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Fouquieria splendens (Ocotillo)
Fouquieria splendens (Ocotillo) is an unusual, spiny, drought-deciduous shrub that grows up to 33 feet (10 m) tall. For much of the year, it appears to…
Other common names
Most adult coachwhips are about 42-60 inches (107-152 cm) in total length. This is a very long and slender snake with large and prominent eyes that have yellow irises. Adults typically have a dark brown or black head, neck, and anterior (front) part of the body, which changes to light tan posteriorly. Juveniles are brown or tan with indistinct dark crossbands down the neck and back.
Range in Florida
Coachwhips are found throughout mainland Florida in every county. However, they are not known to occur on the Florida Keys, and they appear absent from much of the wetlands south of Lake Okeechobee.
Assessment of risk to people and pets
Non-Venomous. Coachwhips are not dangerous to people or pets, but they will readily bite to defend themselves. Coachwhips are not aggressive and avoid direct contact with people and pets. Virtually all bites occur when the snakes are intentionally molested.
Comparison with other species
Most adult coachwhips are about 42-60 inches (107-152 cm) in total length, with a record length recorded of 102 inches (259 cm). This is a long and slender snake with smooth scales in 17 dorsal rows at midbody. Adults typically have a dark brown or black head, neck, and anterior (front) part of the body, which changes to light tan posteriorly. However, some individuals may be completely dark, uniformly tan, or entirely light-colored with narrow dark crossbands down the neck and front part of the body. The belly color matches that of the back. The head is large and narrow, and the large scales over the eyes give the head an angular appearance. The eyes are large and prominent with round pupils and yellow irises. Juveniles are brown or tan with indistinct dark crossbands down the neck and back. The juvenile pattern gradually changes to the adult pattern over about two years.
Coachwhips generally prefer hot and dry habitats with open canopies. These snakes are often locally abundant and occur primarily in pine and palmetto flatwoods, longleaf pine-turkey oak sandhills, scrub, and along beaches interspersed with sand dunes, sea oats, and grape vines. Adults and juveniles of this species can be found in suburban neighborhoods where development encroaches into favorable habitats.
When approached, coachwhips will typically flee for shelter, relying on speed and agility to avoid capture. However, if they are cornered, both juveniles and adults will strike at the attacker and rapidly vibrate the tip of the tail, which produces a buzzing sound in leaf litter. If grabbed or pinned, they will readily bite the attacker. Nonetheless, these snakes are not aggressive, and striking is only used in defense as a last resort.
Diet and feeding behavior
Coachwhips are diurnal (active during the day) predators and are known to feed on small mammals, birds and their eggs, lizards, turtles, snakes, frogs, and insects. In Florida, lizards likely make up the majority of their diet. Coachwhips are not true constrictors and overpower their prey by simply grabbing it in their jaws and pressing it against the ground until it stops struggling or by quickly swallowing it alive.
In Florida, females lay around 4-24 white oval eggs with granular shells. The eggs are often laid in loose soil, debris, leaf litter, rotting logs, or in animal burrows. Hatching typically occurs between August and September.
Six subspecies of coachwhip snakes are currently recognized, but only the eastern coachwhip (Masticophis flagellum flagellum) occurs in Florida.
The name “Coachwhip” comes from the large tan scales on its long, slowly tapering tail, which give it the appearance of a braided bullwhip.
Coachwhips are one of the longest snakes seen in Florida. These diurnal (active during the day) snakes are extremely fast and agile with keen eyesight. They often rest or crawl with their head and neck raised above the ground as they scan their environment, but they are also excellent climbers.
Florida counties with confirmed records
If you have a new or interesting observation for this species, please email the herpetology staff at the Florida Museum.
References and further reading
Ernst, C.H. and E.M. Ernst. 2003. Snakes of the United States and Canada. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, DC. 668 pp.
Krysko, K.L., K.M. Enge, and P.E. Moler. 2019. Amphibians and Reptiles of Florida. University of Florida Press, Gainesville, Florida. 706 pp.
Powell, R., R. Conant, and J.T. Collins. 2016. Peterson Field Guide to Reptiles and Amphibians of Eastern and Central North America. Fourth edition. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, Boston and New York. xiv + 494 pp.
Share your observations
You can help scientists better understand the biology and distribution of this species by sharing your observations. Send photos or videos of interesting observations, along with associated information, by emailing the herpetology staff at the Florida Museum for documentation in the Museum’s Herpetology Master Database. You can also post your observations on iNaturalist.
Additional helpful information
Still have questions about snakes or identifications? Feel free to email the herpetology staff at the Florida Museum with your questions or feedback on this profile.
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Coachwhip, (Masticophis, sometimes Coluber, flagellum), nonvenomous snake of the family Colubridae that ranges from the southern half of the United States to west central Mexico. It averages 1.2 metres (4 feet) long, but it is occasionally twice that length. It is slender, and its tail is marked like a plaited whip. The eastern subspecies is brownish western subspecies tend to be reddish (red racer or whip snake) or black (western black racer).
The swift-moving coachwhip captures lizards, small mammals, large insects, and occasionally rattlesnakes it kills by biting while the prey is pinned under its coils. The whip snakes in the western United States (M. bilineatus, M. lateralis, and M. taeniatus) are relatives of the coachwhip with similar habits and body forms. All are egg-layers.
This article was most recently revised and updated by John P. Rafferty, Editor.
Black Racer (Coluber constrictor) is the general name for one of the most widespread of all the snakes native to the United States.
In fact eleven different subspecies inhabit almost every state in the lower 48 states. Color is a common name applied to many of the species as well as the Black Racer. Blue Racers, for example are common around the Great Lakes region.
Black racers inhabit most areas in the East from southern Maine to the Florida Keys. They are long, thin snakes with a black body, and as the picture highlights, white chins.
Juvenile black racers can look altogether different with dark spots on an otherwise lighter color body.
The Buttermilk racer in the picture is native to Louisiana, with small populations spilling over the borders to Arkansas and Texas.
Two subspecies of Yellow-bellied racers are recognized. The Eastern Yellow-bellied racer is a Midwest native. West of the Rocky Mountains, the Western Yellow-bellied Racer prevails.
The wide range suggests that racers adapt to a variety of habitats from grassy fields to forest areas. It’s as easy to cross paths with one in the back yard as it is on a hike in the woods. Like Coachwhip snakes, crossing paths with a racer usually ends with the racer racing away as fast as possible.