The racer is the only large, black snake in New England with smooth scales. Its chin, throat and jaw are white or gray and the belly is generally dark (gray, bluish, or black) from the throat back. Smooth scales give this snake a silky or satin-like appearance. A juvenile racer is gray with large brown, black or reddish blotches down the back, small spots along the sides and large dark eyes. The pattern fades with age, disappearing when the snake reaches 25-30 inches in length.
Racers mate in the spring, and females deposit 10-12 eggs in small mammal burrows, under rocks or logs, or in mulch piles or rotting logs. Eggs laid in June or July normally hatch in August and September.
Black racers are common snakes that utilize a variety of habitats including rocky ledges, pastures, overgrown fields, dry or moist woodlands and the edges of wetlands. Small mammals, other snakes and insects are preferred food items, although racers take a wide variety of prey. They will even feed on young of their own species. Active primarily during the day, racers are commonly seen as they bask on shrubs, rocks, ledges and roads, and are tolerant of summer temperatures that would drive other snakes to seek shelter. Aptly named, racers are very fast and typically flee from danger. However, once cornered they put up a vigorous fight, biting hard and often. Rattling their tails among dry leaves, racers can sound convincingly like rattlesnakes. If captured they are difficult to handle and will writhe, defecate and spray musk in an attempt to escape.