Saturday, October 3, 2009

Coachwhip or Red Racer

The coachwhip or red racer is found in Southern California, southern Nevada, the southeastern corner of Utah, eastern and southern Arizona, and Baja California. Their coloration varies widely, but they usually have a general tone of pink, tan or gray with black crossbars on the neck. They range in size from 3 to 8 1/2 feet long and are very slender. When caught, they are usually quite nasty, spitting and striking repeatedly. The coachwhip below was found by Julee Brice in 1993 in her birdhouse which housed small finches. The snake was not able to get out of the birdhouse because the finch the snake had eaten created a large enough bulge that it could not fit through the wire mesh of the cage. The color variation and scale marking on this one snake is quite remarkable. The top portion, below the black banded neck, is quite pink with faint brownish bands. The middle portion, where the eaten finch is lodged, is tan with a different stripe pattern. Finally, the bottom portion is a uniform color and scale patter.

A closer shot of the same snake, particularly the lower tan portion, shows the distinctive pattern, similar to a braided whip, from which it gets its name.

We went to Julee's house for the snake and took it into the canyon and let it go. Here it is, after its release, slithering along an embankment.

Another distinctive characteristic is the raised head. They quite often have their heads raised as they slither along the ground. It makes them appear inquisitive or curious. This is Indy, a pet red racer we had for awhile, discussed below.

This beautiful red coachwhip was found along Overcrest street on our way to church one Sunday morning. Judy and the kids were in the car when I spotted it on the road. I got out and grabbed the back end of the snake and it started to hiss and repeatedly strike me They have a row of tiny, razor sharp teeth and when they bite they leave an imprint in your skin highlighted by tiny droplets of blood coming from your skin out of the tiny teeth marks. On this occasion, to keep from getting bitten repeateldy, a started to twirl around in a circle, with the snake like a swinging rope, the centrifugal force keeping the snake from biting me. I could hear Judy and the kids in the car laughing. I was finally able to grab the snake behind it head so that it could inflict no further carnage upon my hands and arms.

A close-up of the snake's head.

In the summer of 1995, along the same section of Overcrest, we caught Indiana Jones, or "Indy" for short, named after the movie which must have just come out. Indy was a rarity, a red racer with a good disposition. We kept Indy as a pet for a year. I don't recall that he ever bit one of us, but we were always cautious, mindful of my prior experience with a red racer. The picture below is of Indy in my hand. Again, you can see the color variation on the one snake.

Indy, with a better view of his head.

A close-up of Indy's head. There is something quite fascinating and complicated about the coachwhip's head. Their head markings are almost like a red-eared turtle, with distinctive eyes and, of course, the black markings below it on the neck.

The next picture is of the underside of Indy, without any markings, but with a pink coloration.

We let Indy go in May 1996. He slithers off into our canyon, head raised.

A closer view of Indy's upper body.

In May 1996, at our Ward Father & Sons Outing near the Santa Ana River in Colton, we discovered three coachwhips connected to each other. I'm not sure if they were mating, but it was quite a weird scene. Much to their chagrine, I'm sure, I caught them and was soon surrounded by fascinated boys. To my right is Matt Millett, and in front of me, from the right, is Romney Evans, Jamison Sheffer, Andrew, Ryan Richey and Jeff Paxman.

While hiking with Rick DeLong on the PCT earlier this year, in the San Felipe Hills, I had a long black snake race past me down a steep mountainside, so fast that I could barley make it out. It was just like a red racer, except it was black. In looking at the fieldguide, I find that there are occasionally black specimans and in some isolated areas, are frequently black.

Finally. the next picture is of young red racer captured in Yucaipa in September 1994. Note that the markings are much more pronounced and the reddish color, which this snake will most likely get later, has not surfaced yet.
Red racers can be extremely difficult to catch because they are so fast and because they can be so mean. However, they are fascinating and very fun to find.


  1. I think that picture of you holding three snakes and surrounded by boys is my favorite picture of you of all time. It's so YOU.

  2. i have lived in southern Utah my whole life and have never seen one today i found one in my back yard that was at least 5' long didn't know the type until i read this - definitely a red racer awesome creature

  3. Curious snakes these! We'd never seen them before today. An Egret had been in the yard hunting lizards 3x in 2 days, so when I was firmly told to "Come Here!" I thought it was back ... but when I looked out, I saw a Red CoachWhip in the corner of the window, waving its head around, looking in! We went out the back door, and came around to the front porch that it was on. It moved over to the wooden trellis & handrail, then came right toward me ... though I was standing back so as not to frighten it.... Birds had been nesting under the roof, and their nest had just been yanked out a few hours previous & a few feet away (no eggs or babies for them to eat, though). I noticed a bird near where the nest had been, diving at something... I looked down, and there was *another* Red CoachWhip! The latter one crossed our dirt driveway, while the first one eventually went under the Mobile Home. About an hour later, I heard: "Guess who's back!?" And in the *same corner of the same window,* the snake's head was bobbing around!

    It being May, I suppose they are a breeding couple. We estimate them to be at least 3 feet or longer. ... I have 13 birdbaths of various sizes, shapes, heights, & materials ... and, I understand that snakes either like to drink from them, or, hang around to eat those who do bathe & drink from them. I've also heard that soaking in water can help snakes to molt. So, maybe they or their progeny will continue to grace our yard. We hope that gophers will be on their menu, though! And,that they don't eat al of our Kingsnake/s & lizards! (;

    1. I got a call from a friend just two days ago who said he ran over a red racer as he was going into the dump. He said it was over 5 feet long. A couple of weeks before that, I got a call from another friend who'd found a small red racer in their home inside one of their cabinets. He thought it was a gopher snake. Sounds like a good year for red racers.

  4. My profile name on my just made comment was supposed to be "2Q&LEARN"... I tried to edit it, & it seemed to be OK, but it came out wrong. Sigh ):