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North American Racer - Coluber constrictor
Other Names:  Eastern Racer

Native Species

Global Rank: G5
State Rank: S5
(see State Rank Reason below)


Agency Status
USFWS:
USFS:
BLM:


 

External Links





State Rank Reason (see State Rank above)
Species is relatively common within suitable habitat and widely distributed across portions of the state
  • Details on Status Ranking and Review
    North American Racer (Coluber constrictor) Conservation Status Review
    Review Date = 05/03/2018
    Range Extent

    ScoreG - 200,000-2,500,000 km squared (about 80,000-1,000,000 square miles)

    Comment360,550 square Kilometers from Natural Heritage Program range maps

    Long-term Trend

    ScoreE - Relatively Stable (±25% change)

    CommentHabitat is likely stable within +/- 25% since European settlement.

    Short-term Trend

    ScoreU - Unknown. Short-term trend in population, range, area occupied, and number and condition of occurrences unknown.

    CommentNo data on trends available

    Threats

    ScoreH - Unthreatened. Threats if any, when considered in comparison with natural fluctuation and change, are minimal or very localized, not leading to significant loss or degradation of populations or area even over a few decades’ time. (Severity, scope, and/or immediacy of threat considered Insignificant.)

    CommentMortality due to basking on roads both directly from vehicle collisions and persecution due to increased visibility may contribute to higher mortality of reproductive aged individuals. Probably not a concern due to robust populations and a widespread dis

    SeverityInsignific - Essentially no reduction of population or degradation of habitat or ecological community due to threats, or populations, habitats, able to recover quickly (within 10 years) from minor temporary loss. Note that effects of locally sustainable levels of hunting, fishing, logging, collecting, or other harvest from wild populations are generally considered Insignificant as defined here.

    CommentAppears that population is stable even though this threat is operational

    ScopeModerate - 20-60% of total population or area affected

    CommentA significant portion of this species habitat has moderate to high road densities

    ImmediacyHigh - Threat is operational (happening now) or imminent (within a year).

    CommentOngoing

    Intrinsic Vulnerability

    ScoreB - Moderately Vulnerable. Species exhibits moderate age of maturity, frequency of reproduction, and/or fecundity such that populations generally tend to recover from decreases in abundance over a period of several years (on the order of 5-20 years or 2-5 generations); or species has moderate dispersal capability such that extirpated populations generally become reestablished through natural recolonization (unaided by humans).

    CommentModerately Vulnerable. Species exhibits moderate age of maturity, frequency of reproduction, and/or fecundity such that populations generally tend to recover from decreases in abundance within 5-20 years or 2-5 generations. Species has good dispersal ca

    Environmental Specificity

    ScoreC - Moderate. Generalist. Broad-scale or diverse (general) habitat(s) or other abiotic and/or biotic factors are used or required by the species but some key requirements are scarce in the generalized range of the species within the area of interest.

    CommentAssociated with diverse habitat types

    Raw Conservation Status Score

    Score 3.5 + 0 (geographic distribution) + 0 (environmental specificity) + 0 (long-term trend) + 1 (threats) = 4.5

 
General Description
EGGS:
White and oval with a granular surface. Eggs are approximately 33 mm (1.3 in) in length by 19 mm (0.75 in.) in width and are laid in groups of about 9-12. However, clutch size can vary widely (Hammerson 1999, Russell and Bauer 2000, Werner et al. 2004) and is closely correlated with female body length (Rosen 1991). Swain and Smith (1978) found an average weight of 8.7 g/egg (0.31oz/egg) for 89 eggs in Colorado.

NEONATES:
Newborns have a series of red/brown blotches dorsally interspersed with lighter colored scales and smaller brown spots along their sides giving them a banded appearance. Newborns average 33 cm (13 in) in total length (TL) and weigh approximately 5.5 g (0.19 oz) (Swain and Smith 1978, Werner et al. 2004). When young racers reach a total length of approximately 69 cm (27 in) in their second year this banded appearance fades into uniform adult coloration (Hammerson 1999, Werner et al. 2004).

