northern black racer (Coluber constrictor constrictor)
CHARACTERISTICS: 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 appearrance 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 middorsally, 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.
DISTRIBUTION: The northern black racer is found statewide in Vir-
ginia, 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.
FOODS: The northern black racer is a carnivore and has been document-
ed 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.
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