Eastern Yellow-Bellied Racer

01 Eastern Yellowbelly Racer_8183

I found a couple examples of this serpent while visiting the “Show Me State” last month. Although it is capable of reaching 5 feet, the average adult tends to be about 3 feet in length.

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The color of this smooth-scaled, slender snake is uniform but variable — from olive, tan, brown, or blue to gray or nearly black. The belly may be yellow, cream or light blue-gray.

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Like other American Racers, juveniles are tan or gray and marked with gray or brown blotches and spots on the back, and smaller, alternating spots on the sides. As the young snakes grow, the markings fade and eventually disappear by the third year.

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Active during daytime, these reptiles live in prairies, grasslands, pastures, brushy fields, open woods and along the edges of forests. In Spring and Fall, they are often seen on rocky, wooded, south-facing hillsides, which is where they overwinter (if they do not overwinter in a mammal burrow in an open habitat).

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Eastern Yellow-Bellied Racers hunt frogs, lizards, snakes, small rodents, birds and insects. Despite the Latin name, Coluber constrictor, racers are not constrictors. They simply overpower their prey. They use their speed and agility to catch prey — as well as to escape their own predators.

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It was an awesome experience to find an adult and juvenile version of this snake, which I had never encountered in the wild before, while on my trip.

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Lined Snake

01 Herp Habitat_8104

This month when visiting the “Show Me State,” I came across my first-ever Lined Snake while exploring a glades habitat in Missouri.

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This small, secretive serpent looks similar to a Garter Snake. It is mainly brown to grayish brown with three light stripes, one along the middle of the back, plus two on the sides. The belly is white with two distinct rows of half-moon shapes.

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Normally active from April through October, Lined Snakes hide during the day under rocks, logs, and other debris, becoming active at night.

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This snake lives in a wide variety of habitats, such as prairies, glades, empty lots in towns and suburbs, near old trash dumps, along highways where there is abundant debris for shelter, and in open, rocky woodlands.

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This species, which is typically about a foot long, feeds almost exclusively on earthworms. It was very cool to see this snake “in person” for the first time while on my herping trip.

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Western Coachwhip

01 Western Coachwhip_1127

This is a classic American serpent of the southwestern deserts. It is active in the daytime, extremely alert and very speedy. I’ve come across it a few times on my visits to the Mojave Desert.

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Western Coachwhips actively hunt and eat lizards, small birds and rodents, subduing their prey by grasping it and holding it down with their jaws, rather than using constriction.

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They are curious reptiles with excellent eyesight and are known to “periscope,” which is to raise their heads above the level of the grass or rocks to see what is around them. They are often seen foraging in the hottest hours of a summer day.

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A mature Western Coachwhip may measure three to eight feet in length, though they average about four feet. They are a slender-bodied snake with a long and thinly tapered tail.

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This reptile has a range as to what it looks like in physical appearance; its dominant color often blends in with the soil color of its habitat, helping to camouflage the snake. The common name “Coachwhip” comes from these snakes often having a black head and neck, resembling a whip handle and large scales resembling a braided whip.

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For habitat, the Western Coachwhip prefers relatively open territory, such as sand dunes, prairielands, desert scrub, rocky hillsides and open pine and oak woodlands.

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The coachwhip is one of the longest native snakes found in North America. Out west it is also known as the “Red Racer” and it is a thrilling herp to encounter in the field.

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Speckled Kingsnake

01 Glade_7325

My only “lifer” snake found this year was encountered in a glade in Missouri. I was flipping rocks and enjoying seeing Slimy Salamanders, Black Widow Spiders and Bark Scorpions, when this fine serpent turned up.

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This is an easy to identify medium-to-large, shiny black snake covered with small yellow spots. The ground color is generally black or dark brown. A white or yellow spot occurs in the center of most of the scales, to make the snake look speckled.

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Speckled Kingsnakes are not only common in relatively undisturbed habitats, but often are also common in agricultural areas, particularly around buildings and junkyards.

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This reptile kills its prey by constriction. Its foods include small rodents, lizards and other snakes, including venomous species such as Copperheads, Cottonmouths and Rattlesnakes. It is immune to the venom of snakes living in its home range.

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The Speckled Kingsnake is often called the “salt-and-pepper” snake. This reptile was a most welcome find on my Autumn outing.

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Northern Black Racer

01 Northern Black Racer_6233

This speedy snake is native to my home state of Ohio, but seems to be far more common in the southern part of the state and not as often encountered in Cuyahoga County (where I live). It ranges from southern Maine, west to Ohio, and south to Georgia, Alabama and parts of Tennessee.

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The Northern Black Racer is an alert, day-active species that despite its Latin name of Coluber constrictor, is not a constrictor – rather it subdues its prey simply by overpowering it.

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Its food consists of smaller snakes, lizards, frogs, birds, chipmunks, mice and other small rodents. Juveniles tend to eat mostly such as butterfly and moth larvae, insects and spiders.

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This long, shiny, black snake can reach 6 feet in total length, though most adults that I’ve come across range from 3-1/2 to 4 feet. Although this reptile is swift, its top speed is about 8 to 10 miles per hour, about the same as a quick jog.

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Upon hatching, juveniles have a dorsal pattern of dark-gray to reddish-brown blotches on a light-gray to brown body. The juvenile’s pattern becomes obscure with age, eventually resulting in an all-black snake.

