General Description: The North American Racer is a slender, moderately long snake. Adults range from 20–65 inches (50.8–165.1 cm) in length. In South Dakota adults typically are a greenish gray to brown color with a pale yellow underbelly. Juvenile North American Racers are much different in appearance from adults. Juvenile snakes have series of reddish-brown blotches that run the length of the snake, with a row of smaller blotches on each side. As individuals age, this patterning fades and typically disappears during the second or third year. Scales on this species are smooth, giving individuals a shiny appearance, and the eyes are relatively large (especially as juveniles). Because this species has a large range (see Species Range below), adult coloration is also variable and can be black or blue-gray.
Behavior: This is an active, alert, and swift diurnal snake that uses its speed to capture prey. It often hunts with its head elevated off the ground. Small mammals, lizards, insects, and other snakes are all major components of this species’ diet. The North American Racer does not kill its prey with constriction and is non-venomous. It is primarily a ground-dwelling snake but will climb into bushes and trees in pursuit of prey.
Reproduction: Mating often takes place in May and early June with 8–21 eggs laid in late June to July. Eggs often hatch in late August or early September. Upon hatching, young are 9–13 inches (25–35 cm) in length and have much different patterning than as adults (see General Description above).
Habitat: The North American Racer occupies a variety of habitats in North America including deciduous forests, bluff prairies, grasslands, and scrublands.
Species Range: This species has one of the largest ranges of any North American snake being found from the east coast to the west coast of the United States and south into Central America. Because habitats that this species occupies are so varied, considerable color variation occurs across this species’ range.
South Dakota Range: North American Racers occupy a large portion of South Dakota, primarily west of the Missouri River (including the Black Hills) and along the Missouri River into southeastern South Dakota.
South Dakota Status: This species is not listed by South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks.
Account written by Drew R. Davis and Jessica L. Speiser