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A Hillbilly Guide to Snakes: The Coachwhip

Updated on July 18, 2012
Eastern Coachwhip  By Hunter Desportes [CC-BY-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
Eastern Coachwhip By Hunter Desportes [CC-BY-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

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.

Red Coachwhip
Red Coachwhip
Western Coachwhip. Photo from  Fjguyote  Attribution-Share Alike 3.0
Western Coachwhip. Photo from Fjguyote Attribution-Share Alike 3.0
Eastern Coachwhip.  Photo from Natural Estuarine Research Reserve
Eastern Coachwhip. Photo from Natural Estuarine Research Reserve


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.

Western Coachwhip. Notice the large eyes in comparison to the small head.  Photo by  Dawson (Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 2.5 License).
Western Coachwhip. Notice the large eyes in comparison to the small head. Photo by Dawson (Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 2.5 License).
Photo from Cornell University
Photo from Cornell University


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.

Photo from Missouri Department of Conservation
Photo from Missouri Department of Conservation


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.

Red Coachwhip
Red Coachwhip


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    • Phillbert profile imageAUTHOR

      Phillip Drayer Duncan 

      6 years ago from The Ozarks

      Thanks Pamela-anne! I think some people who hate snakes underestimate how much snakes do for keeping rodent populations down, which can be much more dangerous than snakes.

    • Pamela-anne profile image


      6 years ago from Miller Lake

      Well I can honestly say that we have Coachwhips out there keeping the rodents at bay and I know my mother would agree; thanks for the info I love it's big eyes! take care pam.


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