Other common names
Most adult coachwhips are about 42-60 inches (107-152 cm) in total length. This is a very long and slender snake with large and prominent eyes that have yellow irises. Adults typically have a dark brown or black head, neck, and anterior (front) part of the body, which changes to light tan posteriorly. Juveniles are brown or tan with indistinct dark crossbands down the neck and back.
Range in Florida
Coachwhips are found throughout mainland Florida in every county. However, they are not known to occur on the Florida Keys, and they appear absent from much of the wetlands south of Lake Okeechobee.
Assessment of risk to people and pets
Non-Venomous. Coachwhips are not dangerous to people or pets, but they will readily bite to defend themselves. Coachwhips are not aggressive and avoid direct contact with people and pets. Virtually all bites occur when the snakes are intentionally molested.
Comparison with other species
Eastern indigo snake (Drymarchon couperi) Non-venomous
North American racer (Coluber constrictor) Non-venomous
Most adult coachwhips are about 42-60 inches (107-152 cm) in total length, with a record length recorded of 102 inches (259 cm). This is a long and slender snake with smooth scales in 17 dorsal rows at midbody. Adults typically have a dark brown or black head, neck, and anterior (front) part of the body, which changes to light tan posteriorly. However, some individuals may be completely dark, uniformly tan, or entirely light-colored with narrow dark crossbands down the neck and front part of the body. The belly color matches that of the back. The head is large and narrow, and the large scales over the eyes give the head an angular appearance. The eyes are large and prominent with round pupils and yellow irises. Juveniles are brown or tan with indistinct dark crossbands down the neck and back. The juvenile pattern gradually changes to the adult pattern over about two years.
Coachwhips generally prefer hot and dry habitats with open canopies. These snakes are often locally abundant and occur primarily in pine and palmetto flatwoods, longleaf pine-turkey oak sandhills, scrub, and along beaches interspersed with sand dunes, sea oats, and grape vines. Adults and juveniles of this species can be found in suburban neighborhoods where development encroaches into favorable habitats.
When approached, coachwhips will typically flee for shelter, relying on speed and agility to avoid capture. However, if they are cornered, both juveniles and adults will strike at the attacker and rapidly vibrate the tip of the tail, which produces a buzzing sound in leaf litter. If grabbed or pinned, they will readily bite the attacker. Nonetheless, these snakes are not aggressive, and striking is only used in defense as a last resort.
Coachwhips are diurnal (active during the day) predators and are known to feed on small mammals, birds and their eggs, lizards, turtles, snakes, frogs, and insects. In Florida, lizards likely make up the majority of their diet. Coachwhips are not true constrictors and overpower their prey by simply grabbing it in their jaws and pressing it against the ground until it stops struggling or by quickly swallowing it alive.
In Florida, females lay around 4-24 white oval eggs with granular shells. The eggs are often laid in loose soil, debris, leaf litter, rotting logs, or in animal burrows. Hatching typically occurs between August and September.
Six subspecies of coachwhip snakes are currently recognized, but only the eastern coachwhip (Masticophis flagellum flagellum) occurs in Florida.
The name “Coachwhip” comes from the large tan scales on its long, slowly tapering tail, which give it the appearance of a braided bullwhip.
Coachwhips are one of the longest snakes seen in Florida. These diurnal (active during the day) snakes are extremely fast and agile with keen eyesight. They often rest or crawl with their head and neck raised above the ground as they scan their environment, but they are also excellent climbers.
County data coming soon.
If you have a new or interesting observation for this species, please email the herpetology staff at the Florida Museum.
Ernst, C.H. and E.M. Ernst. 2003. Snakes of the United States and Canada. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, DC. 668 pp.
Krysko, K.L., K.M. Enge, and P.E. Moler. 2019. Amphibians and Reptiles of Florida. University of Florida Press, Gainesville, Florida. 706 pp.
Powell, R., R. Conant, and J.T. Collins. 2016. Peterson Field Guide to Reptiles and Amphibians of Eastern and Central North America. Fourth edition. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, Boston and New York. xiv + 494 pp.
Share your observations
You can help scientists better understand the biology and distribution of this species by sharing your observations. Send photos or videos of interesting observations, along with associated information, by emailing the herpetology staff at the Florida Museum for documentation in the Museum’s Herpetology Master Database. You can also post your observations on iNaturalist.
Additional helpful information
Do you have snakes around your house? Learn how to safely co-exist with snakes.
Still have questions about snakes or identifications? Feel free to email the herpetology staff at the Florida Museum with your questions or feedback on this profile.
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