One of Florida’s most familiar snakes is the “blacksnake” or, more properly, the southern black racer. Aptly named for its color and speed, the black racer is common in a wide variety of habitats, most frequently in brush- or shrub covered areas near water. The adult racer is a slender, satiny snake, plain black or slate gray with a white or gray chin and throat, usually between 36 and 60 inches long. Until they are about a year old, young racers are slate gray with rusty brown blotches running down the back. Black racers are nervous, irritable, and fast-moving.
When given a chance to escape, they generally do so very quickly. However, racers, especially juveniles, will not hesitate to bite when cornered. They also vibrate their tails when they feel threatened, causing some people to mistake them for rattlesnakes. Racers are non-venomous and are harmless to people. Unlike many snakes, the black racer hunts actively during daylight hours, one reason why they are frequently noticed. Part of the racer’s success is due to its diverse diet. Racers capture a tremendous variety of animals, including other snakes, rats, mice, lizards, frogs, birds, and insects. While hunting in open areas, the racer often raises its head high above the ground, cobra-style, to survey its surroundings better. Many of these characteristics are shared with the racer’s larger cousin, the eastern coachwhip.
Racers are found throughout Florida and chances are you have already seen one, even if you might not have known what species it was. Be sure to look closely in open areas during the early hours of the day as racers like to bask in the morning sun, coiled up and partially hidden in the grass or leaf litter. When startled or approached briskly, racers often live up to their name and disappear at great speed. If approached slowly and carefully, great views can be obtained. Black Racers are very photogenic when they don’t feel threatened and are given the respect and space they deserve.
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