Eastern Coachwhip, Coachwhip, Racer

NON-VENOMOUS

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Scientific name: Masticophis flagellum flagellum (SHAW 1802)
* Currently accepted name

Synonym:
* scientific names used through time

  • Coluber flagellum – SHAW 1802
  • Psammophis flavigularis – HALLOWELL 1852
  • Herpetodryas flagelliformis – DUMÉRIL & BIBRON 1854
  • Bascanium flagelliforme – COPE 1888
  • Zamenis flagelliformis – BOULENGER 1893
  • Coluber flagellum flagellum – ALLEN 1932
  • Masticophis flagellum flagellum – CONANT & COLLINS 1991

Description: The Eastern Coachwhip is one of the largest native snakes in North America. Average adult size is 50-72 inches (127-182.8 cm), record is 102 inches (259 cm). Adults are long and slender, and typically have a black head and neck, which gradually fades to tan posteriorly. The belly color matches that of the back. Some individuals may be uniformly tan or cream colored, lacking the dark pigmentation on the head. The head is large and angular, with large eyes shielded by projecting supraocular scales. The scales are smooth, and there are 17 dorsal scale rows at midbody. The pupil is round. Juveniles are brown or tan with indistinct dark dorsal crossbands.

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A. Top view of the head
B. Underside of the head (chin and throat)
C. Front (face) view of head
D. Side view of head
E. Smooth scales

Range: The Eastern Coachwhip is found throughout Florida, excluding the Florida Keys. Outside of Florida, it is found from Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas, east to North Carolina. However, it is absent from most of the Mississippi River delta.

Habitat: It is locally abundant, and occurs primarily in pine and palmetto flatwoods, longleaf pine-turkey oak sandhills, scrub, and along beaches interspersed with sand dunes, sea oats, and grape vines.

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Comments: HARMLESS (Non-Venomous). The Eastern Coachwhip is active during the day, extremely fast on the ground, and an excellent climber. Its diet consists of lizards, snakes (including its own kind), small mammals, and birds and thier eggs.

Breeding takes place in the spring, and a clutch of 12-16 eggs is laid in late spring and early summer. Little is know about longevity in the wild, but captive Eastern Coachwhips have lived longer than 16 years.

Florida crackers (native Floridians) believe that the Eastern Coachwhip will attack and beat humans with its whip–like tail. This belief has no basis. Violently lashing its body around like a whip would immediately break the snake's back and spinal cord – thus lashing its body like a whip would be committing suicide. It is called a "Coachwhip" because the large scales on its long, slowly tapering tail, give it the appearance of a braided bullwhip.

The Eastern Coachwhip appears to be high-strung, in part because at times when first encountered, it nervously vibrates the tail and strikes in an attempt to scare off the threat. However, most of the time it will flee very quickly. One of the most remarkable traits of this species is the speed with which it moves, racing away on the ground or through vegetation. It can escape in the blink of an eye.

Comparison with other species: The Eastern Racers (Coluber constrictor) have solid black or bluish–black backs and 15 dorsal scale rows at midbody.

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