Copperheaded Racer Snake

The Copperheaded Racer snakes are so named because their head is copper colored. Though much of the body of this snake is also copper colored, there are also more yellow and brown color variations among this species.

These snakes have no relation to the highly venomous “copperhead” snakes of America, and elsewhere. Thailand’s Copperheaded Racers are large rat snakes that feed heavily on large rodents and are frequently found near houses and markets where a rat population exists.

These snakes will rarely bite you if you are walking by, but if you are pursuing a copper-headed racer – it will turn and move toward you with many folds in its neck, ready to strike. See the video below of the large 2-meter + racer I found crossing a Thai highway in southern Thailand.

There is another rat snake – the Common Malayan Racer that is a much darker color, but very much resembles the Copperheaded Racer. It generally will not bite even if handled.

Coelognathus radiatus. Radiated Rat Snake. Copperheaded Racer.

Usually referred to as the Copperheaded Racer, Rat Snake, or Jumping Snake

Thai: Ngoo tang ma-prow ly keet

Appearance: A copper-colored head with black lines on the top and neck, leading into some lateral lines that run down some of the length of the body. This snake often looks yellow as the dominant color. Because this snake is rather large it has a large mouth to match.

Length: Up to 230 cm (about 7 feet maximum). They can get as thick as an adult male’s wrist. Obviously thicker if they just ate.

Range: All over Thailand and many countries in Southeast Asia.

Habitat: Copperheaded racers are ground-dwelling snakes and prefer to live where rats are. Anywhere rats are. These snakes can be found at some altitude (1500m) as well as sea level.

Notes: These snakes bite at the slightest provocation. They strike repeatedly but eventually tire. The Cobra show in Ao Nang, Thailand uses these snakes in a demonstration because they are great strikers. I’ve only seen these racers on the ground – not climbing anything.

Active Time? Diurnal – daytime. Occasionally found active at night.

Food: Rats, mice, lizards, frogs, birds.

Natural Enemies: King cobras seem to prefer these and other rat snakes, probably because the teeth are not large and they cannot inflict any damage on the cobras.

Defensive Behavior: They will come at you if you’re bothering them, with a raised head – vertically inflated neck, and open mouth. See a video of one crossing the road and coming at me. They love to strike, and the big ones can reach over a meter when striking. If they can’t deter the aggressor they roll over and play dead with their tongue hanging out. If they can get away they are very fast snakes on the ground.

Venom Toxicity: Venom in the saliva, but no means to deliver it with fangs – no fangs at all.

Offspring: Young look very much like adults in pattern and body shape. Both are said to be non-venomous and not harmful for people.

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Reptilia
Order: Squamata
Suborder: Serpentes
Family: Colubridae
Family: Colubridae
Subfamily: Colubrinae
Genus: Coelognathus
Species: C. Radiatus
Binomial name: Coelognathus radiatus

Video: I Found a Baby Copperhead Racer Crossing the Road:

Video: Copperheaded Racer Striking

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  1. Hi Vern – great information about snakes in Thailand, and fantastic videos. I think I had an encounter with a Copperheaded Racer today: just walking in my garden, and see movement in my peripheral vision – a snake moving towards me, not really fast but fast enough to put the wind up me, mouth open, with a folded neck like it was ready to strike. It took me by surprise I have to say, and in the few seconds I watched it before getting out of the garden double-time, it seemed to have a fairly small head and narrow mouth, and I got the impression its neck was flattened, which is why (from your description) I think it was a Copperheaded Racer. A brownish colour, with some black markings and lighter coloured markings, maybe about 2-3 fingers thick, and about 80 cm long. From a distance I watched it head for a corner of the garden and disappear down a hole – quite fast. I am fairly sure I have a good ID now, but my wife (who didn’t see it) thinks it might have been a ngoo ga pa (Malayan Pit Viper?), but she tends to say that about every snake. It seems to me that the behaviour of these two types of snake is different. I just want to be sure though; do ngoo ga pa “charge” like that with their mouths open? Thanks Vern, I appreciate that IDs without photos are more or less impossible, but I was just wondering about behaviour. For info, we live in Chonburi – it has been very wet here for past month, rain every day. I wonder if that affects behaviour?

    1. Hi Tom, Thanks for writing. Always good to hear about a snake encounter that didn’t end with the person bashing it to death. Lol. To me – sounds like you called it correctly. There are two rat snakes that sound like you describe – the copperheaded racer (more yellow, lighter in color), and the Malayan rat snake – which is darker brown, even purplish… both would exhibit the pre-strike behavior you mentioned. Besides color, anatomically – very similar. The narrow head is very copperheaded-racer like. If you noticed a double S in the neck as it wound back to strike – that too is pretty indicative of the racer (it’s a rat snake basically). A Malayan Pit Viper is usually thick. More like your wrist. It is LAZY – and wouldn’t move out of the way so fast. It would just lay there unless you toyed with it. Yes, the rain brings out the snakes in full force – they’re using the opportunity to find frogs. This is about the best time of the year to find frogs in abundance – so the snakes are out chowing down in August, Sept, October… as long as it’s raining, before retiring to a lazy existence during the dry and hot season. And, they breed to give birth when the rains start again after Songkran. Thanks again for writing – Cheers man. Vern

  2. Saw what I think was a yellow rat snake (Coelognathus flavolineatus) sitting in the middle of a village raod in Ao Luk, Krabi, at lunch time today. I only just noticed him in time to dodge. Luckily he took off away from my car and not under it. By the time I was able to stop and back up, he had slithered off into some cover next to the road. He was quite long , maybe 2m. Quite a yellow colour with dark thin stripes running the length of his body

  3. My neighbours dogs were going crazy today and I saw them with this snake cornered. I was amazed at the strike range and the speed when they chased the dogs too. Initially the locals arrived to see what was going on and then began to come armed with spears, machete’s and the like intent to kill it. I managed to get the municipal snake catchers here fairly fast, but the snake had gone into a hole under the house. I’ve tried to attach a pic, but it does not seem to work.

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