Eastern Coachwhip

Coluber flagellum flagellum
Family

Colubridae (nonvenomous snakes) in the order Squamata (lizards and snakes)

Description

The eastern coachwhip is one of our longest snakes. It is a large, slender, fast-moving snake with dark color toward the front and lighter color at the back. It is dark brown or black from the head and back to more than half the length of the snake. The rest of the snake is tan, reddish brown, or light brown. Some specimens, especially in southwestern Missouri, are completely black or dark brown. Some individuals may have wide pinkish bands along the dark body. The belly may be brown, tan, light yellow, or pink. Young coachwhips are marked with numerous dark brown crossbands over a tan ground color at the front of the body, fading to an overall tan at the rear. The dark markings disappear with age. When approached, a coachwhip will normally escape with an explosive burst of speed. If cornered, the snake will coil defensively, vibrate its tail, fight savagely, and bite to defend itself.

Size

Length: 42 to 60 inches.

Habitat and conservation

The eastern coachwhip is active on sunny days from April until October. It lives on dry, rocky glades; brushy or open, rocky, wooded, often south-facing hillsides; also along the edge of prairies where there is ample brush and other shelter. On cool days and during winter, coachwhips hide under flat rocks or in small mammal burrows. Because they are fast-moving and thrash about when captured, some people believe coachwhips can whip a person to death. This is a myth.

Foods

Coachwhips eat mice, insects, lizards, small snakes, and occasionally small birds. They will climb trees to raid birds' nests. Coachwhips are not constrictors. Young coachwhips eat insects and small lizards.

Eastern Coachwhip dist map
Distribution in Missouri

Southern half of the state, except for the southeastern corner.

Life cycle

Not much is known about the courtship and mating of this species. It likely occurs in April or May. In late June through July, the female lays 8-24 eggs in loose soil or leaf litter. These hatch in late August or September.

Human connections

Many snake species are burdened with unfair, undying myths that paint them to be much more dangerous and harmful than they are. This species, though it fights savagely to defend itself, is harmless. The common human fear of snakes is learned at an early age. Education corrects our prejudice.

Ecosystem connections

As predators, coachwhips control populations of the animals they consume. As with many other predatory species, coachwhips can be preyed upon themselves by larger animals, including mammals and predatory birds. The eggs and young are especially vulnerable.