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Northern Black Racers are terrestrial and are found in open, grassy areas. They prefer open, lightly wooded habitats, powerline rights-of-way, roadsides, and transitional zones between forests and fields.

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These serpents migrate to their winter dens by late October, often using the same den year after year and sometimes sharing them with other Northern Black Racers as well as other snake species.

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Northern Black Racers usually emerge from their dens in Spring and begin breeding shortly afterwards. A clutch averaging 16 eggs is laid in June-July. Egg clutches are hidden under logs or in burrows, where they hatch in August-September. The eggs are distinct in that they have a rather granular texture.

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If cornered or agitated, this non-venomous snake may lash out in defense and bite, expel musk or discharge feces. Though its most common way of dealing with a threat it can avoid is to simply race away.

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Broad-banded Water Snake

01 Mingo National Wildlife Refuge_9244

While visiting Snake Road in southern Illinois this month, I decided to take a drive to Missouri to see what sorts of herps were out. My first snake in “The Show-Me State” was a “lifer.” This distinctive looking reptile is heavy-bodied with a series of irregular, wide and dark bands across a background cream coloration. It was easy to identify even at a distance.

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Broad-banded Water Snakes can be found in and around lakes, ponds, streams, rivers and drainage ditches. This species is especially common in swamp and marsh habitats. It is at home in areas of thick vegetation, where both food and cover to escape fom predators is abundant.

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This species feeds primarily on fish and frogs. It uses stealth to move about vegetation and debris to find and catch its food. It commonly hunts at night, especially after it rains, because this is when frogs are most active.

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North American water snakes are thought to be most closely related to garter snakes, and like garter snakes, they do not lay eggs. Instead, the mother carries the eggs inside her body and gives birth to free-living young. The Broad-band averages generally an average of 15 babies per litter.

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It was exciting to come across this snake (which I’ve been keeping and breeding at home for years) in the wild for the first time.

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Blue Racer

01 Blue Racer_1830

In my home state of Ohio as well as while visiting the sandhill prairies of Kankakee, Illinois, I came across a few examples of this speedy serpent. Adults tend to range in length between 36 to 60 inches.

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These snakes prefer open and semi-open habitat, though it is likely that a mix of habitats is required to fulfill their ecological needs. They can often be seen where the edge of a field meets a wooded area.

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Baby and juvenile racers have dark-bordered, brown, red, or grey blotches on their backs and dark spots on their sides. As they grow, the background darkens to produce a basically unicolored reptile.

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Adult Blue Racers can be varying shades of blue and gun-metal gray, with white belly scales, black masks, relatively large eyes and often brownish-orange snouts.

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Their eyes are larger compared to that of many other species of snakes, due to the fact that they are day-active hunters that mainly use sight to locate their prey.

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Adult Blue Racers feed on rodents, lizards, other snakes and frogs, while juveniles eat invertebrates such as spiders and crickets. As their “racer” name implies, they are swift in chasing down prey as well as fleeing from predators.

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There aren’t very many blue-colored snakes out there in the world. This is always a fun snake for me to encounter, whether it be in my home state of Ohio, or while doing some out-of-state herping.

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Western Ground Snake

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This is a neat little reptile that is highly variable in color and pattern. Individuals can be brown, red, or orange, with black banding, orange or brown striping, or be solid-colored.

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It only grows to about a foot in length. Being so small and prone to dehydration, in the desert it tends to be found near sources of water. In the rest of the southwestern United States, its preferred habitat is dry, rocky areas with loose soil.

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These snakes are seldom seen in the open; they remain hidden under flat rocks during the day. They may become active on the ground surface at night. In hot weather, they burrow underground to find cooler temperatures and higher humidity.

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The Western Ground Snake eats a variety of insects, spiders, scorpions, centipedes and lizards.

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It was awesome to come across this gentle, secretive species in the wild.

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Shawnee Kingsnake

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While visiting southern Illinois, I came across two of these fine serpents basking only a few feet away from each other.

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This snake is a naturally occurring intergrade between a Speckled Kingsnake and an Eastern Black Kingsnake. They have varying amounts of yellow speckles and in some cases a faint chain pattern on a dark body.

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Shawnee Kingsnakes average 36 to 48 inches in length and have shiny, smooth scales. One specimen that I found was going through a shed cycle and had eyes that appeared to be milky blue.

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These reptiles are quite adaptable to a wide range of habitats from forests and bluffs, to rocky hills, open woods and stream valleys.

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Shawnee Kingsnakes are powerful constrictors and predators of other reptiles, including snakes, as well as eating birds and small mammals.

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They tend to be slow and deliberate in their movements. They are a fun snake to encounter in the wild and I enjoy seeing them each time I come across one.

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Red Milk Snake

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I saw this beautifully colored serpent crossing Snake Road while visiting southern Illinois. It’s overall pattern is similar to the Eastern Milk Snake which I often find in my home state of Ohio.

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Its body color can be white, gray, yellow or light tan, with red or orange black bordered blotches. Like the Eastern Milk Snake, its belly is strongly checkered in a pattern of black and white squares.

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Red Milk Snakes are secretive and seldom seen out and about. They spend much of their time hiding under rocks and logs or in rodent burrows. They are not particularly large snakes, often only about two feet in length. They subdue their prey by constriction and feed on lizards, snakes and small mammals.

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It’s always thrilling to come across this boldly marked, colorful snake in its natural environment.

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