One of the most common snakes that can be seen in the Lowcountry is the Black Racer (Coluber constrictor). It is a large snake, but thin, and can grow to almost 5 feet in length, making it a formidable looking snake, but harmless. It is, as its name implies, black in color, with some of the snakes having a white chin or some other white coloration on the underside, which is mostly dark gray. It gets its name, the black racer, from its behavior. Where some snakes try to blend in and freeze when approached, the black racer takes advantage of its thin profile and speed and will try get away. This “blinding” speed that the racer appears to have is not actually fast. Their speed is deceiving – They’re slower than they look! The black racer, although fast for snakes, can be outdistanced with a fast walk or trot, but usually, they are so quick, that they are between your legs before you know it! This gives rise to the old wives’ tale that the black racer will chase you and strike at you, which of course, is not true. There was also another tale that the black racer (often confused with the black rat snake and coachwhip) could also grab its tail and move along like a wheel, giving it a common name of “hoopsnake”. That one is true… (just kidding)!
The black racer will strike viciously and quickly without provocation, so it is best not to handle or corner this snake. It is a great predator of lizards, frogs, etc., so it is great to have around, especially if you don’t like all the tree frogs on your porch! Contrary to its scientific name, it is not a constrictor, so that is a little misnomer. It catches its prey and swallows it without wrapping around it and squeezing it, but it is an effective predator, all the same. Even though they will strike and bite, they are not harmful to us. The bite may get infected, but that is no reason to kill these magnificent snakes. Just give them a clear path and watch the black lightning bolt right past you.
Nature Notes by Marvin Bouknight