Okanagan Region  
Regional Home Page
Regional Enforcement Branch Regional Environmental Protection Branch
Regional Environmental Stewardship Branch

About Species at Risk
Species Profiles
Conservation Strategies
Related Links

Habitat Atlas for Wildlife at Risk
Coluber constrictor


    Land Tenure - Racer Habitat
  • Other Name: Western Yellow-bellied Racer.
  • Total length up to 120 cm.
  • Juveniles have blotched pattern on back that slowly disappears as they mature; pattern superficially resembles that of a young rattlesnake.
  • Slender, stream-lined snakes with a large, long, flattened head and rounded snout.
  • Back and sides are usually a slate-grey or olive green color; belly is vivid to whitish yellow.


British Columbia Blue List

Special Significance

Human development has encroached on many portions of the range of Racers and has undoubtedly caused population declines. Suitable habitat is located primarily in valley bottoms, areas that are also ideal for agricultural and housing developments. Racers may play a significant role in agricultural areas where insects and rodents can cause crop damage. Developing management plans to protect this harmless snake from further decline requires further research on their ecology. Racers are protected under the British Columbia Wildlife Act. However, snakes in general are often considered undesirable animals and are killed for no apparent reason.


  • In British Columbia, restricted to the dry interior bounded by the Okanagan, Similkameen, Fraser and Thompson valleys.
  • Mainly found in grasslands and ponderosa pine forests.


  • Racers live in a variety of habitats, including sandy desert areas, grasslands, farmland, marshes, woodlands or open, sparsely-treed areas.
  • Forage in sandy terraces along riparian margins, presumably because of the food supply in riparian areas and the sunny, warm conditions provided by the terraces.
  • Hibernate on south-facing rocky slopes, often with other species of snakes.
  • Nests may occur in loose soil, beneath flat stones, in decaying wood or on stable talus slopes.


  • Emerge from communal hibernation sites in March or April and immediately disperse to summer range.
  • Females may be able to reproduce in consecutive years only if they have sufficient fat reserves.
  • Mate in May on the summer range.
  • Eggs (average of 6) are laid in communal nests during late June or early July; nests are often abandoned rodent burrows with a southern exposure.
  • Eggs hatch in late August or early September.

Food Habits

  • Juveniles consume crickets and grasshoppers; adults eat insects, young mammals, small reptiles, birds and frogs.
  • Racers do not constrict prey, but pin prey down with their bodies.
  • Racers are generally active during daylight.

Interesting Facts

  • Probably the most heat-tolerant species of snake in British Columbia.
  • Racers are able climbers and may be found in bushes.
  • Hibernating dens may be shared with rattlesnakes, gopher snakes and garter snakes.


  • When cornered, snakes may attempt to bite in defense.
  • Racers are not poisonous, and pose no threat to humans.


  • Extensive land development in the Okanagan has eliminated or fragmented their habitat (including dens and feeding grounds).
  • Dens are particularly susceptible to human development; snakes may not relocate to other areas if dens are destroyed, and availability of suitable hibernating sites may be limited.
  • Disruption of nesting sites could have serious impacts on the population.
  • Humans' general fear of snakes leads to snakes being killed when encountered. They are also inadvertently killed by farm and road vehicles.
  • Use of pesticides may contaminate insect populations.

Management Considerations

  • Reduce and monitor use of pesticides.
  • Identify and protect dens and nesting sites.
  • Leave 1 km buffer zone around known den sites and critical habitats.
  • Avoid road construction near talus slopes and around known snake dispersal routes.
  • Avoid disturbing rock and woody debris in potential snake habitat.
  • Maintain good range condition in grasslands for cover and habitat for prey species.


1. Shewchuk, C.H. and H.L. Waye. 1995. Status of the Western Yellow-bellied Racer in British Columbia. Ministry of Water, Land and Air Protection, Lands and Parks. Victoria, British Columbia
2. Gregory, P.T. and R.W. Campbell. 1984. The reptiles of British Columbia. British Columbia Provincial Museum Handbook No. 44. Victoria, BC.
3. Orchard, S.A. 1984. Amphibians and Reptiles of British Columbia; an Ecological Review. Ministry of Forests. Victoria, British Columbia


Government of BC links
Ministry Home Government of British Columbia Ministry of Environment Top of Page Copyright Disclaimer Privacy