Masticophis flagellum

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Masticophis flagellum
Masticophis flagellum.jpg
Juvenile western coachwhip
Masticophis flagellum testaceus
Scientific classification Red Pencil Icon.png
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Reptilia
Order: Squamata
Suborder: Serpentes
Family: Colubridae
Genus: Masticophis
M. flagellum
Binomial name
Masticophis flagellum
(Shaw, 1802)
Synonyms [1]
Masticophis flagellum flagellum, eastern coachwhip, Florida Ccoachwhip, Masticophis flagellum.jpg
Masticophis flagellum flagellum, eastern coachwhip, Florida
Masticophis f. flagellum, eastern coachwhip, Florida Coachwhip, Ccoachwhip, Masticophis flagellum.png
Masticophis f. flagellum, eastern coachwhip, Florida
Masticophis f. flagellum, eastern coachwhip, Florida Ccoachwhip, Masticophis flagellum 2.png
Masticophis f. flagellum, eastern coachwhip, Florida
Masticophis flagellum piceus, red racer/red coachwhip, Santa Fe, New Mexico Red Racer Coachwhip.jpg
Masticophis flagellum piceus, red racer/red coachwhip, Santa Fe, New Mexico

Masticophis flagellum is a species of nonvenomous colubrid snake, commonly referred to as the coachwhip or the whip snake, which is endemic to the United States and Mexico. Six subspecies are recognized, including the nominotypical subspecies.

In biology, a species ( ) is the basic unit of classification and a taxonomic rank of an organism, as well as a unit of biodiversity. A species is often defined as the largest group of organisms in which any two individuals of the appropriate sexes or mating types can produce fertile offspring, typically by sexual reproduction. Other ways of defining species include their karyotype, DNA sequence, morphology, behaviour or ecological niche. In addition, paleontologists use the concept of the chronospecies since fossil reproduction cannot be examined. While these definitions may seem adequate, when looked at more closely they represent problematic species concepts. For example, the boundaries between closely related species become unclear with hybridisation, in a species complex of hundreds of similar microspecies, and in a ring species. Also, among organisms that reproduce only asexually, the concept of a reproductive species breaks down, and each clone is potentially a microspecies.

Snake wiggling animal without legs

Snakes are elongated, legless, carnivorous reptiles of the suborder Serpentes. Like all other squamates, snakes are ectothermic, amniote vertebrates covered in overlapping scales. Many species of snakes have skulls with several more joints than their lizard ancestors, enabling them to swallow prey much larger than their heads with their highly mobile jaws. To accommodate their narrow bodies, snakes' paired organs appear one in front of the other instead of side by side, and most have only one functional lung. Some species retain a pelvic girdle with a pair of vestigial claws on either side of the cloaca. Lizards have evolved elongate bodies without limbs or with greatly reduced limbs about twenty-five times independently via convergent evolution, leading to many lineages of legless lizards. Legless lizards resemble snakes, but several common groups of legless lizards have eyelids and external ears, which snakes lack, although this rule is not universal.

Endemism Ecological state of being unique to a defined geographic location or habitat

Endemism is the ecological state of a species being unique to a defined geographic location, such as an island, nation, country or other defined zone, or habitat type; organisms that are indigenous to a place are not endemic to it if they are also found elsewhere. The extreme opposite of endemism is cosmopolitan distribution. An alternative term for a species that is endemic is precinctive, which applies to species that are restricted to a defined geographical area.


Geographic range

Coachwhips range throughout the southern United States from coast to coast. They are also found in the northern half of Mexico. [1] [2]

United States Federal republic in North America

The United States of America (USA), commonly known as the United States or America, is a country comprising 50 states, a federal district, five major self-governing territories, and various possessions. At 3.8 million square miles, the United States is the world's third or fourth largest country by total area and is slightly smaller than the entire continent of Europe's 3.9 million square miles. With a population of over 327 million people, the U.S. is the third most populous country. The capital is Washington, D.C., and the largest city by population is New York City. Forty-eight states and the capital's federal district are contiguous in North America between Canada and Mexico. The State of Alaska is in the northwest corner of North America, bordered by Canada to the east and across the Bering Strait from Russia to the west. The State of Hawaii is an archipelago in the mid-Pacific Ocean. The U.S. territories are scattered about the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, stretching across nine official time zones. The extremely diverse geography, climate, and wildlife of the United States make it one of the world's 17 megadiverse countries.

Mexico Country in the southern portion of North America

Mexico, officially the United Mexican States, is a country in the southern portion of North America. It is bordered to the north by the United States; to the south and west by the Pacific Ocean; to the southeast by Guatemala, Belize, and the Caribbean Sea; and to the east by the Gulf of Mexico. Covering almost 2,000,000 square kilometres (770,000 sq mi), the nation is the fifth largest country in the Americas by total area and the 13th largest independent state in the world. With an estimated population of over 120 million people, the country is the eleventh most populous state and the most populous Spanish-speaking state in the world, while being the second most populous nation in Latin America after Brazil. Mexico is a federation comprising 31 states and Mexico City, a special federal entity that is also the capital city and its most populous city. Other metropolises in the state include Guadalajara, Monterrey, Puebla, Toluca, Tijuana and León.


