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What is a Red Racer Snake?

By Henry Gaudet
Updated May 21, 2024
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The red racer, also known as the masticophis pisceus or red coachwhip, is a non-venomous snake native to southern California, Arizona and Nevada in the United States and Baja California and Sonora in Mexico. Red racers are slender snakes, with adults ranging from 36 to 102 inches (90 to 260 cm) long. Their scales along the back are red, tan, pink or brown, and they have black bands around the neck. Pink scales cover the underside. Distinctive scales on its tail appear to be braided like a whip, resulting in the name “coachwhip.”

These snakes tend to avoid forest areas and dense vegetation, preferring the open, rocky country of the desert. They move quickly and can be found crawling through grasslands and sagebrush on flat or hilly terrain. Red racers often seek shelter in crawlspaces and gaps under rocks and vegetation or in rodent burrows.

Like all snakes, red racers are aggressive predators, living on a diet of small animals, including mice, lizards, other snakes, birds and their eggs, bats and amphibians. Carrion also will be eaten, but the feeding response is cued by vision as often as scent, and live prey often is preferred. Prey is captured and crushed in the snake’s jaws or pinned under its coils, but the red racer is not a constrictor and does not squeeze its prey to death.

As a reptile, the red racer is cold-blooded and is able to move faster on hot, sunny days. The red racer crawls with its head raised over ground cover, and it is able to climb bushes and trees. While hunting, the snake will sway from side to side. Like other snakes, red racers often seek out warm places where they can bask in the sunlight, such as roads. Red racers commonly end up crushed under tires along the highway.

Female red racers lay eggs in early summer. The eggs hatch in 45 to 70 days, with the hatchlings measuring about 13 inches (33 cm) long. A newly hatched red racer will not yet have the black stripes marking its neck. Before growing large enough to manage an adult diet, hatchlings will prey on large invertebrates such as insects, spiders and scorpions.

Red racers are known to be quite aggressive when threatened, attacked or handled. Although not venomous, the red racer will bite and is likely to attack anyone who attempts to get close. Given the opportunity, it also will try to escape. Some people do keep red racers, but they are not recommended as pets.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a Red Racer Snake?

The Red Racer Snake, also known as the Red Coachwhip or Masticophis flagellum piceus, is a subspecies of the nonvenomous Colubrid family. It's known for its striking reddish coloration and impressive speed. These snakes are native to the southwestern United States and are active hunters, preying on rodents, lizards, and birds.

Where can you find Red Racer Snakes in the wild?

Red Racer Snakes are commonly found in arid regions of the southwestern United States, particularly in states like California, Nevada, and Arizona. They thrive in desert scrublands, grasslands, and open areas where they can utilize their speed to chase down prey and evade predators.

How do Red Racer Snakes behave in their natural habitat?

In their natural habitat, Red Racer Snakes are diurnal, meaning they are active during the day. They are known for their agility and speed, which they use to hunt prey or escape threats. These snakes are solitary and typically only come together for mating purposes. They are also excellent climbers and can be found on trees or shrubs.

What do Red Racer Snakes eat?

Red Racer Snakes have a varied diet that includes small mammals like rodents, as well as lizards, birds, and insects. Their hunting strategy involves actively pursuing prey with quick movements and then overpowering it. They are constrictors, meaning they will coil around their prey to subdue it before consumption.

Are Red Racer Snakes dangerous to humans?

Red Racer Snakes are not considered dangerous to humans as they are nonvenomous and generally avoid human contact. If threatened, they may exhibit defensive behaviors such as hissing or striking, but they do not possess venom. Bites from a Red Racer Snake are rare and typically result from deliberate handling or provocation.

How do Red Racer Snakes reproduce?

Red Racer Snakes are oviparous, meaning they lay eggs. Mating occurs in the spring, and females will lay a clutch of 4 to 24 eggs in the early summer. The eggs are typically deposited in a hidden location like a burrow or under rocks. The young snakes are independent from birth and receive no parental care.

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Discussion Comments

By anon337989 — On Jun 09, 2013

We have a red racer in our yard and would rather he weren't there. We also have a house cat and are concerned for his safety. Is there any way we can get rid of this snake? --Ken

By Alchemy — On Nov 11, 2010

Are red racers and black racers from the same family of snakes?

By Georgesplane — On Nov 11, 2010

@ Valleyfiah- It sounds like you have a large gopher snake as a pet. They are not venomous or harmful at all, and for the most part, they are docile. Coachwhips are not constrictors either, but gopher snakes are. They can grow to a little over eight feet long, and they are often mistaken for rattlesnakes because of the similar coloring, habitat, and squares on their back that are mistaken for diamonds when the snake is not stretched straight. I would leave the gopher snake alone and be happy that it is there. If it is there, it means that there is food for the snake that can include pests like pack rats or other rodents that can carry Hantavirus or plague in the southwest.

As for the danger level of these snakes, I find they are of little to no risk. They can be a little startling since they will climb, sometimes surprising people to see one scaling the railing on their deck. I have gotten as close as a few inches from a large gopher snake and taken some amazing pictures. The snake did not seem to mind at all.

By ValleyFiah — On Nov 11, 2010

I am trying to identify a large snake that I saw in my back yard. The snake was at least seven feet long because it was crawling across my rock wall and I later went out and measured the area that it was crawling across. The snake had some reddish, brown and tan markings, and at first glance it looked a lot like a rattlesnake. I later saw the snake (I'm pretty sure it was the same one) coiled around what looked like a rabbit. I looked at red racer snake pictures, and it kind of looked like one, but I wasn't sure. Can anyone give me an idea as to what the snake is and how dangerous or aggressive it is? Is it poisonous? Should I call someone to remove it from my property, or is it better to leave it there?

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