The Eastern Yellow-bellied Racer (Coluber constrictor flaviventris) is a long, smooth scaled, quick moving diurnal snake of the North American Colubrid family. Identifiable by its yellow coloured belly and olive dorsal scales, Eastern Yellow-bellied Racers range from Texas and Louisiana up to Iowa, North Dakota and Montana, with the extreme northern tip extending into southwestern Saskatchewan and southeastern Alberta. Known distributions of Canadian populations are centered around hibernacula located within the boundaries of Grasslands National Park and the Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) Val Marie Community Pasture.

Throughout the limited range of the Eastern Yellow-bellied Racer in Canada, suitable habitat consists of mixed-grass prairie and sagebrush thickets, which are likely important for concealment from predators and housing of suitable prey. The species requires suitable hibernacula for over-wintering sites and the area surrounding hibernacula for cover and protection during the vulnerable spring emergence / fall return periods, and potentially for breeding grounds and nesting sites as well.

The Eastern Yellow-bellied Racer is listed as Threatened on Schedule 1 of the Species at Risk Act. The primary threats to the species include habitat loss due to human activities, small population size, road mortality, and human disturbance of hibernacula. Additional threats may include extreme weather variability due to climate change and farm machinery fatalities.

Protecting species

Since 2016, Grasslands National Park is working to proactively minimize road mortality of Eastern Yellow-bellied Racer by implementing a Traffic Mitigation Strategy for Ecotour road. Locations of road crossings and mortality are collected throughout the period of snake activity (April to October) and used to identify areas where the risk of vehicle collision is highest (i.e. mortality “hotspots”). In these sites, speed reduction sites are installed to minimize road mortality and increase public awareness.

Prairie rattlesnake and Eastern Yellow-bellied Racer can share their hibernacula. Survey of historic hibernacula will help Parks Canada monitor the abundance and distribution of these two species, thus informing decision making process for their conservation. Starting in 2018, Grasslands National Park staff will be monitoring occupancy of historic hibernacula to detect changes in species distribution and relative abundance over time and inform management decision and conservation efforts.