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Eastern Yellow-bellied Racer

Coluber constrictor flaviventris

Family: Colubridae

The Eastern Yellow-bellied Racer is a subspecies of the North American Racer (Coluber constrictor).

COSEWIC status:
  • Threatened
SARA status:
  • Threatened
IUCN status:
  • Least Concern

Description

The Eastern Yellow-bellied Racer is bluish grey, bluish green or brownish with a cream to yellow belly and chin. Its dorsal scales are smooth and it has a divided anal plate. Individuals can grow to almost 2 m in length. Juveniles tend to be tan or light brown and have dark patterning.

Similar Species

This species is the only large, unpatterned and smooth snake within its Canadian range. However, because of their patterning, juveniles may be confused with juveniles of Prairie Rattlesnakes, Plains Hog-nosed Snakes or Bullsnakes. Prairie Rattlesnake juveniles have vertical pupils, triangular heads, keeled scales and usually at least one segment of the rattle on the tip of the tail. Plains Hog-nosed Snakes have a distinct upturned snout and keeled scales. Bullsnakes have distinct bars running back from the eye and the head lacks the dark patterning found on juvenile racers.

Distribution

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The Eastern Yellow-bellied Racer has a very limited Canadian Distribution in southwestern Saskatchewan. This subspecies occurs throughout the central U.S. from Montana south and east to the Gulf Coast eastern Texas. The various subspecies of the North American Racer occur in Saskatchewan, British Columbia, Ontario, throughout almost all U.S. states, in Mexico and south to Guatemala.

Habitat

The Eastern Yellow-bellied Racer inhabits a variety of open habitats, including grasslands, fields, savannah and open woodlands. Rock crevices, mammal burrows, rocks, logs and other retreat sites are important microhabitats that are used for shelter and thermoregulation. This species overwinters below the frost line, often communally and with other species, in mammal burrows, rock crevices, talus slopes or anthropogenic structures (e.g. old wells, cisterns, building foundations). Females lay their eggs in rotting logs or stumps, in areas of loose sand, under rocks (such as on south-facing talus slopes) or in animal burrows.

Biology

Eastern Yellow-bellied Racers breed in the spring and females lay from 3–12 eggs, sometimes communally. The eggs hatch in late summer, and the young are 20–30 cm in length. In Canada, this species reaches maturity in three to four years and can live for more than 20 years. The Eastern Yellow-bellied Racer eats insects, frogs, other snakes, small rodents and birds. Contrary to its name, this species does not constrict its food but rather swallows it alive or chews it until it is dead.

Threats

The conversion of natural prairie habitats to agricultural uses is a significant source of habitat loss for this species. Road mortality is also a threat to this species where roads bisect the species’ habitat. Like many snakes, racers are often killed by misinformed people who either think they are dangerous or simply don't like snakes.

Additional Information About This Species In Canada