Coluber flagellum piceus - Red Racer
Considered harmless to humans.
Adults of this species are 36 - 102 inches long (91 - 260 cm.) Hatchlings are about 13 inches long.
A slender fast-moving snake with smooth scales, a large head and eyes, and a thin neck. Large scales above eyes. 17 scale rows at mid body. 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. The braided appearance of scales on the tail (like a whip) gives this snake its common name.
Active in the daytime. 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. Often strikes agressively when threatened or handled. 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 road-killed small animals.
Eats small mammals including bats, nestling and adult birds, bird eggs, lizards, snakes, amphibians, and carrion. Hatchlings and juveniles will eat large invertebrates.
Lays eggs in early summer. Eggs hatch in 45 - 70 days.
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 Baja California, and mainland Mexico.
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.
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.)