Northern Black Racer

Racer face-1

Black Racer (note white snout)

These are magnificent animals that give a little credence to the line “...this snake chased me...”. 

Racer with mouth-1

In reality, Racers may just as commonly crawl away (at what appears to be a good clip - hence their common name) as stand their ground - often with head a foot or more high. During the spring breeding season males may be defending females and/or territories and occasionally approach an intruder (you), mouth agape, and tail vibrating. In leaf litter the tail sounds like a rattlesnake (well, roughly; but to the uninitiated, it’s close enough). An encounter with such an animal often ends with a dead snake and an ignorant person thinking they “did the right thing.” 

These are the largest snakes seen by most residents, especially in the Connecticut Valley. While they overwinter on forested hillsides, Racers migrate some distance and often reach fields, meadows, barns, backyards, and other places where people are most common.

Racer Adult
Black racer

Day-active, Racers prey on many animals from other snakes to birds and mammals. In turn, they are common food items for larger mammals. Dedicated hawk watchers at Mt. Tom and elsewhere often report a “large black snake” dangling from the talons of some migrating raptor each autumn. Most likely it is a black racer.

Racers are still relatively common throughout Hampden, Hampshire, and Franklin counties, but are nearly gone in the Berkshires. 

  © Tom Tyning 2013