The racer occurs across southern North America, from the extreme south-west of Canada to Florida. It is also found in parts of Mexico and all the way to Guatemala. This species avoids the driest areas and is absent from large areas of the western United States. There are at least 11 subspecies, all living in distinct ranges with subtle differences in colour.
Racer snakes are often seen basking in sunlit areas such as forest clearings and along hedgerows. Their name suggests that these are fast-moving snakes, but they do not exceed more than 6.5 kmh (4 mph), which is a fairly average speed for a snake. Because of this, racers never stray far from dense undergrowth, into which they retreat to shelter from danger. If a racer snake is caught by a predator, the snake will writhe to spread a vile-smelling liquid over its body. Sometimes the writhing is so violent that the snake's tail breaks off, startling or distracting the attacker long enough for the snake to escape.
This species is often called the blue racer, because its dark, shiny scales often have a blue-grey tinge. Jet black, greenish-grey or light brown colorations are also seen. Juvenile racer snakes have brown and red patterns on their bodies, but these fade to grey as the snake gets older.
Juvenile racers eat insects, spiders, frogs, lizards, small snakes and young rodents. The adult snakes also take bigger animals, including cottontail rabbits, squirrels, turtles and larger snakes. Prey is not constricted, but may be held in a loop or two of the snake's body and pressed to the ground. Large prey are shaken, then chewed with the racer's powerful jaws; smaller food is swallowed alive.
Distribution: Southern British Columbia to Guatemala.
Habitat: Grasslands, woodlands and rocky areas.
Food: Large insects, frogs, lizards, small snakes, birds and rodents.
Size: 86 - 195 cm (34 - 77 in).
Maturity: 2 - 3 years.
Breeding: Mating occurs in spring.
Life span: 10 years.