JUVENILES AND ADULTS:
Slender with smooth scales and uniform blue, gray, or olive coloration dorsally and yellow coloration ventrally. The underside of the chin is white, or cream with 7-8 upper and 9-10 lower labial (lip) scales that are pale yellow, and large eyes with round pupils (Werner et al. 2004). Adults range 58-122 cm (23-48 in.) TL, with females typically larger than males.

Diagnostic Characteristics
Because of their banded appearance juveniles of the North American Racer can be confused with Gophersnakes (Pituophis catenifer); however, Gophersnakes have keeled or ridged scales.

Species Range
Montana Range Range Descriptions

Native

Western Hemisphere Range

 


Range Comments
As its common name implies, much of the range of the North American Racer or Eastern Racer is in the eastern United States. However, it is found across the Midwest and portions of the Dakotas linking it to Montana and further into the Pacific Northwest and southern British Columbia. Fringes and pockets of North American Racer are also found in California, Nevada, Utah, Wyoming, Colorado, Arizona, and New Mexico (Wilson 1978, Hammerson 1999, Russell and Bauer 2000, Werner et al. 2004). Currently, there are 11 subspecies of Coluber constrictor recognized but only the Eastern Yellow-bellied Racer (C. c. flaviventris), has been confirmed in Montana. Most records of this species in Montana are from the eastern part of the state and the drier valleys of western Montana (Maxell et al. 2003).

Maximum elevation: 2,718 m (8,916 ft) in Gallatin County, T.C. Jones (MTNHP 2024).


Observations in Montana Natural Heritage Program Database
Number of Observations: 1351

(Click on the following maps and charts to see full sized version) Map Help and Descriptions
Relative Density

Recency

 

(Observations spanning multiple months or years are excluded from time charts)



Migration
Non-migratory.

Habitat
North American Racer are typically found in open habitat including shortgrass prairie, sagebrush, badlands, and valley bottom grasslands (Hammerson 1999, Werner et al. 2004). While North American Racer are largely terrestrial, inhabiting rodent burrows and spaces under rocks, boards, and vegetation during spring and summer, they have also been observed climbing shrubs and trees and even swimming (Degenhardt et al. 1996, Hammerson 1999, Werner et al. 2004). In Wyoming, primary habitats are scarp woodlands of plains and foothills often near water (Baxter and Stone 1980). Some cover seems especially important on shortgrass prairie (Fitch 1963). In the northwest, North American Racers are generally absent from dense forest/high mountains (Nussbaum et al. 1983). Hibernacula have been found in rock piles, talus, and even abandoned wells and home foundations (Brown and Parker 1976, Herrington 1988, Hammerson 1999).

Ecological Systems Associated with this Species
  • Details on Creation and Suggested Uses and Limitations
    How Associations Were Made
    We associated the use and habitat quality (common or occasional) of each of the 82 ecological systems mapped in Montana for vertebrate animal species that regularly breed, overwinter, or migrate through the state by:
    1. Using personal observations and reviewing literature that summarize the breeding, overwintering, or migratory habitat requirements of each species (Dobkin 1992, Hart et al. 1998, Hutto and Young 1999, Maxell 2000, Foresman 2012, Adams 2003, and Werner et al. 2004);
    2. Evaluating structural characteristics and distribution of each ecological system relative to the species' range and habitat requirements;
    3. Examining the observation records for each species in the state-wide point observation database associated with each ecological system;
    4. Calculating the percentage of observations associated with each ecological system relative to the percent of Montana covered by each ecological system to get a measure of "observations versus availability of habitat".
    Species that breed in Montana were only evaluated for breeding habitat use, species that only overwinter in Montana were only evaluated for overwintering habitat use, and species that only migrate through Montana were only evaluated for migratory habitat use.  In general, species were listed as associated with an ecological system if structural characteristics of used habitat documented in the literature were present in the ecological system or large numbers of point observations were associated with the ecological system.  However, species were not listed as associated with an ecological system if there was no support in the literature for use of structural characteristics in an ecological system, even if point observations were associated with that system.  Common versus occasional association with an ecological system was assigned based on the degree to which the structural characteristics of an ecological system matched the preferred structural habitat characteristics for each species as represented in scientific literature.  The percentage of observations associated with each ecological system relative to the percent of Montana covered by each ecological system was also used to guide assignment of common versus occasional association.  If you have any questions or comments on species associations with ecological systems, please contact the Montana Natural Heritage Program's Senior Zoologist.

