kern County
Northern Mohave Rattlesnake Habitat Red Racer Habitat    
Habitat, Los Angeles County desert

Habitat, desert on the CA Border,
Nye County, Nevada
   
       
Short Videos
Red Racer Red Racer    
I saw this Red Racer foraging in the desert in San Diego County before it saw me. After turning around in my direction, it saw me, raised its head off the ground in a state of alert, wiggled its neck back and forth while holding its head still, then turned around and raced away over the rocks into a bush.
A juvenile Red Racer ready to shed its skin is found under a board in Riverside County then races away into the grass.    
     
Description

Not Dangerous (Non-poisonous)  -  This snake does not have venom that is dangerous to most humans.

Size
Adults of this species are 36 - 102 inches long (91 - 260 cm.)
Hatchlings are about 13 inches long.

Appearance
A slender fast-moving snake with smooth scales, a large head and eyes, a thin neck, and a long thin tail.
Large scales above the eyes.
17 scale rows at mid body.
The braided appearance of scales on the tail (like a whip) gives this snake its common name.
Color and Pattern
Coloration is variable; light brown, pink or reddish above with pink, brown, or black bands across the neck.
Black and yellow phases of this subspecies are found outside of California.
The dark coloring is interspersed with light coloring creating a banded or saddled appearance, with dark coloring surrounding the light scales.
Color typically changes to a solid tan or reddish coloring along the length of the long thin tail.

Life History and Behavior

Activity
Active in the daytime.
Good climbers, able to climb bushes and trees.
Seen moving quickly even on hot sunny days, but often seen basking on roads in early morning or resting underneath boards or other surface objects.
Frequently run over by vehicles and found dead on the road, partly due to the tendency of this snake to stop and eat small road-killed animals.
Defense
Often strikes agressively when threatened or handled.
Diet and Feeding
Eats small mammals including bats, nestling and adult birds, bird eggs, lizards, snakes, amphibians, and carrion. Hatchlings and juveniles will eat large invertebrates.

An adult Red Racer was observed swallowing the head and neck of a live Southern Pacific Rattlesnake that it had pinned to the ground with its body.
(Herpetological Review 45 2 2014)

Hunts crawling with head the held high above the ground, occasionally moving it from side to side. The prey is overcome and crushed with the jaws or beneath loops of the body and eaten without constriction. (I was told that one was seen jumping about 3 feet in the air after a bird.)

Breeding
Lays eggs in early summer. Eggs hatch in 45 - 70 days.

Habitat
Inhabits open areas of desert, grassland, scrub, and sagebrush, including rocky, sandy, flat, and hilly ground. Avoids dense vegetation.
Takes refuge in rodent burrows, under shaded vegetation, and under surface objects.

Geographical Range
This subspecies, Coluber flagellum piceus - Red Racer, is found throughout southern California from Ventura county to the Baja California border and north around the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada Mountains though the Great Basin desert into northwestern Nevada, and south through Nevada and much of Arizona to part of Sonora and Baja California. It apparently intergrades with C. f. rudocki in eastern Kem County.

The species Coluber flagellum - Coachwhip, occurs very widely across the southern half of the U.S. from southern California east to Florida, and far south into Mexico, including northeast Baja California.

Full Species Range Map
Notes on Taxonomy
North American snakes formerly placed in the genus Masticophis have been changed to the genus Coluber based on a 2004 paper * by Nagy et al. Utiger et al. (2005, Russian Journal of Herpetology 12:39-60) supported Nagy et al. and synonymized Masticophis with Coluber. This has not been universally accepted. The most recent SSAR list has hinted that the genus Masticophis might be re-instated: "Burbrink (pers. comm.) has data to reject Nagy et al.’s hypothesis but we await publication of these data before reconsidering the status of Masticophis."

Five or six subspecies of Coluber flagellum are recognized. Only two occur in California, including the San Joaquin Coachwhip - C. f. ruddocki (or three by those who recognize the Baja Coachwhip - Coluber fuliginosus to be a subspecies of C. flagellum - C. f. fuliginosus.)


Alternate and Previous Names (Synonyms)

Coluber flagellum piceus (Nagy et al 2004)
Masticophis flagellum piceus
- Red Racer (Stebbins 2003, 2012)
Masticophis flagellum piceus - Red Coachwhip (Red Racer) (Stebbins 1985)
Masticophis flagellum piceus - Red Racer (Wright & Wright 1957, Stebbins 1966)
Masticophis flagellum piceus - ssp. of Common Whipsnake (Stebbins 1954)
Masticophis flagellum piceus - Western Whip Snake (Van Denburgh 1897)
Masticophis flagellum piceus (Cope 1892)
Masticophis flagellum (Shaw 1802)

Conservation Issues  (Conservation Status)
None

Taxonomy
Family Colubridae Colubrids Oppel, 1811
Genus Coluber North American Racers, Coachwhips and Whipsnakes Linnaeus, 1758
Species flagellum Coachwhip Shaw, 1802
Subspecies

piceus Red Racer (or Red Coachwhip) (Cope, 1892)
Original Description
Masticophis flagellum - (Shaw, 1802) - Gen. Zool., Vol. 3, p. 475
Masticophis flagellum piceus - (Cope, 1892) - Proc. U.S. Natl. Mus., Vol. 14, p. 625

from Original Description Citations for the Reptiles and Amphibians of North America © Ellin Beltz

Meaning of the Scientific Name
Coluber - Latin - coluber snake or serpent
flagellum
- Latin - whip - refers to the body shape and braided look of tail
piceus - Latin - pitch black - refers to the black morph of subspecies

from Scientific and Common Names of the Reptiles and Amphibians of North America - Explained © Ellin Beltz

Alternate Names
Red Coachwhip
Masticophis flagellum piceus


Related or Similar California Snakes
C. f. ruddocki - San Joaquin Coachwhip
C. fuliginosus - Baja California Coachwhip
S. h. hexalepis - Desert Patch-nosed Snake
S. h. mojavensis - Mohave Patch-nosed Snake
S. h. virgultea - Coast Patch-nosed Snake

More Information and References
California Department of Fish and Wildlife

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.

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.

* Z. T. Nagy, Robin Lawson, U. Joger and M. Wink. Molecular systematics of Racers, Whipsnakes and relatives (Reptilia: Colubridae) using Mitochondrial and Nuclear Markers. Journal of Zoological Systematics and Evolutionary Research (Volume 42 pages 223–233). 2004

Conservation Status

The following status listings are copied from the 2017 Special Animals List and the 2017 Endangered and Threatened Animals List which are published by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

If no status is listed here, the animal is not included on either CDFW 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.

Check here to see the most current complete lists.


This snake is not included on the Special Animals List, which indicates that there are no significant conservation concerns for it in California.


Organization
Status Listing
NatureServe Global Ranking
NatureServe State Ranking
U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA) None
California Endangered Species Act (CESA) None
California Department of Fish and Wildlife None
Bureau of Land Management None
USDA Forest Service None
IUCN

 

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