Reptiles

Amphibians

Eastern Coachwhip (Coluber flagellum flagellum)

Description

The Coachwhip is a long, slender snake. Along with Racers, these are the longest species of snakes found in Arkansas. In adults, the head and some of the body (usually about two-thirds) is solid black or black with white patches. The black fades to a white or reddish brown toward the tail. The crisscross patterning found on the tail looks very much like the weaving of a leather whip. Field guides indicate that the belly is cream color with either two parallel rows of black dots or two black lines running length-wise. The few individuals I have caught had plain bellies.

A black phase also exists. These individuals are essentially all black and can be difficult to distinguish from Racers.

Babies and juveniles of this species exhibit a cross-band pattern on the back and are of a lighter coloration than adults. The pattern fades as it gets closer to the tail. Young Coachwhips can be difficult to distinguish from young North American Racers.

This species is also called a Red Racer or Whip Snake.


Habitats

Coachwhips can be found in dry, rocky areas, including cedar glades, exposed rock formations, and rocky hillsides. They are also found on the edges of woodlands with nearby fields. Man-made structures and debris are prime habitats for this species, where they can be found hiding under pieces of wood or tin.


Habits and Life History

This is one of the few species that is active during the hottest time of the day. They are commonly seen while hunting for food. Coachwhips are often killed while basking on roads.

This species mates in the spring and lays eggs during the summer. The eggs hatch in the early fall. The young have a different patterning than the adults (see Description above).


Prey and Hunting Techniques

This species feeds on rodents, lizards, insects, and even other snakes, including venomous ones. They hunt with their heads raised above the ground. This affords them an easier time spotting the movement of their prey. Unlike most other snakes, Coachwhips pick up the scent of their prey and rely on its movement to locate it visually. They use their incredible speed to catch the small creatures they feed on and immobilize them with powerful jaws with rows of tiny teeth. This species does not constrict its prey; it simply "grabs and eats". These snakes eat frequently due to their high activity level.


Temperament and Defense

Similar to Racers, the Coachwhip is a "nervous" snake and easily startled. Its main defense is its tremendous speed. They are the fastest snakes in the United States. Due to their well-developed ability to detect movements, Coachwhips can easily spot predators and flee before the predator knows they are there. In the open, this species escapes its enemies in a zigzag pattern to make it a harder target to catch. When cornered, it may buzz its tails and strike repeatedly at its opponent. When grabbed, it may strike directly at the predator's face. When a Coachwhip bites, it jerks its head to cause lacerations rather than puncture wounds.

On occasion, I have braved free-handling a wild caught Coachwhip without sustaining a bite. This, however, must be done delicately and it always feels like an uneasy truce between the snake and myself. It's a welcome relief to let one go after a picture taking session!


Conservation

This species has no special protections in Arkansas It is not commonly confronted due to its propensity to flee upon the slightest hint of danger and because it often favors more rugged terrain. The greatest threats to this species are habitat destruction and highway fatalities.


State Distribution and Abundance

The Coachwhip occurs statewide except for counties bordering the Mississippi River. This species is less common than Racers, but it may be locally abundant in certain areas.

Gallery

2010 AHS Spring Field Trip - Eastern Coachwhip 2010 AHS Spring Field Trip - Eastern Coachwhip 2010 AHS Spring Field Trip - Eastern Coachwhip 2010 AHS Spring Field Trip - Eastern Coachwhip Eastern Coachwhip Death Feigning Eastern Coachwhip Death Feigning Eastern Coachwhip (Juvenile) Eastern Coachwhip Shed Eastern Coachwhip on a Fence Eastern Coachwhip Climbs into a Tree Eastern Coachwhip Eastern Coachwhip Eastern Coachwhip Eastern Coachwhip Eastern Coachwhip Eastern Coachwhip Masticophis flagellum flagellum Eastern Coachwhip 2010 AHS Spring Field Trip - Eastern Coachwhip 2010 AHS Spring Field Trip - Eastern Coachwhip 2010 AHS Spring Field Trip - Eastern Coachwhip 2010 AHS Spring Field Trip - Eastern Coachwhip 2010 AHS Spring Field Trip - Eastern Coachwhip 2010 AHS Spring Field Trip - Eastern Coachwhip 2008 AHS Spring Field Trip - Eastern Coachwhip 2008 AHS Spring Field Trip - Eastern Coachwhip 2008 AHS Spring Field Trip - Eastern Coachwhip 2008 AHS Spring Field Trip - Eastern Coachwhip 2008 AHS Spring Field Trip - Eastern Coachwhip 2008 AHS Spring Field Trip - Eastern Coachwhip Eastern Coachwhip and Habitat Eastern Coachwhip and Habitat Young Eastern Coachwhip Young Eastern Coachwhip Young Eastern Coachwhip Young Eastern Coachwhip Young Eastern Coachwhip Young Eastern Coachwhip Young Eastern Coachwhip Young Eastern Coachwhip Young Eastern Coachwhip Young Eastern Coachwhip Black Phase Eastern Coachwhip Black Phase Eastern Coachwhip Black Phase Eastern Coachwhip Black Phase Eastern Coachwhip Black Phase Eastern Coachwhip Black Phase Eastern Coachwhip Black Phase Eastern Coachwhip Black Phase Eastern Coachwhip Black Phase Eastern Coachwhip Eastern Coachwhip Eastern Coachwhip Eastern Coachwhip Eastern Coachwhip Juvenile Eastern Coachwhip Juvenile Eastern Coachwhip Juvenile Eastern Coachwhip Juvenile Eastern Coachwhip Juvenile Eastern Coachwhip Eastern Coachwhip Eastern Coachwhip Eastern Coachwhip Eastern Coachwhip Eastern Coachwhip Eastern Coachwhip Eastern Coachwhip Eastern Coachwhip Eastern Coachwhip Eastern Coachwhip Eastern Coachwhip Eastern Coachwhip Eastern Coachwhip Eastern Coachwhip Eastern Coachwhip Eastern Coachwhip Eastern Coachwhip Eastern Coachwhip Eastern Coachwhip Eastern Coachwhip

Contributors

  • Tyler Olcott (Original Contributor)
  • kaptainkory March 22, 2006, at 01:52 PM (Original Contributor)

Bibliography

  • Behler, J. L., and F. W. King. 1979 (1987). The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Reptiles and Amphibians. 3rd ed. Alfred A. Knopf, New York. 743 pp.
  • Conant, R., and J. T. Collins. 1998. A Field Guide to Reptiles and Amphibians of Eastern and Central North America. 3rd ed., Expanded. Houghton Mifflin Co., Boston. 616 pp.
  • Irwin, K. J. 2004. Arkansas Snake Guide. Arkansas Game and Fish Commission Pocket Guide. 50 pp.
  • Trauth, S. E., H. W. Robison, and M. V. Plummer. 2004. Amphibians and Reptiles of Arkansas. University of Arkansas Press, Fayetteville. 421 pp.

Discussion

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Page last modified on January 21, 2012, at 08:50 PM