Post Cards from the Edge Southern Black Racer (Coluber constrictor primps) - July 5, 2008 | Welcome to Fred’s Home Page

Southern Black Racer (Coluber constrictor primps) - July 5, 2008


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The Southern Black Racer is a subspecies of the eastern racer family.  It is nonvenomous but it can inflict a painful bite if you try to handle the snake.  The odds are you won’t be handling the snake because it tends to move very rapidly away from you, hence the name racer.  The species in my yard was not really black but more grey or bluish in color.  

These snakes are diurnal and I most often find them in the early morning or late afternoon.  I think I have perhaps two in the yard but it could simply be the same one moving from the front to the back.  Once it spies me, it tends to go the other way.  However, I do remember as a kid being chased by these in fields.  They often stand their ground when corned but prefer to beat a hasty retreat.  

Wikipedia reports they are not really constrictors and do not suffocate their prey.  Instead, they pin their prey, such as frogs, mice, and lizards, to the ground and then grab them by the head and begin swallowing.  

The subspecific epithet priapus is interesting. Priapus was a multipurpose Greek fertility god who protected gardens, fruit trees, livestock and, of course, the male penis.  Why the subspecies warrants the epithet priapus is the question.  One possibility is that it rattles its tail like many snakes and the tail is sometimes more erect during that process.  Another possibility is that the snake sometimes raises his head up above his body and appears to be peering at you.  It does have good eyesight.   

Two years ago I found a completely intact snake skin, probably from this one, near the fence in my backyard.  It’s now on display at the college.  I probably happened upon it shortly after the snake shed it and it did not get weather damaged.  

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