Excerpts from Jim Conrad's
Naturalist Newsletter

from the May 29, 2005 Newsletter issued from the Sierra Nevada foothills somewhat east of Placerville, California, USA

This week my friends' cats left a mauled and dying snake by the door. It was a slightly pinkish cream color with no patterning except for greenish- yellow-tinged sides. It was a beautiful, slender snake about 15 inches long and I'd never seen anything like it. A bit of work with my Audubon fieldguide -- noting that the snake bore 17 rows of smooth scales and a divided anal plate -- convinced me that it was a Racer, the subspecies known as the Western Yellow-bellied Racer, COLUBER CONSTRICTOR ssp. MORMON. You can see several of this subspecies' variations, with none looking just like ours, at www.californiaherps.com/snakes/pages/c.mormon.html

Both in Kentucky and Mississippi I've seen a lot of racers and they were always black -- Black Racers. I just hadn't realized that the single racer species is distributed from the East Coast to the West (though absent from much of the West and far North), and that several of its intergrading subspecies are anything but black.

For example, in west-central Louisiana and eastern Texas there's a light tan subspecies; from North Dakota to northern Arkansas there's one that's pale blue to olive-green to gray or brown with a cream to bright yellow belly; Mexico has one that's mostly green to yellow.

These are gorgeous snakes and when you consider that they are non-poisonous, streak away as you approach them and eat mainly insects, frogs, lizards, other snakes, small rodents and birds, you just have to consider them marvelous beings, almost too pretty for us to deserve.