A Hillbilly Guide to Snakes: The Coachwhip
Masticophis flagellum... The Coachwhip
This is one mean snake! It will literally take down an adult sized human, wrap them up in a choke hold better than Hulk Hogan, and beat them to death with their leather whip like tail! What... You don't believe that? Well good you shouldn't! It's nonsense! However that is the myth around how this harmless little creature got it's name.
There are actually several difference subspecies of coachwhips including the eastern coachwhip, western coachwhip, red coachwhip, San Joaquin coachwhip, lined coachwhip, Baja California coachwhip, and the Sonoran coachwhip. With so many subspecies coachwhips come in a variety of colors and some experts even have trouble telling subspecies apart. Most coachwhips are light brown or reddish. Coachwhips as a whole do have some distinguishing features. First off their patterns tend to flow together as if the snake's colors or scales have been braided together like a rope or leather whip. That actually may be a more precise reason for the name coachwhip, but the myth thing... Well that's just more fun.
The coachwhip is one of the longest snakes in the United States. However it is a very slim snake so it may not always be easy to tell how big one is until you get up close and personal. That's not always easy because they are really fast.
Another distinguishing feature of the coachwhip are it's huge bug eyes that are too big for it's head. OK, so that might be a little bit of an exaggeration, but coachwhips do have large eyes and small heads.
Coachwhips thrive in any area that their camouflage can hide them well such as woodlands, grassy areas, brush, etc.. They day time creatures and most active in hot weather. When it's cool they are more likely to remain in hiding.
They are common all over the middle to bottom half of the United States from East to West. They can also be found in Mexico.
Like most snakes coachwhips aren't super particular about their food and will eat anything from rodents, amphibians, other reptiles etc.. Coachwhips aren't venomous or constrictors. Because of their impressive speed they simply chase down their prey and eat it alive.
Interactions with humans
I've already stated that the myth about coachwhips whipping people is trash, but another common misnomer about coachwhips is that they are highly aggressive and will chase humans. Coachwhips are extremely fast and when they fill threatened will bolt off with lightning speed. If a person happens to be in their way they will hammer through in their attempt to escape. This is probably why they have a reputation as being mean. Once captured and in human hands it's quite possible a coachwhip might bite, but they are also known to be pretty docile as well. They most certainly don't chase people down and whip them.
More by this Author
Photo by David Sledge, This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license. Also called the blue racer, these quick little critters are a subspecies of the coluber or racer family. If...
An article about the western rat snake, AKA the black rat snake.
Being somewhat of a country boy, from the time I could walk I was being taught how to tell the difference between the 'dangerous' and 'not so dangerous snakes' in the wild. When I was a young child my family lived in a...