Southern Black Racer

Recently, I was driving down a residential street near the University of Florida, and all of a sudden something long and black slithered very quickly across the street. I stopped to watch it disappear into the shrubs in someone’s yard, marveling at its speed and color and wondering, what kind of snake was that? (Of course, to this urbanite, any snake sighting is pretty remarkable.)

It turns out that what I saw was most likely a southern black racer (Coluber constrictor), a snake that’s found throughout Florida and who is no stranger to suburban areas.1 Adult southern black racers are typically less than four feet long (though they can be longer), and are characterized by their dark, slender bodies, white throats and chins, smooth scales, and, of course, speed.1, 2

Juvenile (young) racers look very different from adults. Juveniles have “a series of reddish to brown colored blotches down the middle of their backs on a background color of gray” and also have “abundant small, dark specks on their sides and bellies.”1

Southern black racers are non-venomous and usually scurry away when approached. Because of their markings, young southern black racers may be misidentified as pygmy rattlesnakes, which are venomous. Adult snakes may also be mistaken for cottonmouths (water moccasins) because of their dark color.2

Since there are several non-venomous snakes in Florida that resemble venomous snakes, as a precaution, you should never intentionally try to disturb or catch a snake.3 See this guide for identifying venomous snakes in Florida.


  1. Steve A. Johnson and Monica E. McGarrity, “Black Snakes”: Identification and Ecology,WEC214, Gainesville: University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, 2013, http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/uw251
  2. Steve A. Johnson and Monica E. McGarrity, Dealing with Snakes in Florida’s Residential Areas—Identifying Commonly Encountered Snakes, WEC220, Gainesville: University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, 2012, http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/uw258
  3. Steve A. Johnson and Martin B. Main, Recognizing Florida’s Venomous Snakes, WEC202, Gainesville: University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, 2012, http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/uw229

Photo credits: hakoar/iStock/Thinkstock

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sgrenrock

sgrenrock

Web Writer at IFAS Communications

Sam is originally from California and has her BA in linguistics and MFA in poetry. She loves art, animals, culture, and learning about science.

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