Racer / Couleuvre Agile
The Racer is highly variable in colour across North America, but individual subspecies are
rather consistent in colour. There are two subspecies found in Canada. The
Eastern Yellow-bellied Racer (C. c. faviventris)is
pale blue, bluish green, gray or brown with a creamy or bright yellow belly. The
Blue Racer (C. c. foxii)is pale blue or bluish green with a
white or bluish belly. The Western Yellow-bellied Racer, which has
recently been declared a separate species, (C. mormon) is green, yellowy brown or
reddish brown with a yellow underside. The Racers can grow to almost 2 m in length.
The Racer occurs in three widely dispersed provinces so it can be confused with different
snakes in different areas. In BC the Rubber Boa can be
greenish in colour, but its belly is not yellow and it is rubbery in appearance. In
Saskatchewan the Smooth Greensnake is most
similar to the Racer, but it is usually bright green. In Ontario, the Blue Racer cannot be
easily confused with any other snake because of its bluish colour.
The Racer is a wide-ranging southern snake whose distribution just gets into Canada in
three areas. It is found in southern British Columbia, southern Saskatchewan and Pelee
Island in Ontario. To the south it is found across most of the eastern US and parts of
the west. The Racer also occurs farther south into Mexico and Gautemala.
Typically a grassland species, the Racer is found in a variety of habitats from abandoned
fields to open woodlands.
Breeding occurs in the spring. Females lay from 5-28 leathery eggs under rocks, in rotting
logs or underground in animal burrows. Sometimes females will nest communally. The eggs
hatch in late summer and the young are 20-30 cm in length. It takes 2-3 years for the
snakes to mature.
As its name suggests, the Racer is a very fast snake. It can move at almost 7 km/hr. The
Racer eats insects, frogs, other snakes, small rodents and birds. Despite its scientific
name, it is not a constrictor. If grabbed, the Racer will bite repeatedly. In some areas,
Racers will hibernate in groups as large as 100, but in others they overwinter in smaller
groups of 10-15. An individual can live for more than 20 years.
All three of the Canadian subspecies have been listed by
COSEWIC. The Western Yellow-bellied
Racer of BC has been designated Special Concern because of its limited distribution and the
threat posed from development and traffic mortality. The Eastern Yellow-bellied Racer of
Saskatchewan has been designated Threatened because of its extremely restricted
distribution in Canada and the threat from habitat loss and traffic mortality. The Blue
Racer of Ontario has been designated Endangered. It has been
extirpated from mainland Ontario
and is now limited to Pelee Island. Development and traffic mortality are continuing
threats to its survival.