Species Profile

Eastern Yellow-bellied Racer

Scientific Name: Coluber constrictor flaviventris
Taxonomy Group: Reptiles
COSEWIC Range: Alberta, Saskatchewan
COSEWIC Assessment Date and Status Change: November 2015
COSEWIC Status: Threatened
COSEWIC Status Criteria: C2a(i)
COSEWIC Reason for Designation: The Canadian distribution of this snake is restricted to three river valleys in southwestern Saskatchewan and one in extreme southeastern Alberta. Small population size (< 10,000), together with the use of communal dens for over-wintering, make the population particularly vulnerable to declines from stochastic events such as landslides during the denning period and from road mortality. Habitat loss and degradation in foraging habitat and along migration routes is also a concern.
COSEWIC History of Status Designation: Designated Special Concern in April 1991. Status re-examined and designated Threatened in November 2004 and November 2015.
SARA Status: Schedule 1, Threatened
Date of Listing (yyyy-mm-dd): 2006-08-15

Please note that this information is provided for general information purposes only. For the most up to date and accurate list of species listed under the Species at Risk Act, please see the Justice Laws Website.

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Quick Links: | Photo | Description | Distribution and Population | Habitat | Biology | Threats | Protection | Recovery Initiatives | Recovery Team | National Recovery Program | Documents

Image of Eastern Yellow-bellied Racer

Eastern Yellow-bellied Racer Photo 1

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Description

The racer species complex (Coluber constrictor) has a broad distribution throughout North America, with three subspecies occurring in Canada: Eastern Yellow-bellied Racer (Coluber constrictor flaviventris), Western Yellow-bellied Racer (C. c. mormon), and Blue Racer (C. c. foxii; addressed in a separate status report). Racers are long, slender snakes with whip-like tails. The Eastern and Western Yellow-bellied Racers are olive-green to blue-grey with cream to bright yellow undersides, from which the name “Yellow-bellied Racer” is derived. Juvenile racers have dark saddle-shaped dorsal markings that fade as the snakes mature. Their sleek body form helps make them extremely fast, while their colouration provides excellent camouflage. In Canada, racers are at the northern extent of their global distribution, where they are of high conservation value as such populations often possess unique ecological adaptations. Racers are non-venomous and harmless to humans. They feed mainly on rodents and insects and are beneficial to local ecological processes. (Updated 2016/12/19)

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Distribution and Population

Racers are broadly distributed across North America, but the Eastern Yellow-bellied Racer and Western Yellow-bellied Racer have more restricted ranges. In Canada, the distribution of the Eastern Yellow-bellied Racer extends into three discrete river valleys in southern Saskatchewan and one in southeastern Alberta. The Western Yellow-bellied Racer is restricted to the arid south-central interior of British Columbia, where it occurs in five discrete river valleys. (Updated 2016/12/19)

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Habitat

In Canada, racers overwinter in communal rock dens. Western Yellow-bellied Racers may also use rodent burrows or other refuges and hibernate singly, as shown for the sympatric Great Basin Gophersnake. Rock dens are often located on south-facing slopes of steep river valleys, and suitable sites appear to be a limited resource within the landscape. During the active season, racers move from their dens into grassland foraging areas in adjacent lowlands. While Eastern Yellow-bellied Racers occur in mixed-grass prairie, Western Yellow-bellied Racers most frequently occur in Ponderosa Pine and Bunchgrass habitats. Both subspecies forage in riparian and valley bottom habitats. (Updated 2016/12/19)

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Biology

In more southern areas of their range in the United States, female racers mature at 2 - 4 years of age and produce one clutch of eggs per year, although, depending on body condition, some may reproduce only every second year. Limited data are available on the age of maturity and survivorship of racers in Canada. The generation time is presumed to be 7 – 8 years. Racers mate after emerging from their winter dens in spring. Females lay a clutch of 3 – 12 eggs, which hatch in approximately 2 months (usually August or September), at which time neonates find their way to a den to hibernate for the winter. Individuals often exhibit strong fidelity to specific hibernacula. The diet of juvenile Eastern and Western Yellow-bellied Racers consists mainly of insects, including crickets and grasshoppers. Adult racers will also take larger prey such as small mammals, reptiles, birds, and amphibians. (Updated 2016/12/19)