    Suggested Uses and Limitations
    Species associations with ecological systems should be used to generate potential lists of species that may occupy broader landscapes for the purposes of landscape-level planning.  These potential lists of species should not be used in place of documented occurrences of species (this information can be requested at: mtnhp.org/requests) or systematic surveys for species and evaluations of habitat at a local site level by trained biologists.  Users of this information should be aware that the land cover data used to generate species associations is based on imagery from the late 1990s and early 2000s and was only intended to be used at broader landscape scales.  Land cover mapping accuracy is particularly problematic when the systems occur as small patches or where the land cover types have been altered over the past decade.  Thus, particular caution should be used when using the associations in assessments of smaller areas (e.g., evaluations of public land survey sections).  Finally, although a species may be associated with a particular ecological system within its known geographic range, portions of that ecological system may occur outside of the species' known geographic range.

    Literature Cited
    • Adams, R.A.  2003.  Bats of the Rocky Mountain West; natural history, ecology, and conservation.  Boulder, CO: University Press of Colorado.  289 p.
    • Dobkin, D. S.  1992.  Neotropical migrant land birds in the Northern Rockies and Great Plains. USDA Forest Service, Northern Region. Publication No. R1-93-34.  Missoula, MT.
    • Foresman, K.R.  2012.  Mammals of Montana.  Second edition.  Mountain Press Publishing, Missoula, Montana.  429 pp.
    • Hart, M.M., W.A. Williams, P.C. Thornton, K.P. McLaughlin, C.M. Tobalske, B.A. Maxell, D.P. Hendricks, C.R. Peterson, and R.L. Redmond. 1998.  Montana atlas of terrestrial vertebrates.  Montana Cooperative Wildlife Research Unit, University of Montana, Missoula, MT.  1302 p.
    • Hutto, R.L. and J.S. Young.  1999.  Habitat relationships of landbirds in the Northern Region, USDA Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station RMRS-GTR-32.  72 p.
    • Maxell, B.A.  2000.  Management of Montana's amphibians: a review of factors that may present a risk to population viability and accounts on the identification, distribution, taxonomy, habitat use, natural history, and the status and conservation of individual species.  Report to U.S. Forest Service Region 1.  Missoula, MT: Wildlife Biology Program, University of Montana.  161 p.
    • Werner, J.K., B.A. Maxell, P. Hendricks, and D. Flath.  2004.  Amphibians and reptiles of Montana.  Missoula, MT: Mountain Press Publishing Company. 262 p.

Food Habits
North American Racer forage widely using rapid locomotion to locate prey (Herzog and Burghardt 1974, Plummer and Congdon 1996). Largely opportunistic, this species consumes their prey alive and without constriction as their scientific name suggests (Werner et al. 2004). Small mammals, grasshoppers, crickets, amphibians, and birds are all consumed by North American Racer (Schonberger 1945, Fitch 1963, Rosen 1991, Hammerson 1999, Werner et al. 2004). Orthopterans can form a major part of their diet and have been reported as food in northcentral Montana (Mosimann and Rabb 1952) and Oregon (Schonberger 1945). Individuals have even been documented eating other snake species (Hammerson 1999).

