Eastern racers are nonvenomous snakes endemic to North America and Central America. The patterns of these snakes vary widely among subspecies. Most are solid-colored as their common names imply: black racers, brown racers, tan racers, blue racers, or green racers. All subspecies have a lighter-colored underbelly: white, light tan, or yellow in color. Juveniles are more strikingly patterned, with a middorsal row of dark blotches on a light ground color. The tail is unpatterned. As they grow older, the dorsum darkens and the juvenile pattern gradually disappears.
Eastern racers are found throughout the United States, east of the Rocky Mountains, but they also range north into Canada and south into Mexico, Guatemala, and Belize. These snakes usually live near water, but also in the brush, deserts, prairies, sandhills, trash piles, roadsides, and swamps, and in suburbia; they are very common in residential neighborhoods in Florida. Most of Eastern racers prefer open, grassland-type habitats where their keen eyesight and speed can be readily used, but they are also found in light forest and even semiarid regions. They are usually not far from an area of cover for hiding.
Eastern racers are generally solitary creatures; they are active from March through October and during winter hibernate communally. These are fast-moving, highly active, diurnal snakes. They spend most of their time on the ground but are also good tree climbers. These snakes may be found in shrubs and trees where bird nests can be raided for eggs and chicks, as well as small adult birds such as finches, canaries, and thrashers. They are curious snakes with excellent vision and are sometimes seen raising their heads above the height of the grass where they are crawling to view what is around them. Aptly named, racers are very fast and typically flee from a potential predator. However, once cornered, they put up a vigorous fight, biting hard and often. They are difficult to handle and will writhe, defecate, and release a foul-smelling musk from their cloacae. Vibrating their tails among dry leaves, racers can sound convincingly like rattlesnakes.
Eastern racers are carnivores. Their diet consists primarily of small rodents, frogs, toads, lizards, and other snakes. Some subspecies are known to climb trees to eat eggs and young birds. Juveniles often consume soft-bodied insects, such as crickets and moths.
Eastern racers mate in the spring from April until early June. Around a month later, the female lays 3 to 30 eggs in a hidden nest site, such as a hollow log, an abandoned rodent burrow, or under a rock. Eastern racers may even lay their eggs in communal sites, where a number of snakes, even those from other species, all lay their eggs together. Snakelets hatch in the early fall. They are born fully developed and are 8-10 in (20-26 cm) in total length. Maturity is reached around 2 years old.
There are no major threats to Eastern racers at present.
According to IUCN, the Eastern racer is locally common and widespread throughout its range but no overall population estimate is available. Currently, this species is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List and its numbers today are stable.
These snakes control populations of small animals they prey on and in turn are important prey species for local predators.