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Threats

Both Eastern and Western Yellow-bellied Racers are vulnerable to habitat loss and fragmentation. These snakes exhibit a high degree of fidelity to specific hibernacula, nesting sites, and summer foraging areas, and appear not to tolerate significant disturbance to these habitats. Racers are limited by the availability of suitable den sites and are unlikely to be able to relocate to other areas if dens are destroyed. Large geographic distances or habitat-barriers isolate small subpopulations, further decreasing the probability of individuals dispersing between sites. Both subspecies are regularly killed on roads, but the threat of road mortality varies greatly across their ranges, being considerably greater for the western subspecies. The overall threat impact was rated as “high” for the Western Yellow-bellied Racer and “medium” for the Eastern Yellow-bellied Racer according to the COSEWIC threat calculator. (Updated 2016/12/19)

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Protection

Federal Protection

The Eastern Yellow-bellied Racer is protected under the federal Species at Risk Act (SARA). More information about SARA, including how it protects individual species, is available in the Species at Risk Act: A Guide.

Provincial and Territorial Protection

To know if this species is protected by provincial or territorial laws, consult the provinces' and territories' websites.

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Recovery Initiatives

Status of Recovery Planning

Recovery Strategies :

Name Recovery strategy for the Eastern Yellow-bellied Racer (Coluber constrictor flaviventris) in Canada
Status Final posting on SAR registry

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Recovery Team

Eastern yellow bellied racer

  • Robert Sissons - Chair/Contact - Parks Canada
    Phone: 306-298-2166  Fax: 306-298-4505  Send Email

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Documents

PLEASE NOTE: Not all COSEWIC reports are currently available on the SARA Public Registry. Most of the reports not yet available are status reports for species assessed by COSEWIC prior to May 2002. Other COSEWIC reports not yet available may include those species assessed as Extinct, Data Deficient or Not at Risk. In the meantime, they are available on request from the COSEWIC Secretariat.

21 record(s) found.

Reports on the Progress of Recovery Document Implementation

COSEWIC Status Reports

  • COSEWIC assessment and update status report on the Eastern and Western Yellow-bellied Racers, Coluber constrictor flaviventris and Coluber constrictor mormon in Canada (2016-10-13)

    The racer species complex (Coluber constrictor) has a broad distribution throughout North America, with three subspecies occurring in Canada: Eastern Yellow-bellied Racer (Coluber constrictor flaviventris), Western Yellow-bellied Racer (C. c. mormon), and Blue Racer (C. c. foxii; addressed in a separate status report). Racers are long, slender snakes with whip-like tails. The Eastern and Western Yellow-bellied Racers are olive-green to blue-grey with cream to bright yellow undersides, from which the name “Yellow-bellied Racer” is derived. Juvenile racers have dark saddle-shaped dorsal markings that fade as the snakes mature. Their sleek body form helps make them extremely fast, while their colouration provides excellent camouflage. In Canada, racers are at the northern extent of their global distribution, where they are of high conservation value as such populations often possess unique ecological adaptations. Racers are non-venomous and harmless to humans. They feed mainly on rodents and insects and are beneficial to local ecological processes.

Response Statements

  • Response Statement - Eastern Yellow-bellied Racer (2017-01-11)

    The Canadian distribution of this snake is restricted to three river valleys in southwestern Saskatchewan and one in extreme southeastern Alberta. Small population size (< 10,000), together with the use of communal dens for over-wintering, make the population particularly vulnerable to declines from stochastic events such as landslides during the denning period and from road mortality. Habitat loss and degradation in foraging habitat and along migration routes is also a concern.
  • Response Statements - Eastern Yellow-bellied Racer (2005-11-15)

    This snake is restricted to two small areas in extreme southern Saskatchewan. It is at risk due to loss of habitat from agriculture, mortality on roads, loss of den sites and perhaps from effects of small population size. There may be a rescue effect from immigration from the United States, but this effect has not been observed.

Recovery Strategies

  • Recovery Strategy for the Eastern Yellow-bellied Racer (Coluber constrictor flaviventris) in Canada (2010-10-27)

    The Eastern Yellow-bellied Racer (Coluber constrictor flaviventris) is a long, smooth scaled, quick moving diurnal snake of the North American Colubrid family. Identifiable by its yellow coloured belly and olive dorsal scales, Eastern Yellow-bellied Racers range from Texas and Louisiana up to Iowa, North Dakota and Montana, with the extreme northern tip extending into southwestern Saskatchewan and southeastern Alberta. Known distributions of Canadian populations are centered around hibernacula located within the boundaries of Grasslands National Park and the Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) Val Marie Community Pasture. Additional Eastern Yellow-bellied Racer sightings have been reported in southeastern Alberta near the area of Onefour and in south central Saskatchewan in the Big Muddy Valley.

