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Coachwhip, Masticophis flagellum

One subspecies, Eastern Coachwhip (M. f. flagellum), occurs in the southwestern corner of the state.

Description: A long, slender, smooth-scaled snake (42.0 to 60.0 inches in length) with a unique darker half towards the head and lighter back half. Anterior color ranges from dark brown to black while the posterior color is caramel to tan, frequently with reddish tint along sides of tail.   

Belly coloration may be tan, light yellow, or pink. Scales, especially towards the tail, resemble a braided rope. Young have dark crossbands over a tan body with white markings on head and neck.

Similar Species:  North American Racer does not have reddish tint along the sides of the tail.

Habitat: Occurs primarily in dry, open habitats with sandy soils. Eastern Coachwhips can also be associated with scrub, wooded hillsides, pine woods, old fields, and farmland.

Diet: Consumes lizards, snakes, small mammals, and birds; occasionally insects and small turtles.

Breeding information: Mating occurs in spring. Females lay 4-24 white, granular-textured eggs in loose soil, rotten stumps, or leaf litter during the summer. Young hatch in 45-80 days.

Status in Tennessee: Uncommon in Tennessee, but not protected.

Fun Facts:

  • Coachwhips get their name from the likeness of their long, thin bodies and the braided look of their scales to the whips used by stagecoach drivers.
  • Like Racers, Coachwhips use periscoping (lifting the upper part of their body to search for prey) to actively hunt by sight.

Best places to see in Tennessee: Sandy, open habitat in McNairy or Hardeman counties.

Sources:

Conant, R. and Collins, J. 1998. Peterson Field Guides: Reptiles and Amphibians (Eastern/Central North America). Houghton Mifflin Company, New York. 616pp.

Jensen, J. B., Camp C. D., Gibbons, W., and Elliot, M. J. 2008. Amphibians and Reptiles of Georgia, University of Georgia Press, Athens, GA. 575pp.

Johnson, T.R. 2006. The Amphibians and Reptiles of Missouri. The Missouri Department of Conservation, Jefferson City, MO.

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