northern black racer

(Coluber constrictor constrictor)


This is a fairly large (up to approximately 71 inches total length), shiny, black snake with a white chin and gray belly. The adult northern black racer has a rounded, black to gray body, and smooth scales. There is very little difference in the appearance of males and females. Juveniles have a dorsal pattern of dark gray to brown body. The venter is cream in color any may be plain or bear an irregular series of black dots. Small black or brown dots often occur laterally on the dorsum. The chin is plain white and the head is mostly brown, interspersed with varying amounts of gray. Confusing species: Adults of this species are often confused with adult ratsnake (Elaphe obsoleta), however, the ratsnake has a breadloaf-shaped body in cross section, keeled scales mid-dorsally, and varying amounts of white on the flat venter. Juvenile ratsnakes have an eye-jaw stripe, a checkerboard pattern on the belly, and usually, irregular blotches with anterior and posterior projections on the corners. Black phase hog-nosed snake (Heterodon platirhinos) are short and stocky compared to the northern black racer and they have a broader head with an unturned snout. There are no real geographic variations in the appearance of the northern racer.


The northern black racer is found statewide in Virginia, but patchily distributed west of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Except for parts of the American southwest, the species is widely distributed in North America south of Canada into Mexico.


The northern black racer is a carnivore and has been documented to eat butterfly and moth larvae, frogs, skinks, small birds, chipmunks, northern flying squirrels, mice and many other species. Invertebrates are most often found in juveniles, and rodents and reptiles are primary prey of adults. The northern black racer does not constrict, as the scientific name implies, but pins its prey with body loops and swallows it alive.