Ecology
North American Racer are active from late April to October (Hammerson 1999, Werner et al. 2004) and are most active during the day when the sun can warm body temperatures to approximately 30 °C (86 °F) (Plummer and Congdon 1996, Werner et al. 2004). Hibernation lasts from late October through April and is often communal and can even occur with other snake species (Swain and Smith 1978, Hammerson 1999). Survival over the hibernation period is high (>90%), but on average 60% of adults survive annually with only 20% of juveniles surviving their first year (Hammerson 1999).

Subsequent dispersal from hibernacula to summer ranges averaged 339 m (1,112 ft) in a population of C.c. flaviventris in Kansas (Fitch 1963). Brown and Parker (1976) found average dispersal distances from hibernacula to summer ranges for C.c. Mormon in Utah averaged 289 m (948 ft) and 739 m (2,425 ft) during 1966 and 1971-1972, respectively. Mean home range size for North American Racer in Kansas was 2.9 ha (7.2 ac) and 1.8 ha (4.5 ac) for males and females, respectively (Fitch 1963). Rosen (1991) found that larger C. c. foxii moved farther between relocations than did smaller individuals, indicating that larger individuals had larger home ranges possibly due to increased energetic demands.

Red-tailed Hawks (Buteo jamaicensis) have been observed killing North American Racer and it is likely that a suite of other animals prey on this species as well (Hammerson 1999). North American Racer can be relatively long-lived in the wild with a small percentage of individuals within a population >10 years old (Hammerson 1999).

Reproductive Characteristics
In Kansas, North American Racer breed after emerging from hibernation in the spring (Brown and Parker 1976). Roughly 90% of adult females lay eggs in late-June/early July (Hammerson 1999) and the females may deposit eggs in shallow burrows, abandoned rodent burrows, or rotting logs (Porchuk and Brooks 1995, Brown and Parker 1976, Hammerson 1999). Swain and Smith (1978) even found a communal nest with over 100 eggs under a large rock in Colorado. Clutch size can average from 5.8 (C. c. mormon) to 11.6 (C. c. flaviventris) (Fitch 1963, Fitch 1970, Brown and Parker 1976). Eggs will hatch after an average of 51 days in late August/early September and growth of hatchlings is best in years with abundant precipitation. Individuals can breed in their second spring; however, most females will deposit their first clutch of eggs at age four (Hammerson 1999).

Management
The following was taken from the Status and Conservation section for the North American Racer account in Maxell et al. 2009.

Eastern Racer are common and have been documented in 40 counties and on both sides of the Continental Divide in Montana (Maxell et al. 2003). There is some debate whether C.c. flaviventris occurs east of the divide and C.c. mormon occurs west of the divide; however, research has not been conducted to ascertain whether this separation, or integration, occurs (Maxell et al. 2003). Similar to other species of snakes, Eastern Racers may be negatively impacted by disturbance to their hibernacula. Because they are ectothermic, snakes do not respond to human disturbance as effectively at cooler temperatures, such as the overwintering period, than they would at warmer temperatures (Prior and Weatherhead 1994). In addition, because Eastern Racers can concentrate in large numbers and display substantial site fidelity year after year (Brown and Parker 1976, Swain and Smith 1978), they can be impacted by even small, localized disturbance if it occurs near hibernacula or nesting sites. For example, roadways and off-road vehicle (ORV) use may impact Eastern Racers if they occur near hibernacula or intersect movement to such areas. Snake mortality on roadways, at times in great numbers, has been documented widely with some drivers even purposely swerving to kill snakes (Langley et al. 1989, Krivda 1993, Rosen and Lowe 1994). In general, snakes near human population centers or areas with high levels of recreational use can experience mortality from humans, predation from pets or even predation from small carnivores that can exist at higher densities near human concentrations (Maxell and Hokit 1999). Although Eastern Racers are not venomous, they can bite when provoked (Degenhardt et al. 1996) and a general lack of knowledge about snakes coupled with deeply anchored fears sometimes leads humans to destroy snakes on sight, regardless of the species (Dodd 1993, Maxell and Hokit 1999). In addition, popular large-scale Western Diamondback Rattlesnake (Crotalus atrox) roundups are known to kill not only thousands of the targeted species, but also many other incidental species including Eastern Racers (Weir 1992). Near homes and construction sites plastic netting, commonly used to protect fruit trees and gardens from pests, has also been found to entangle and kill Eastern Racers (Stuart et al. 2001). Although Eastern Racers are beneficial to farmers through consumption of agricultural pests and possibly disease control, mowing has been shown to kill large numbers of Eastern Racers (Degenhardt et al. 1996, Hammerson 1999, Werner et al. 2004). Chemical contamination may adversely affect snakes (Werner et al. 2004); however, changes in agricultural practices and federal laws can sometimes mitigate these impacts. For example, DDT levels in snakes have declined since the banning of the pesticide (Fleet and Plapp 1978). Snakes may harbor pollutants indicative of overall environmental health (Bauerle et al. 1975, Stafford et al. 1976, Anderson 1977), thereby adding to the value of their conservation and persistence. In addition, rattlesnakes (e.g. Crotalus sp.) consume deer mice (Peromyscus maniculatus) and other rodents which may help control the spread of harmful viruses such as hantavirus (Degenhardt et al. 1996).

