Coelognathus radiatus

Coelognathus radiatus_Daniel Rosenberg Hong Kong
Copperhead Racer in Hong Kong (photo by Daniel Rosenberg)

Copperhead Racer India
Copperhead Racer found in India (photo by Pranoy Kishore)

Radiated Rat Snake Vietnam Eduard Galoyan
Copperhead Racer in Vietnam (photo by Eduard Galoyan)

copperhead racer Coelognathus radiata
Copperhead Racer at the Queen Saovabha Snake Farm

Krabi_King_Cobra_Show_7 Copperhead Racer Randy Ciuros
Copperhead Racer at a Krabi snake show (photo by Randy Ciuros)

Copperhead Rat Snake (Coelognathus radiatus)
Copperhead Racer in Vietnam (photo by Scott Trageser) naturestills.com

Copperheaded Racer Coelognathus radiata striking position
Copperhead Racer in striking position in Khao Phra Thaew (photo by khaophrathaew.org)

Copperheaded Racer Coelognathus radiata head shot
Copperhead Racer showing expanded neck (photo by khaophrathaew.org)

Copperhead Racer Coelognathus radiatus playing dead
Copperhead Racer playing dead in Hong Kong (photo by Kevin Caldwell)

Copperhead Racer 3-9-11 near Oh Nut BTS (3)
Juvenile Copperhead Racer found in office in Phra Khanong

English name: Copperhead Racer (aka “Radiated Rat Snake”)
Scientific name: Coelognathus radiatus (formerly Elaphe radiata)
Thai name: Ngu Tang-ma-prao Lai Keet

Description: To 230 cm long. One of the larger snakes in Bangkok. Body light brown in the front, fading to a yellowish or orangish tan toward the back of the body. Two prominent black stripes run down the first half of each side of the body. Three black lines radiate back from the eye, two slanting downwards and the other running up until it hits a black collar at the back of the head.

Similar Species: Asian Rat Snakes (Ptyas korros and Ptyas mucosus) lack the black stripes on the front half of the body and the unique markings on the head.
Painted Bronzeback has a yellow-to-cream stripe on its body and lacks the markings on the head.
Monocled Cobra lacks the striping on the front half o the body and lacks the markings around the eye.

Habitat: Prefers open grassland and shrubland, but is also found in forests and agricultural habitats. Can be found in urban areas, even where there is only a small pocket of natural habitat. I found a juvenile in a dentist’s office with an overgrown lot nearby.

Place in the ecosystem: The Copperhead Racer feeds on rats and mice and helps control Bangkok’s rodent populations. It also eats birds, lizards, and frogs. Juveniles of the species provide food for larger snakes and birds of prey.

Danger to humans: This snake is aggressive when threatened and is large enough to inflict some damage with its bite. A recent study has found that it produces some venom, quite similar to the venom of cobras. However, it only produces a small amount of venom and does not have venom-injecting fangs, so effects in humans are limited to redness and mild swelling at worst.

Conservation status and threats: In Thailand this snake is common with no known conservation issues, but it is listed as Endangered on the China Red List.

Interesting facts: The Copperhead Racer is a very fast snake that will first try to flee when threatened, but when cornered will lift the first third of its body off the ground, curl its neck and body into an “S” shape, expand its neck vertically and strike aggressively with its mouth open. If that fails, it will sometimes proceeds to play dead as a last resort.

References:
University of Hong Kong: Coelognathus radiatus
Isolation of a neurotoxin (alpha-colubritoxin) from a nonvenomous colubrid
A Photographic Guide to Snakes and Other Reptiles of Peninsular Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand
A Field Guide to the Snakes of South Vietnam