Monday, September 24, 2012

Readers Write In: Who Would Win in a Fight, a Coral Snake or Black Racer?

"Dr Steen:  I have often heard (and read) that Black Racers keep all venomous species away.  My amateur Herpist friend pointed out that Elapidae (for readers, this is the family of snakes that includes coral snakes and cobras) eat other snakes.

Question:  If an Eastern Coral and a Black Racer came together, what would happen?  Would the Racer bully the Coral away?  Or would the Coral eat the Racer?

Thank you for any info you can provide.


    It's the age-old question-What would happen when two predators meet (i.e., who would win in a fight?)?

    First off, I think it is a misconception that Black Racers, Coluber constrictor, keep venomous species away. Black Racers are one of the most abundant snakes in the southeastern United States; if they were territorial or kept snakes away then there would be nowhere for other species to go. In my snake trapping and surveying efforts, I frequently find all kinds of snakes, including Black Racers, in the same area.

    That said, although other species, such as Indigo Snakes, Drymarchon couperi, are more famous for eating venomous snakes, Black Racers do it too. By no means are other snakes the primary prey of Black Racers, they are just not very picky about what they eat (the practice of eating snakes is called ophiophagy). Just check out these pictures of a Black Racer eating a Copperhead, Agkistrodon contortrix, in North Carolina. I have also seen pictures of a Black Racer eating an Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake, Crotalus adamanteus (I wouldn't have believed it if I hadn't seen it). 

    However, I looked through the snake books that I had and I couldn't find any instances of a Black Racer eating a Coral Snake, Micrurus fulvius. That doesn't mean it can't happen, just that nobody has documented it yet. I did find some pictures online of this culinary event but I couldn't determine if it was a staged encounter.

    Coral Snakes, on the other hand, are well-known for eating snakes, including Black Racers. In fact, reptiles are their primary prey.

    So, what would happen if these two snakes met? I think it's likely that the bigger of the animals would try to eat the smaller one. And, if they were the same size...My guess is that they wouldn't take any chances and they'd both hightail it in different directions. 

   I would be interested to know if any readers have seen or heard of interactions between these two species.

Want to Learn More?

DR Jackson, & R Franz (1981). Ecology of the eastern coral snake (Micrurus fulvius) in northern peninsular Florida Journal of Herpetology, 37, 213-228

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