Discover Maryland's Herps

Field Guide to Maryland's Snakes (Order Squamata)

Sub-order Serpentes, Family Colubridae

Northern Black Racer
Coluber c. constrictor

Photo of Adult Northern Black Racer courtesy of John White
Photo of Adult Northern Black Racer courtesy of John White

Size

36 - 60 inches. Record - 73 inches.

Appearance

  • A smooth and shiny black back and bluish-black to dark gray belly with some white on the throat and chin.

  • The young are strongly patterned, like water snakes and rat snakes, but have a set of blotches along the centerline and proportionally larger eyes, an adaptation for open field hunting.

  • Their bellies are cream colored.

  • Scales are not keeled.

  • Photo of Habitat for Northern Black Racer courtesy of Rebecca Chalmers
    Photo of Habitat for Northern Black Racer
    courtesy of Rebecca Chalmers

    Habitats

    Dry open grassy areas or open forest adjacent to grassy areas. They can also be found in urban, suburban and agricultural areas, and on barrier islands.

    How to Find

    Walk along field-forest edges, particularly in Spring and Summer. These are the fastest snakes we have (thus the “racer”) and can flee readily, but will also stand their ground and strike repeatedly. Bite and release musk when handled, squirming to get away. Non-venomous, but the bite can be painful.

    Distribution in Maryland

    Statewide.

    Maryland Distribution Map for Northern Black Racer

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    Maryland Amphibian
    and Reptile Atlas Project

    "A Joint Project of the Natural History Society of Maryland, Inc. and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources"

    For monthly newsletters of the Maryland Amphibian & Reptile Atlas Project click on Recent Newsletters and scroll down to the MARA Newsletters.

    The Maryland Herpetology Field Guide is a cooperative effort of the MD Natural Heritage Program and the MD Biological Stream Survey within the Department of Natural Resources and their partners. We wish to thank all who contributed field records, text, and photographs, as well as support throughout its development.