When it comes to snakes, there are three that are often confused with one another: the black snake, the king snake, and the black racer. Although the three snakes have a few similarities, they are unique in many ways and have some key differences.
Black snakes are typically more aggressive than a King snake or a Black Racer. King snakes are usually more docile and great at climbing trees. On the other hand, Black Racers are much faster than the other two and can reach incredible speeds.
If you’re looking for a black snake, you might wonder what the difference is between a black snake and a king snake or a black racer. This article will give you a few essential insights about their key differences.
Key Differences Between Black Snakes, King Snakes, and Black Racers
Here’s a table that summarizes the primary differences between Black Snakes, King Snakes, and Black Racers:
|Area||Black Snakes||King Snakes||Black Racers|
|Binomial Name||Pantherophis obsoletus||Lampropeltis getula/elapsoides||Coluber constrictor|
|Range and Habitat||Farmlands, woodlands, and suburb areas of Connecticut through South Carolina, west of the Mississippi river, Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas||Wetlands, bottomlands, and forests of the U.S., native to North America||Throughout the eastern U.S. from Florida to south of Maine|
|Life Span||10-20 years||10-15 years||8-10 years|
|Characteristics||4-8 feet (122-244 cm) long.|
Bodies are covered in smooth, shiny black scales with occasional white stripes or bands around
|3-5 feet (91-152 cm) tall.|
Typically muted brown or black colored with white, red, or yellow vibrant patterns around the body
|1.7-5.3 feet (51-161 cm) long.|
Slender slim matte black body with smooth, diamond pattern scales, and a gray or bluish belly
|Diet||Primarily rodents,occasionally birds and reptiles. They’ll also eat eggs.||Primary diet consists of smaller snakes, reptiles, eggs, birds and small insects.||Small mammals, birds and eggs, snakes, frogs and some large insects|
|Breeding||May to late June||March to May||June to August|
|Behavior||Active during the day and night|
Can climb trees and are good swimmers
Extremely beneficial to the human property for controlling pests
|Are non-venomous and kill their prey by constriction|
Known for their docile nature and their ability to eat other snakes
|Mostly terrestrial and climbs low shrubs and vines very swiftly.|
Always defensive, fast-moving, nervous and swallows food alive
|Common Names||Black Coluber, Chicken Snake, Mountain Pilot||Eastern Kingsnake, Chain Kingsnake||Racer, American Black snake, Black Chaser, Black Runner, Slick Black Snake|
Let’s discuss these differences in greater detail:
Range and Habitat
Let’s look at where each snake is commonly found.
Black snakes are typically found in wooded areas of the eastern United States. They are a common site in the farmlands, woodlands, and the suburban regions of Connecticut through South Carolina, west of the Mississippi River, and Texas. They are also found in some parts of Canada.
There are many different species of King snakes, and they can be found in a variety of habitats. Some species of king snakes are more commonly found in one type of habitat than another, but overall they can be found in a wide variety of habitats across their range.
King snakes are generally found in areas with a warm climate, as they prefer to live in places where the temperature is comfortable for them. They can be found in:
- Sometimes near human settlements
Black Racers, on the other hand, are found throughout the Southeastern United States. They can be found almost anywhere in the region.
However, the most common areas you’ll find the Black Racer is around forests, fields, and wet areas. They are sun worshippers who love places with lots of vegetation such as deserted farmland.
Lifespan and Identifying Characteristics
All three snakes are black in color, but they have different patterns on their bodies.
The Black snake typically sports a white belly with marbled gray. As they mature, they usually lighten in color to a grayish or olive green.
Black snakes can grow up to 8 feet (244 cm) long and will usually live for up to 12 years if left in their natural habitat. They can live longer if removed from the wild.
Further, the king snake has a slender body with smooth scales. It is typically black or dark brown in color, with bands or stripes of white, cream, or yellow running the length of the body.
King snakes typically have a lifespan of 10-15 years and grow to an average length of 3-4 feet (91-122 cm), although some species can reach up to 5 feet (152 cm) in length.
Black racers get their name from their glossy black scales, which sometimes have a blue or greenish tint. They are usually between 2 and 4.5 feet long (61-137 cm), but some specimens have been known to reach lengths of up to 5.5 feet (167 cm).
Black racers live the shortest among these three, typically for around 8-10 years.
Each species of snake has slightly different feeding habits. Let’s look into this in more detail.
Black snakes love a diet of rats and other small animals. They will also eat:
Black snakes have razor-sharp teeth that kill their food before swallowing.
On the other hand, King snakes are great eaters and will consume just about anything they can fit into their mouths. Their diet consists of:
- Smaller snakes
- Turtle eggs
They are known for their resistance to the venom of pit vipers. This means they can eat other snakes – and often do!
Similar to the Black Snake, these snakes will eat small prey. These predators will strike their prey with lightning speed, pinning it down with their powerful bodies before swallowing it whole.
Black Racers typically live in wooded areas and hunt for food in the trees or on the ground. These opportunistic feeders will also take advantage of carrion if they come across it.
Breeding and Reproduction
Characteristics vary considerably across these snakes, and breeding habits are no different. Let’s look at some of their reproductive characteristics in more detail.