Masticophis f. flagellum, eastern coachwhip, at Weeks Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, Alabama Masticophis flagellum at Weeks Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve.jpg
Masticophis f. flagellum, eastern coachwhip, at Weeks Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, Alabama

Coachwhips are thin-bodied snakes with small heads and large eyes with 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 western area of Texas, where the soil color is a shade of pink, the coachwhips are also pink in color. M. f. piceus was given its common name because specimens frequently, but not always, have some red in their coloration. Coachwhip scales are patterned so at first glance, the snake appears braided. Subspecies can be difficult to distinguish in areas where their ranges overlap. Adult sizes of 127–183 cm (50–72 in) in total length (including tail) are common. The record sized specimen, of the eastern coachwhip race, was 259 cm (102 in) in total length. [3] Young specimens, mostly just over 100 cm (39 in) in length, were found to have weighed 180 to 675 g (6.3 to 23.8 oz), whereas good-sized mature adults measuring 163 to 235 cm (64 to 93 in) weighed in at 1.2 to 1.8 kg (2.6 to 4.0 lb). [4] [5]

Eye organ that detects light and converts it into electro-chemical impulses in neurons

Eyes are organs of the visual system. They provide organisms with vision, the ability to receive and process visual detail, as well as enabling several photo response functions that are independent of vision. Eyes detect light and convert it into electro-chemical impulses in neurons. In higher organisms, the eye is a complex optical system which collects light from the surrounding environment, regulates its intensity through a diaphragm, focuses it through an adjustable assembly of lenses to form an image, converts this image into a set of electrical signals, and transmits these signals to the brain through complex neural pathways that connect the eye via the optic nerve to the visual cortex and other areas of the brain. Eyes with resolving power have come in ten fundamentally different forms, and 96% of animal species possess a complex optical system. Image-resolving eyes are present in molluscs, chordates and arthropods.

Pupil part of an eye

The pupil is a hole located in the center of the iris of the eye that allows light to strike the retina. It appears black because light rays entering the pupil are either absorbed by the tissues inside the eye directly, or absorbed after diffuse reflections within the eye that mostly miss exiting the narrow pupil. Anatomical term created by Gerard of Cremona.

Camouflage concealment through color or pattern

Camouflage is the use of any combination of materials, coloration, or illumination for concealment, either by making animals or objects hard to see (crypsis), or by disguising them as something else (mimesis). Examples include the leopard's spotted coat, the battledress of a modern soldier, and the leaf-mimic katydid's wings. A third approach, motion dazzle, confuses the observer with a conspicuous pattern, making the object visible but momentarily harder to locate. The majority of camouflage methods aim for crypsis, often through a general resemblance to the background, high contrast disruptive coloration, eliminating shadow, and countershading. In the open ocean, where there is no background, the principal methods of camouflage are transparency, silvering, and countershading, while the ability to produce light is among other things used for counter-illumination on the undersides of cephalopods such as squid. Some animals, such as chameleons and octopuses, are capable of actively changing their skin pattern and colours, whether for camouflage or for signalling. It is possible that some plants use camouflage to evade being eaten by herbivores.


Coachwhips are commonly found in open areas with sandy soil, open pine forests, old fields, and prairies. They thrive in sandhill scrub and coastal dunes.

Sand A granular material composed of finely divided rock and mineral particles, from 0.063 to 2 mm diameter

Sand is a granular material composed of finely divided rock and mineral particles. It is defined by size, being finer than gravel and coarser than silt. Sand can also refer to a textural class of soil or soil type; i.e., a soil containing more than 85 percent sand-sized particles by mass.

Soil mixture of organic matter, minerals, gases, liquids, and organisms that together support life

Soil is a mixture of organic matter, minerals, gases, liquids, and organisms that together support life. Earth's body of soil, called the pedosphere, has four important functions:

Temperate coniferous forest biome

Temperate coniferous forest is a terrestrial habitat type defined by the World Wide Fund for Nature. Temperate coniferous forests are found predominantly in areas with warm summers and cool winters, and vary in their kinds of plant life. In some, needleleaf trees dominate, while others are home primarily to broadleaf evergreen trees or a mix of both tree types. A separate habitat type, the tropical coniferous forests, occurs in more tropical climates.


Coachwhips are diurnal, and actively hunt and eat lizards, small birds, and rodents. Coachwhips subdue prey by grasping and holding them with their jaws and do not use constriction. [6] They tend to be sensitive to potential threats, and often bolt at the first sign of one; they are extremely fast-moving snakes. 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. They can slither up to 24 km/h (15 mph).

