Cochise County: Red Racer (Coluber flagellum piceus) aka Coachwhip Snake Stops for a Sip

I didn’t know the pretty pink snake sipping from the drip-mud hole under the leaky water valve was a coachwhip. Heck, I didn’t even know a red racer was a Coluber flagellum piceus, but after taking a bunch of pictures and watching the thin, five foot long reptile disappear into the vegetation behind our off grid Cochise County home, I just had to head back around to tell the family all about it.

“I just got some photographs of the coolest pink snake in the entire world!”

Okay, so that might have been inaccurate. It’s not like I’ve seen every pink snake on the planet. As a matter of fact, I’d never seen even one pink snake in my 72 years…but one way or the other, I was definitely impressed. ‘Twas a fine Sunday afternoon in July, three of us were engaged in shoveling dirt back into a four hundred foot trench, burying the new propane gas line. I’d taken a break but was returning to pick up my shovel out behind the house, rounded the corner–and there it was, a beautiful braided pink rope draped down into a hole I’d dug earlier. That hole will allow access to the pipes I need to change out for the valve replacement, a project that’s currently waiting until the gas line installation is completed.

Thrill time. The snake obviously didn’t know I was there, so out came the Canon PowerShot camera from its case on my left hip. Click a couple of shots, ease closer, rinse and repeat. Eventually, I was able to slip in close enough to see the entire snake…whose head, including the eyes, was buried in the drip-mud hole beneath the dripping valve. There were mud loving wasps right there, which the racer ignored. This is desert. Fresh water? Priceless.

Watch. Click. Watch. Click. Fascinating; the throat muscles right behind the head expanded and contracted as the snake drank. This was one thirsty snake.

The red racer snake (or coachwhip) sips from the dip-mud hole and gets a drip shower from the leaky water valve at the same time.   Priceless.

The red racer snake (or coachwhip) sips from the dip-mud hole and gets a drip shower from the leaky water valve at the same time. Priceless.

Pull-back view.

Pull-back view.

It wasn’t easy to get a full length photo of a snake that long and slender…until it decided to leave the water hole. Coluber flagellum piceus is known to be a great climber, able to climb trees easily. Watching the coachwhip zip on up out of the hole, that was easy to believe. There was no slipping or sliding whatsoever, as there would have been with a heavy bodied rattlesnake.

For the red racer, climbing a two foot vertical wall is a piece of cake.

For the red racer, climbing a two foot vertical wall is a piece of cake.

Up and over.

Up and over.

Pink Snake Blue Darter White Egg Sac 040

Aside from using the two foot deep hole as a measuring device, the racer decided to cross the terrain right in front of a three foot stake lying along its direction of travel.

Pink Snake Blue Darter White Egg Sac 047

The head of the red racer is intriguing in that this snake has big round eyes and likes to hunt with its head held high. It wasn’t hunting today, though, at least not at the moment. Mostly, it was heading for cover, apparently preferring to get the heck out of the open, exposed territory. Its head did rise up noticeably at times, but only at occasional intervals, a few seconds at a time. It really is fast, too; after encountering umpteen slow moving rattlesnakes these past six years on the land, watching the coachwhip move out was like being at the Class A Reptile Drag Races. Those racers can race. One online source says they’ve been clocked at 3.6 miles per hour. Maybe that’s accurate, but this speedster looked a bit faster than that. Illusion, perhaps, but impressive nonetheless.

Red racer, head up.

Red racer, head up.

Red racer. big round eyes indeed.

Red racer. big round eyes indeed.

Red racer, head down.

Red racer, head down.

The red racer is noted as being a “very nervous” snake, quick to either dart for cover or attack when alarmed. Hey, I’m married to a redhead; I get it. This particular reptile was clearly not alarmed in the least by my presence (within ten feet or so of the drinking hole), though that center head close-up makes me wonder if it wasn’t looking right at me for a while there. It did decide to leave the drinking hole almost directly across from my position…but then again, there was closer vegetation on that side, so who knows?

One way or the other, the photo op was a blessing, and I watched the pretty pink snake’s whippy tail disappear into deep cover with both regret and appreciation. How could one not appreciate a snake that eats rattlesnakes? Not as a primary component of its diet, but if a rattler picks a fight with a red racer, the rattler becomes lunch.

These photos? Priceless.

Across bare clay open country at high speed.

Across bare clay open country at high speed.

Disappearing into deep cover without slowing down one bit.

Disappearing into deep cover without slowing down one bit.