Racer (Coluber constrictor)
Protected Wild Animal
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Description: These are lang, slender-bodied snakes, with adults reaching 36 to 60 inches. In our area, they tend to be slate blue or light brown with yellow throats and a light gray or white belly. Juveniles have a distinct pattern, that fades in adults, and causes them to be mistaken for other snakes. Racers are members of the family Colubridae and sub-family Colubrinae, which includes the smooth green snake (also found in Wisconsin, but not commonly in the La Crosse area).
Habitat/Ecology: They are said to prefer open dry areas, brushy forest edges, or prairies. I have witnessed them in lowland forests, adjacent to streams, with open bluff faces nearby. These are active and quick predators that will feed on small mammals, amphibians, insects and other reptiles. On one occasion, I found a Racer (that had been recently killed by a car) with a Garter Snake half-way down it's throat. Although their scientific name suggests that they are constrictors (Coluber constrictor), they are not. In some cases, they will use their coils to restrain struggling prey, but they do not truly constrict. These snakes are known to over-winter in rock fissures or dens on the sides of bluffs. They may also den communally with other snakes.
Remarks: Racers are quick moving snakes (approximately 4 mph), that will usually make an attempt at escape if threatened. When cornered, racers hiss and beat their tails upon the ground. If captured, they will bite aggressively. It is said that racers can tolerate warmer temperatures than other species and can be found at times when other snakes seek refuge from the heat.
I have not found Racers within the La Crosse area, however, I have encountered evidence of them in nearby Crawford County (Wisconsin), and suspect they exist here as well. If anyone thinks they may have seen a Racer near La Crosse, please contact me.
This snake is listed as "Protected" by the Wisconsin DNR and it is illegal to harm or capture them. Breaking this law can result in stiff fines.