Masticophis flagellumCoachwhip

Geographic Range

Masticophis flagellum is found is found in the southern half of the U.S., and the northern 2/3rds of Mexico (King 1979).


Open hillsides, dry sand, prairies, oak and pine woodlands, grassy areas, dunes, and scrub. Not found above 2150m altitude (King 1979, Stebbins 1985)

Physical Description

This is a long, slender snake with smooth scales. The dorsal coloration in the adult varies from shades of tan, grey, pink, and red. Thin, white crossbars or blotches are found on the dorsal area behind the black or brown neck. The ventral surface is usually a tan to pinkish. Juveniles have tan, brown, or black transverse bands. In hatchlings the black neck is absent. The adult length ranges from 91.4-259 cm. The large eyes have round pupils, and are protected by supraocular scales. It has 17 dorsal scale rows at midbody, and a divided anal plate.(King 1979)


In the U.S. M. flagellum reproduces once per year. Mating occurs in the spring, and females lay a clutch of 4-16 eggs in June or July. The young hatch from the granular-surfaced eggs in 6-11 weeks. Hatchlings are 30-40 cm long (King 1979, Stebbins 1985).


  • Average lifespan
    Status: captivity
    20.2 years


Coachwhips are fast and agile, diurnal foragers. While hunting they hold the head and neck raised above the ground. They use scent trailing as well as vision to seek out prey. When confronted by a potential enemy they will normally flee, but if this is not feasible, then they will coil up, hissing loudly and vibrating the tail, and may strike repeatedly (King 1979, Stebbins 1985).

Food Habits

Preys on birds, rodents, lizards, other snakes(including rattlesnakes), small turtles, bird eggs, and insects. It hunts with its head raised above the ground, and will eat several small rodents during one feeding. It feeds approximately every five days. (Barker 1964)

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Coachwhips include pest rodents and venomous snakes in their diet.

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

These are active, aggressive snakes, and will bite if handled. They are not venomous.

Conservation Status

One subspecies, the San Joaquin whipsnake (Masticophis flagellum ruddocki) has been listed by the California Department of Fish and Game as a "Species of Special Concern" (California Dept. of Fish and Game 2001)

Other Comments

This species can grow to be one of the largest snakes in the United States. It is a very active animal, and does not do well in captivity. The Coachwhip derived its name in part to the appearance of its tapered tail which is similar to that of a braided whip. In popular folklore, the Coachwhip was thought to wrap itself around a person and lash out with its tail, administering powerful beating whiplike movements. Following these actions it would place the edge of its tail into the nose of the victim to differentiate whether it was still breathing. There is no evidence to support these beliefs. However, the Coachwhip is known to be a very nervous snake, and will attack repeatedly if cornered.


Isaac Gonzalez (author), Fresno City College, Jerry Kirkhart (editor), Fresno City College.



living in the Nearctic biogeographic province, the northern part of the New World. This includes Greenland, the Canadian Arctic islands, and all of the North American as far south as the highlands of central Mexico.

World Map


Found in coastal areas between 30 and 40 degrees latitude, in areas with a Mediterranean climate. Vegetation is dominated by stands of dense, spiny shrubs with tough (hard or waxy) evergreen leaves. May be maintained by periodic fire. In South America it includes the scrub ecotone between forest and paramo.

desert or dunes

in deserts low (less than 30 cm per year) and unpredictable rainfall results in landscapes dominated by plants and animals adapted to aridity. Vegetation is typically sparse, though spectacular blooms may occur following rain. Deserts can be cold or warm and daily temperates typically fluctuate. In dune areas vegetation is also sparse and conditions are dry. This is because sand does not hold water well so little is available to plants. In dunes near seas and oceans this is compounded by the influence of salt in the air and soil. Salt limits the ability of plants to take up water through their roots.


forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.

tropical savanna and grassland

A terrestrial biome. Savannas are grasslands with scattered individual trees that do not form a closed canopy. Extensive savannas are found in parts of subtropical and tropical Africa and South America, and in Australia.


A grassland with scattered trees or scattered clumps of trees, a type of community intermediate between grassland and forest. See also Tropical savanna and grassland biome.

temperate grassland

A terrestrial biome found in temperate latitudes (>23.5° N or S latitude). Vegetation is made up mostly of grasses, the height and species diversity of which depend largely on the amount of moisture available. Fire and grazing are important in the long-term maintenance of grasslands.


Barker, W. 1964. Familiar Reptiles and Amphibians of America. New York: Harper and Row.

Behler, J., F. King. 1979. The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Reptiles and Amphibians. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc..

California Department of Fish and Game, 2001. "Wildlife and Habitat Data Analysis Branch" (On-line). Accessed 26 March 2001 at

Schmidt, K. 1944. Field Book of Snakes. Chicago, Illinois:

Stebbins, R. 1985. A Field Guide to Western Reptile and Amphibians. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co..