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.