References
  • Literature Cited AboveLegend:   View Online Publication
    • Anderson, M.E. 1977. Aspects of the ecology of two sympatric species of Thamnophis and heavy metal accumulation with the species. M.S. thesis, University of Montana, Missoula. 147 pp.
    • Bauerle, B., D.L. Spencer, and W. Wheeler. 1975. The use of snakes as pollution indicator species. Copeia 1975: 366-368.
    • Baxter, G.T. and M.D. Stone. 1980. Amphibians and reptiles of Wyoming. Wyoming Game & Fish Department, Cheyenne. 137 pp.
    • Brown, W.S. and W.S. Parker. 1976b. Movement ecology of Coluber constrictor near communal hibernacula. Copeia 1976(2): 225-242.
    • Degenhardt, W. G., C. W. Painter, and A. H. Price. 1996. Amphibians and reptiles of New Mexico. University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque.
    • Dodd, C.K., Jr. 1993. Strategies for snake conservation. In Snakes; ecology and behavior. Ed. R. A. Seigel and J. T. Collins. 363-393. New York: McGraw-Hill.
    • Fitch, H.S. 1963. Natural history of the racer, coluber constrictor. University of Kansas Museum of Natural History Publication 15(8): 351-468.
    • Fitch, H.S. 1970. Reproductive cycles in lizards and snakes. University of Kansas. Museum Natural History Miscellaneous Publication 52:1-247.
    • Fleet, R.R. and F.W. Plapp, Jr. 1978. DDT residues in snakes decline since DDT ban. Bulletin of Environmental Contaminants and Toxicology 19: 383-388.
    • Hammerson, G.A. 1999. Amphibians and reptiles in Colorado. University Press of Colorado & Colorado Division of Wildlife. Denver, CO. 484 p.
    • Herrington, R.E. 1988. Talus use by amphibians and reptiles in the Pacific Northwest. Pages 216-221 in R.C. Szaro, K.E. Severson, and D.R. Patton, technical coordinators. Management of amphibians, reptiles, and small mammals in North America. General Tech
    • Herzog, H.A., Jr. and G.M. Burghardt. 1974. Prey movement and predatory behavior of juvenile western yellow-bellied racers, Coluber constrictor mormon. Herpetologica 30(3): 285-289.
    • Krivda, W. 1993. Road kills of migrating garter snakes at The Pas, Manitoba. Blue Jay 51(4): 197-198.
    • Langley, W.M., H.W. Lipps, and J.F. Theis. 1989. Responses of Kansas motorists to snake models on a rural highway. Transactions of the Kansas Academy of Science 92(1-2) 43-48.
    • Maxell, B.A. and D.G. Hokit. 1999. Amphibians and reptiles. Pages 2.1– 2.30 In G. Joslin and H. Youmans, committee chairs. Effects of recreation on Rocky Mountain wildlife: a compendium of the current state of understanding in Montana. Committee on Effects of Recreation on Wildlife, Montana Chapter of the Wildlife Society.
    • Maxell, B.A., J.K. Werner, P. Hendricks, and D.L. Flath. 2003. Herpetology in Montana: a history, status summary, checklists, dichotomous keys, accounts for native, potentially native, and exotic species, and indexed bibliography. Society for Northwestern Vertebrate Biology, Northwest Fauna Number 5. Olympia, WA. 135 p.