Mating season for Black snakes runs from April to June, with another, shorter breeding period in autumn. Most of their breeding takes place in the summer. Clutches of 5-30 smooth-shelled, oblong eggs are laid in rotten logs, leaf litter, or under rocks during this time.
King snakes prefer to breed around the late Summer and early Autumn months. They usually produce 3-24 round eggs per clutch, which are incubated for around 50 days in August-September. Unlike Black snakes, they typically only have one breeding month.
Black racers mate a bit later than king snakes, with their peak breeding season running from late summer through early fall. Females lay anywhere from 4 to 31 eggs per clutch during this time, and their eggs have tiny little bumps that are unique to this snake.
Behavior-wise, all three snakes bear some distinct qualities.
Black snakes are generally shy and not aggressive but can be dangerous if provoked. They are excellent climbers and are often found in trees or among rocks. They’ll leave you alone if they don’t feel a threat, and will usually flee when confronted by a human. If they become aggressive, they are non-venomous.
In fact, they are quite helpful for humans. As they feed primarily on rodents, they can protect your property from any rodent adversity.
King snakes, though non-venomous, will bite if they feel threatened. They are known for their calm demeanor and docile nature. King snakes are great pets for people who are looking for a snake that is not too aggressive. They are expert swimmers and can sometimes climb.
They are famous for killing and eating other snakes, venomous as well as non-venomous, by constricting them. These reptiles use their bodies to subdue prey. They will coil around their target and squeeze it until it suffocates.
When it comes to snakes, there are few that can outrun a Clack Racer. These speedy serpents get their name from their tendency to rapidly flee when threatened. In fact, these snakes are so fast (they can reach speeds of up to 12 miles per hour or 19 km per hour) and difficult to catch that many people leave them be.
Similar to other non-venomous snakes, Black Racers will strike if threatened by a human. They can cause a lot of damage, so it’s best to steer clear of them and admire these creatures from a distance.
Black Racers are primarily active during the daytime and in warm weather when they climb low shrubs or trees and catch and eat their prey by swallowing them alive.
Black snakes (Pantherophis genus) don’t have subspecies but have other names, such as:
- Black Rat Snakes
- Northern and Southern Black Racers
- Black Kingsnakes
- Black Garter Snakes
- Black Swamp Snakes
But, the King snakes ( Lampropeltis elapsoides) have one more variant than the Blacks. These are:
- Eastern king snakes
- Speckled king snakes
- Black king snakes
- California king snakes
- Desert king snakes
- Scarlet king snakes
Finally, the Black Racers (Coluber constrictor) can be distinguished into two subtypes:
- Northern Black Racers
- Southern Black Racers
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are a few frequently asked questions just in case you need more information:
Which Is the Most Dangerous of the Three?
According to herpetologists, the Black Racer is the most dangerous of the three. While all three snakes are non-venomous, the Clack Racer’s long, slender body and sharp teeth make it the most capable of inflicting severe injury.
The Black snake is the second most dangerous due to its large size and aggressive disposition. Although not as quick or agile as the black racer, the black snake’s powerful body can deliver a damaging bite if it feels threatened. However, they are mostly friendly and do not disturb until provoked.
The king snake is considered the least dangerous of the three, as it is generally shy and non-aggressive. They can also be tamed easily. However, king snakes should still be left alone if encountered in the wild.
Who Eats Up Other Snakes – Black Racers or King Snakes?
Both Black Racers and King snakes can gulp down another snake. Both species are immune to the venom of other snakes, making them the perfect predators.
Black racers are pretty speedy, and are faster than most other snakes. They’re also one of the most aggressive snake species, known to attack humans and animals without provocation. But their speed and aggression make them perfectly equipped to take down other snakes.
Black racers have been known to eat:
Watch this 7-minute YouTube video on how a black racer catches and eats up a whole cottonmouth on the way!
King snakes are immune to other snakes’ venom. While they’re not super quick, they are pretty big and will easily overpower another snake. They’re also excellent hunters.
King snakes are often seen wrapped around a rat or even larger animals like rabbits.
How To Distinguish a Black Rat Snake From a Black Racer
The most obvious difference between the two snakes is their head shape. The Black Rat snake has a triangular head, while the Black Racer has a more round head.
Both are fairly common snakes, but there are some key differences between the two.
- For starters, black racers are generally thinner and faster than black snakes.
- Racers also have smooth, glossy skin, whereas black snakes have rough scales.
- Black racers are more likely to attack.
- Black snakes are also good climbers and often live in trees. On the other hand, racers are primarily terrestrial and live in lowlands.
- Black rat snakes can grow up to 8 feet (244 cm) long, while racers only get to be about 5.5 feet (168 cm) at most.
- Rat snakes also have round pupils, while racers have elliptical ones.
Regarding behavior, black rat snakes are more docile than their racing cousins. They’re also good swimmers and climbers, whereas racers don’t really like getting wet and prefer staying on the ground.
The Black Racer is the fastest and most dangerous as it’s the most aggressive among the three.
The Black snake can grow to be quite large, up to 8 feet (244 cm) long, and are usually black or dark brown in color.
The King snake is usually smaller than black snakes, only growing to be around 5 feet (152 cm) long. King snakes can be of various colors, but they are often patterned with bands of white and black.
The black racer grows around 4.5 feet (137 cm) long and is solid black.