Masticophis flagellum is a species of non-venomous colubrid snakes commonly referred to as coachwhips or whip snakes. There are 7 recognized subspecies.
Coachwhips range throughout the southern United States
from coast to coast. They are also found in the northern half of Mexico
. Typically they are found in open grassland
, but can also be found in lightly forested areas.
Coachwhips are thin bodied snakes, with small heads with large eyes
that have round pupils
. They vary greatly in color, but most reflect a proper camouflage
for their natural habitat. M. f. testaceus
is typically a shade of light brown
with darker brown flecking, but in the west of Texas
where the soil color is a pink
, the coachwhips of the region are also a pink in color. M. f. piceus
was given its common name because specimens are frequently have some red
in their coloration, but this is not always so. Coachwhip scales
are patterned almost so that at a glance, the snake looks as if it were braided
. Subspecies can be difficult to distinguish in areas where their ranges overlap. Adult sizes of over 160 cm are not uncommon.
Coachwhips are a diurnal
snake, and actively hunt and eat lizards
, small birds
, and rodents
. They tend to be high strung, and often bolt at the first sign of a potential threat. They are extremely fast moving snakes. Coachwhips are oviparous
. They are curious snakes with good eyesight
, and are sometimes seen raising their heads above the level of the grass or rocks to see what is around them.
- Sonoran Coachwhip, Masticophis flagellum cingulum (Lowe & Woodin, 1954)
- Eastern Coachwhip, Masticophis flagellum flagellum (Shaw, 1802)
- Baja California Coachwhip, Masticophis flagellum fuliginosus (Cope, 1895)
- Lined Coachwhip, Masticophis flagellum lineatulus (Smith, 1941)
- Red Coachwhip, Masticophis flagellum piceus (Cope, 1892)
- San Joaquin Coachwhip, Masticophis flagellum ruddocki (Brattstrom & Warren, 1953)
- Western Coachwhip, Masticophis flagellum testaceus (Say, 1823)
The primary myth concerning coachwhips is that they chase people. This likely arises from the snake and the person both being frightened, and both just happen to be going the same way to escape. Coachwhips are very fast snakes, and can often move faster than a human, thus giving an impression of aggression, should they move toward instead of away, when really they are just going in the direction they believe will lead them to safety fastest.
The legend of the hoop snake may refer to the coachwhip snakes.
Another myth of the rural southeastern United States is of a snake that when disturbed, would chase a person down, wrap him up in its coils, whip him to death with its tail, and then make sure he is dead by sticking its tail up the victim's nose to see if he is still breathing. In actuality, coachwhips are nowhere near strong enough to overpower a person, and they do not whip with their tails, even though it is long and looks very much like a whip. Their bites are also harmless.