Critter Corner - Eastern Coachwhip Snake
(Masticophis flagellum)
 

DID YOU KNOW:

These slender, fast-moving snakes have a black head and upper body, but the color changes to a metallic grayish-silver on the lower body.  The body color matches the coachwhips often used by horse buggy drivers.

EATING HABITS:

Coachwhips seem to be almost entirely diurnal (active during the day).  On warm, sunny days these snakes may be found hunting in open fields.  As they glide through the grass they hold their head and neck up off the ground and smell for prey.  With excellent vision, they search until thy flush out something to eat.  Lizards, other snakes, rodents and small birds are among their prey.  Insects are important food for baby coachwhips.

THE YOUNG:

Coachwhips mate soon after emerging from hibernation.  In late June the mother snake lays about 12 eggs in loose soil or in an old tree stump.  The warmth of the sun incubates the developing eggs.  The babies are entirely on their own when they hatch.

HABITAT (HOME):

Eastern coachwhip snakes are found in the Ozark region of Missouri.  They range from the southeastern United States to northern South America.  Remnant prairies and open fields provide the country the coachwhips need to survive.  They rest and hibernate in burrows dug by other animals.

DEFENSIVE HABITS:

The snakes remain motionless when danger approaches.  If threatened, they escape by rapidly slithering away.  They are the fastest snake in Missouri, though a person can easily outrun one.  If grabbed, coachwhips are aggressive fighters and whip around and bite repeatedly to protect themselves.

UNUSUAL FACTS:

  • Coachwhips are not venomous nor are they constrictors.  Instead, the overpower their prey and eat them alive!

  • They can brow to 6 feet or more.  The national record is over 8 feet.

  • Coachwhips come in many colors including red, black and silver.  Babies in the same nest may be different colors.

  • A myth about coachwhips is that they tie people to a tree with their bodies and whip them with their tails.  Of course this isn't so.

 To learn more about coachwhip snakes

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(Photo credits: Top, Missouri Department of Conservation; Snake on sand, Natural Estuarine Research Reserve; Snake on rock, Cornell University; Red snake, US Geological Survey)