Panther Island Adventures!

Panther Island is 2,800 acres of restored wetland and upland habitats situated in the northwest corner of Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary's 13,000 acres. It is home to numerous plants and animals including the Florida panther and the iconic wood stork.
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Monday, September 19, 2011

Critter of the Week: Black Racer Snake (Coluber constrictor)

 One of the most common snakes I see on Panther Island is the black racer (Coluber constrictor). There are numerous subspecies of this snake throughout the eastern United States. These guys can get pretty long (up to 60 in). They typically have some white under the chin and will be smooth scaled and have large eyes. There is quite a bit of variation within the species though, and they can be mistaken for other species of larger snakes in the area. Behavior is a great way to identify this snake. Most snakes will freeze, but these guys will often "race" away when they feel threatened; but don't be fooled, when cornered they will stand their ground and attempt to strike. Young racers do not look like adults; instead they are often tan or greyish with a series of brown or reddish blotches that run down the middle of their backs. And their eyes are typically larger and bodies more slender than most young snakes. Once about 12 inches they will lose their juvenile coloring.

 Black racers can be found in a variety of habitats.They are opportunistic predators; in Florida, they feed on frogs, lizards, and other snakes (along with rodents, birds, eggs, etc). I found the snake in the photo to the left by following the sound of it rapidly moving its tail in the leaf litter! I thought I was on the trail of a rattlesnake when I saw this racer consuming another snake. They are not constrictors; instead they bite their prey and hold them down against the ground until it stops moving, and then prey is consumed while alive. While primarily terrestrial, as seen in the top photo, they are quite adept at climbing vegetation. Breeding occurs from March through June. Females will lay 6-20 eggs during the summer (May through August), and the newborns are a mere 6-9 inches long.

The photo above was taken on the fringe of a cypress forest (using a telephoto lens). This black racer is getting ready to shed (a process known as ecdysis)! Note its opaque eye...sign of shedding. This milky coloring is actually the result of the eye cap (a specially adapted scale that covers the eye) being loosened up in order to be shed along with the rest of the skin.


  1. I need to know about black racer because I have children and pets that play outside sometimes. Also, there is a black racer that hangs out in a particular area of our yard. Is it true that black racer snakes are the predators of rattlesnakes?

    black racer

  2. It is not true, I know a lot about racers and they are not poisonous or harmful they usually kill rodents and lizards but in some cases when a Black Racer is teased it could bite.Its not poisonous but its mouth is very dirty so you would probably want to go to the doctor, just incase you don't get sick! I hope this would help you (drewwilliam) and I hope you and your family will be safe.