Cover photo credit: Michael Oldham

Status

Endangered

“Endangered” means the species lives in the wild in Ontario but is facing imminent extinction or extirpation.

Date added to the Species at Risk in Ontario List

The Blue racer was already assessed as endangered when the Endangered Species Act took effect in 2008.

Assessment Report

What it looks like

The Blue Racer is a large, non-venomous snake that grows to 1.5 meters in length. It is named for its speed and distinctive grayish-blue or blue-green body colour. The belly is usually a lighter blue-green or whitish hue.

Where it lives

The Blue Racer prefers open habitat with abundant cover such as prairie, savanna, alvar and open woodlands.

It also lives in pastures and abandoned farm fields where it can find a plentiful bounty of rodents, its primary food source.

Females lay their eggs in rotting logs or compost piles that serve as incubators until the eggs hatch. In winter, the Blue Racer hibernates below the frost line in rock crevices.

Where it’s been found in Ontario

In Ontario, the Blue Racer is currently found only on Pelee Island in western Lake Erie. The population appears to have declined since 1995, when there were about 205 adult Blue Racers on Pelee Island.

Ontario’s Blue Racers range over a wide area - the average is 111 hectares for females and 201 hectares for males.

map of blue racer range

View a larger version of this map (PDF)

What threatens it

The most significant threats to the Blue Racer are habitat loss or degradation, loss of overwintering sites, human persecution, and road mortality.

Although Blue Racers can be found in old farm fields, they are relatively intolerant of human disturbance.

Action we are taking

Endangered Species and their general habitat are automatically protected.

Recovery strategy

A recovery strategy advises the ministry on ways to ensure healthy numbers of the species return to Ontario.

Read the executive summary (March 2, 2015)

Read the recovery strategy (March 2, 2015)

Government response statement

A government response statement outlines the actions the government intends to take or support to help recover the species.

Read the government response statement (February 28, 2019)

Habitat protection

General Habitat Protection - June 30, 2008

What you can do

Report a sighting

  • Report a sighting of an endangered animal or plant to the Natural Heritage Information Centre. Photographs with specific locations or mapping coordinates are always helpful.

Volunteer

  • Volunteer with your local nature club or provincial park to participate in surveys or stewardship work focused on species at risk.

Be a good steward

  • Private land owners have a very important role to play in species recovery. If you find Blue racer on your land, you may be eligible for stewardship programs that support the protection and recovery of species at risk and their habitats.
  • Try to develop an appreciation for snakes; they play an important role in our environment. Whether in a field or in your backyard, if you come across a snake, keep in mind that you are much larger than it is and the snake is more afraid of you than you are of it.
  • If you come across a snake, please don’t try to capture it, handle it or kill it. Snakes can be delicate and improper handling can cause serious injury. Also, certain species are protected under legislation, which makes it illegal to harass, harm or kill them. Be respectful and observe from a distance.
  • Although species at risk are protected, poachers have been known to capture individuals for the pet or food trade. Never buy snakes that have been caught in the wild and never buy a native species of any kind that’s being sold as a pet.
  • You can help improve Blue Racer habitat by planting or leaving long grassy areas on your property (especially adjacent to woodlands or meadows) and planting hedgerows, which provide hiding places.

Report illegal activity

  • Report any illegal activity related to plants and wildlife to 1-877-TIPS-MNR (847-7667).

Quick facts

  • The Blue Racer is non-venomous, as are most of Ontario’s snakes, except for the rare Massasauga rattlesnake, which would rather flee or hide than bite!
  • The Blue Racer is an active forager, eating insects, rodents, frogs, birds and other snakes. Despite its scientific name, the Blue Racer does not constrict its prey.
  • The Blue Racer is among the most graceful and swiftest of Ontario’s snakes, though it only reaches a top speed of 12 to16 kilometres per hour. It is easily startled and will flee if threatened. It will also imitate a rattlesnake by vibrating the tip of its tail in leaf litter to produce a buzzing sound.

Additional documents

Credits