The California Whipsnake (Masticophis lateralis), aka Striped Racer, is a colubrid snake of the California coast and foothills. It is 90-120cm long, slender, with two yellowish stripes along its back, set against a dark brown or black back. It is fast-moving, diurnal, and an active forager. It is nonvenomous, but likely to strike if captured. The California whipsnake is known to utilize a wide range of habitat types including open desert, oak woodland, pine forest, chaparral, and associated open landscapes (Ortenburger 1928, Stebbins 2003). This species is represented by two subspecies: the chaparral whipsnake (M. l. lateralis) and the Alameda whipsnake (M. l. euryxanthus) (Stebbins 2003). The ranges of these subspecies are contiguous in the area of southern Alameda County, northern Santa Clara County, and western San Joaquin County, CA (Jennings 1983). The chaparral whipsnake has been reported to use woodlands, grasslands, scrublands, and riparian habitats (Ortenburger 1928, Alvarez, pers. obs.), and the Alameda whipsnake has commonly been reported as having a more specific association with chaparral and scrub plant communities (Swaim and McGinnis 1992, USFWS 2002).
Whipsnakes are known to eat a variety of live animals including insects, lizards, snakes, birds, and small mammals. They show a strong preference for lizards, which are captured by a grasp of the mouth. Whipsnakes grab their prey and swallow it alive. This species commonly moves over and through brush and trees in oder to avoid predation and to capture prey.
As with many species and subspecies, taxonomic reclassification is an ongoing process, and differing sources often disagree. The genus Masticophis may soon be absorbed by the closley related genus Coluber, which contains the Racer (Coluber constricter).
The species is broken into two subspecies:
The Chaparral whipsnake is a common subspecies in California and northern Baja California, Mexico. The subspecies is often associated with broken (variable) habitat types that range from northwestern to extreme southern California and further south into Mexico.
The Alameda whipsnake subspecies was first collected by Archie Mossman and later described by Riemer in 1954. The subspecies is considered threatened in the State of California. It's range is relatively small, and much of the subspecies' habitat is threatened by development. Researchers have conducted studies to better understand the use of different habitats by the Alameda whipsnake (Alvarez 2006, Alvarez et al. 2005).