Lizard suborder of reptiles

Lizards are a widespread group of squamate reptiles, with over 6,000 species, ranging across all continents except Antarctica, as well as most oceanic island chains. The group is paraphyletic as it excludes the snakes and Amphisbaenia; some lizards are more closely related to these two excluded groups than they are to other lizards. Lizards range in size from chameleons and geckos a few centimeters long to the 3 meter long Komodo dragon.

Bird Warm-blooded, egg-laying vertebrates with wings, feathers and beaks

Birds, also known as Aves, are a group of endothermic vertebrates, characterised by feathers, toothless beaked jaws, the laying of hard-shelled eggs, a high metabolic rate, a four-chambered heart, and a strong yet lightweight skeleton. Birds live worldwide and range in size from the 5 cm (2 in) bee hummingbird to the 2.75 m (9 ft) ostrich. They rank as the world's most numerically-successful class of tetrapods, with approximately ten thousand living species, more than half of these being passerines, sometimes known as perching birds. Birds have wings which are more or less developed depending on the species; the only known groups without wings are the extinct moa and elephant birds. Wings, which evolved from forelimbs, gave birds the ability to fly, although further evolution has led to the loss of flight in flightless birds, including ratites, penguins, and diverse endemic island species of birds. The digestive and respiratory systems of birds are also uniquely adapted for flight. Some bird species of aquatic environments, particularly seabirds and some waterbirds, have further evolved for swimming.

Rodent Diverse order of mammals

Rodents are mammals of the order Rodentia, which are characterized by a single pair of continuously growing incisors in each of the upper and lower jaws. About 40% of all mammal species are rodents ; they are found in vast numbers on all continents except Antarctica. They are the most diversified mammalian order and live in a variety of terrestrial habitats, including human-made environments.


Six subspecies of Masticophis flagellum are recognized as being valid, including the nominotypical subspecies. [1]

Nota bene : A trinomial authority in parentheses indicates that the subspecies was originally described in a genus other than Masticophis.

Masticophis flagellum testaceus, western coachwhip Eastern Coachwhip.jpg
Masticophis flagellum testaceus, western coachwhip


The subspecific name, ruddocki, is in honor of Dr. John C. Ruddock who was Medical Director for the Richfield Oil Corporation. [7]


The primary myth concerning coachwhips, that they chase people, likely arises from the snake and the person both being frightened, and both just happening to be going the same way to escape. Coachwhips are fast snakes, often moving faster than a human, and thus give an impression of aggression should they move toward the person.

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 neither constrictors (snakes that dispatch their prey by suffocating with their coils) nor strong enough to overpower a person. Also, they do not whip with their tails, even though their tails are long and look very much like a whip.

Their bites can be painful, but generally are harmless unless they become infected.

In parts of Mexico, where ranching is a way of life, these snakes are believed to wrap around the legs of cows and feed on their milk as if suckling leaving the nipple dry. They will also hook on any other mammal that produces milk, leaving the young baby dehydrated.

Ranchers also tell stories of chirrioneras, which hypnotize women then latch onto their breasts to feed. If the woman has a crying hungry baby, the snake sticks its tail in the baby's mouth to keep the baby quiet while feeding, then leaves, undetected. This leaves the baby malnourished and getting weaker while the mother can't feed her baby because her breasts have been sucked dry. The story goes that the only way to know if the snake has been there is if the baby has sores around the mouth.

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  1. 1 2 3 "Masticophis flagellum ". The Reptile Database.
  2. Powell R, Conant R, Collins JT (2016). Peterson Field Guide to Reptiles and Amphibians of Eastern and Central North America, Fourth Edition. Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. xiv + 494 pp., 47 plates, 204 figures. ISBN   978-0-544-12997-9. (Coluber flagellum, pp. 370-371, Figure 177 + Plate32).
  3. "Eastern Coachwhip (Masticophis flagellum flagellum)". Florida Museum of Natural History. Retrieved 2012-07-26.
  4. Mitrovich MJ, Diffendorfer JE, Fisher RN (2009). "Behavioral Response of the Coachwhip (Masticophis flagellum) to Habitat Fragment Size and Isolation in an Urban Landscape". Journal of Herpetology43 (4): 646-656.
  5. Dodd CK, Barichivich WJ (2007). "Movements Of Large Snakes (Drymarchon, Masticophis) In North-Central Florida" (PDF). Florida Scientist. 70 (1): 83–94. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2007-07-15. Retrieved 2012-07-26.
  6. Bealor MT, Saviola AJ (2007). "Behavioural complexity and prey-handling ability in snakes: gauging the benefits of constriction". Behaviour144 (8): 907-929.
  7. Brattstrom, Bayard H.; Warren, James W. (1953). "A New Subspecies of Racer, Masticophis flagellum, from the San Joaquin Valley of California". Herpetologica9 (4): 177-179. (Masticophis flagellum ruddocki, new subspecies).

Further reading