Action Plans

  • Action Plan for Multiple Species at Risk in Southwestern Saskatchewan: South of the Divide (2017-11-20)

    The Minister of Environment is the competent minister under SARA for the recovery of the species on lands covered by this action plan and has prepared it to partially implement the associated recovery strategies, as per section 49 of SARA. To the extent possible, it has been prepared in cooperation with the Government of Saskatchewan (Ministry of the Environment, Ministry of Agriculture, Water Security Agency, Ministry of the Economy) and with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and Parks Canada Agency.
  • Multi-species Action Plan for Grasslands National Park of Canada (2016-07-05)

    The Multi-species Action Plan for Grasslands National Park of Canada applies to lands and waters occurring within the boundaries of Grasslands National Park of Canada (GNP). The plan meets the requirements for action plans set out in the Species At Risk Act (SARA s.47) for species requiring an action plan and that regularly occur at this site. Measures described in this plan will also provide benefits for other species of conservation concern that regularly occur at GNP.

Orders

COSEWIC Annual Reports

  • COSEWIC Annual Report - 2005 (2005-08-12)

    2005 Annual Report to the Canadian Endangered Species Conservation Council (CESCC) from the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada.
  • COSEWIC Annual Report - 2015-2016 (2016-10-13)

    Over the past year COSEWIC re-examined the status of 25 wildlife species; of these, the majority (68%) were re-assessed at the same or lower level of risk. Of a total of 45 species assessed, seven were assigned a status of Not at Risk (two re-assessments and five new assessments). To date, and with the submission of this report, COSEWIC’s assessments now include 724 wildlife species in various risk categories, including 320 Endangered, 172 Threatened, 209 Special Concern, and 23 Extirpated (i.e., no longer found in the wild in Canada). In addition, 15 wildlife species have been assessed as Extinct, 54 wildlife species have been designated as Data Deficient, and 177 have been assessed and assigned Not at Risk status.

Permits and Related Agreements

  • Explanation for issuing permit(#GRA-2008-1948 ), persuant to the provisions of section 73 of SARA (2008-09-12)

    Eastern Yellow-bellied Racer Snake population survey and research occurring in southwestern Saskatchewan: This permit concerns the portion of the research that will take place in Grasslands National Park of Canada. It is not known how many snakes will be trapped but it could be up to 50 per year for the whole region. The snakes will receive a permanent mark in the form of a PIT tag. Blood will be drawn for genetic testing. Large-bodied racers will have radio-transmitters surgically implanted by a veterinarian. Data gathered from marking and genetic testing will be used to estimate population sizes and migration rates and radio-tracking data will be used to assess movement patterns, risks to survival and habitat features selected by the snakes.
  • Explanation for issuing permit(#GRA-2008-1948), persuant to the provisions of section 74 of SARA (2009-04-01)

    This permit was already submitted - June 19, 2009. Eastern Yellow-bellied Racer population survey and research occurring in southwestern Saskatchewan: This permit concerns the portion of the research that will take place in Grasslands National Park of Canada. It is not known how many snakes will be trapped but it could be up to 50 per year for the whole region. The snakes will receive a permanent mark in the form of a PIT tag. Blood will be drawn for genetic testing. Large-bodied racers will have radio-transmitters surgically implanted by a veterinarian. Data gathered from marking and genetic testing will be used to estimate population sizes and migration rates and radio-tracking data will be used to assess movement patterns, risks to survival and habitat features selected by the snakes.
  • Explanation for issuing permit(#GRA-2013-14635 ), persuant to the provisions of section 73 of SARA (2013-08-01)

    Eastern Yellow-bellied Racer Snake population survey and research occurring in southwestern Saskatchewan: This permit concerns the portion of the research that will take place in Grasslands National Park of Canada. It is not known how many snakes will be trapped but it could be up to 50 per year for the whole region. The snakes will receive a permanent mark in the form of a PIT tag. Blood will be drawn for genetic testing. Large-bodied racers will have radio-transmitters surgically implanted by a veterinarian. Data gathered from marking and genetic testing will be used to estimate population sizes and migration rates and radio-tracking data will be used to assess movement patterns, risks to survival and habitat features selected by the snakes.
  • Explanation for issuing permit(#SARA-PNR-2007-0059), persuant to the provisions of section 73 of SARA (2007-05-28)

    There are few known locations where Eastern Yellow-bellied racers (YBR) exist in Canada. There has been an incidental sighting or two in south central Saskatchewan and in southeastern Alberta, but the only known significant population occurs in Grasslands National Park (GNP). There is however reason to believe that YBR also exist in AAFC-PFRA community pastures near GNP. The main purpose of this project is to survey AAFC-PFRA community pastures for the presence of YBR and to determine any hibernacula locations. We will set up drift fences (a proven effective method of surveying for snakes) around high priority sites within the PFRA pasture(s).
  • Explanation for issuing permit(#SARA-PNR-2010-0137), persuant to the provisions of section 73 of SARA (2010-05-21)