    • Maxell, B.A., P. Hendricks, M.T. Gates, and S. Lenard. 2009. Montana amphibian and reptile status assessment, literature review, and conservation plan, June 2009. Montana Natural Heritage Program. Helena, MT. 643 p.
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    • Nussbaum, R.A., E.D. Brodie, Jr. and R.M. Storm. 1983. Amphibians and reptiles of the Pacific Northwest. University of Idaho Press. Moscow, ID. 332 pp.
    • Plummer, M.V. and J.D. Congdon. 1996. Rates of metabolism and water flux in free-ranging racers, Coluber constrictor. Copeia 1: 8-14.
    • Porchuk, B.D. and R.J. Brooks. 1995. Coluber constrictor (blue racer), Elaphe vulpina (eastern fox snake) and Chelydra serpentina (snapping turtle). Reproduction. Herpetological Review 26(3): 148.
    • Prior, K.A. and P.J. Weatherhead. 1994. Response of free-ranging eastern Massasauga rattlesnakes to human disturbance. Journal of Herpetology 28(2): 255-257.
    • Rosen, P.C. 1991. Comparative ecology and life history of the racer (Coluber constrictor) in Michigan. Copeia 1991:897-909.
    • Rosen, P.C. and C.H. Lowe. 1994. Highway mortality of snakes in the Sonoran desert of southern Arizona. Biological Conservation 68: 143-148.
    • Russell, A. P. and A. M. Bauer. 2000. The Amphibians and Reptiles of Alberta: A field guide and primer of boreal herpetology. University of Calgary Press, Toronto, Ontario. 279 p.
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    • Stafford, D.P., F.W. Plapp, Jr., and R.R. Fleet. 1976. Snakes as indicators of environmental contamination: relation of detoxifying enzymes and pesticide residues to species occurrence in three aquatic ecosystems. Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology 5 :15-27.
    • Stuart, J.N., M.L. Watson, T.L. Brown, and C. Eustice. 2001. Plastic netting: an entanglement hazard to snakes and other wildlife. Herpetological Review 32(3): 162-164.
    • Swain, T.A. and H.M. Smith. 1978. Communal nesting in Coluber constrictor in Colorado (Reptilia: Serpentes). Herpetologica 34(2): 175-177.
    • Weir, J. 1992. The Sweetwater rattlesnake round-up: A case study in environmental ethics. Conservation Biology 6: 116-127.
    • Werner, J.K., B.A. Maxell, P. Hendricks and D.L. Flath. 2004. Amphibians and Reptiles of Montana. Mountain Press Publishing Company: Missoula, MT. 262 pp.
    • Wilson, L.D. 1978. Coluber constrictor. Catalogue of American Amphibians and Reptiles 218.1-218.4.
  • Additional ReferencesLegend:   View Online Publication
    Do you know of a citation we're missing?
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    • Campbell, C.A., D.W. Perrin, J.M. Macartney, B. Porchuk, F.R. Cook, and R.J. Brooks. 1991. Status Report on the Racer, Coluber constrictor. Committee On the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC). 42 P.
    • Cavitt, J.F. 2000. Fire and a tallgrass prairie reptile community: effects on relative abundance and seasonal activity. 34(1): 12-20.
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North American Racer — Coluber constrictor.  Montana Field Guide.  .  Retrieved on , from