    Walking surveys will be undertaken to search for snakes and their dens. The majority of snakes will be captured by hand. In rare instances, drift fences will be set up near dens with live traps at each end. Traps will be checked twice per day. Snakes will be measured, sexed and injected with a small permanent microchip marker. Blood samples will be taken from large snakes, while small snakes will have several millimeters of non vascularized tail clipped for genetic analyses. Up to 10 radio transmitters per year will be implanted in larger snakes to monitor movements. Surgery will be undertaken in an offsite facility and snakes will usually be released within 24 hours, after a period of observation, at the site from which they were captured. Radioed snakes will be monitored every two to four days in the field. An underground video probe will be used to examine burrows used by snakes, once the snakes have departed.
  • Explanation for issuing permit(#SARA-PNR-2011-0173), persuant to the provisions of section 73 of SARA (2011-06-01)

    The purpose of this study is to identify the hibernacula of the eastern yellow bellied racer (Constrictor flaviventris) in order to identify critical habitat. Twenty 100 meter long wire mesh fences, installed 500 meters apart, will be used to intercept snake movements. These fences will be installed in the fall for up to 90 days. Live traps will be placed along the fences and checked daily. Traps will be buried in the ground and will provide thermal protection for the snakes. Snakes will be measured and weighed. Snakes will be marked by clipping ventral scales. Radio transmitters will be glued to the rear dorsal side of the snakes. Thread bobbins will also be glued to the posterior dorsal side of the snakes to monitor short term movements. A non toxic fluorescent powder will be applied to snakes to track short term movements. This species is regulated under the Species at Risk Act. This location is a federal land.

Consultation Documents

  • Consultation on Amending the List of Species Under the Species At Risk Act: November 2005 (2005-11-16)

    The Government of Canada proclaimed the Species at Risk Act (SARA) on June 5, 2003 as part of its strategy for the protection of wildlife species at risk. Attached to the Act is Schedule 1, the list of the species that receive protection under SARA, hereinafter referred to as the 'SARA list'. Canadians are invited to comment on whether all or some of the species included in this document should be added to the SARA list.
  • Consultation on Amending the List of Species under the Species at Risk Act: Terrestrial Species - January 2017 (2017-01-16)

    The Government of Canada is committed to preventing the disappearance of wildlife species at risk from our lands. As part of its strategy for realizing that commitment, on June 5, 2003, the Government of Canada proclaimed the Species at Risk Act (SARA). Attached to the Act is Schedule 1, the list of the species provided for under SARA, also called the List of Wildlife Species at Risk. Extirpated, Endangered and Threatened species on Schedule 1 benefit from the protection afforded by the prohibitions and from recovery planning requirements under SARA. Special Concern species benefit from its management planning requirements. Schedule 1 has grown from the original 233 to 521 wildlife species at risk. In 2016, on the recommendation of the Minister of the Environment, the Governor in Council approved listing proposals for 44 wildlife species. It is proposed that 23 species be added to Schedule 1, 18 be reclassified or have a change made to how they are defined (two wildlife species are being split into four), one species  be removed from Schedule 1, and another two species not be added. Listing proposals were published in Canada Gazette, part I for a 30-day public comment period and final listing decisions for all 44 species are expected in the first half of 2017.Please submit your comments byMay 11, 2017, for terrestrial species undergoing normal consultationsand byOctober 11, 2017, for terrestrial species undergoing extended consultations.For a description of the consultation paths these species will undergo, please see:Minister of Environment response to COSEWIC species at risk assessments: October 13, 2016 The COSEWIC Summaries of Terrestrial Species Eligible for Addition or Reclassification on Schedule 1 - January 2017

Residence Description

  • Description of Residence for the Eastern Yellow-Bellied Racer (Coluber Constrictor Flaviventris) In Canada (2010-10-18)

    Section 33 of the Species at Risk Act (SARA) prohibits damaging or destroying the residence of a listed threatened, endangered, or extirpated species. SARA defines residence as: "a dwelling-place, such as a den, nest or other similar area or place, that is occupied or habitually occupied by one or more individuals during all or part of their life cycles, including breeding, rearing, staging, wintering, feeding or hibernating" [s.2(1)].

Critical Habitat Descriptions in the Canada Gazette

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