Like the other species of snake that inhabit the Islands, the Galapagos racers are constrictors and only mildly venemous. They are known to prey on lava lizards, geckos, insects, iguanas, mice, rats and hatchlings of several bird species. They are not at all aggressive towards humans and could not do much harm if they were to attack after being threatened. Racers tend to be dark brown with stripes or spots.
There is some confusion over the number of species of racer snake found in Galapagos due to poor research. Traditionally, three subspecies are recognised and are easily distinguishable due to their location. The eastern, western and central racers are found on the corresponding islands across the Archipelago, with the western racer the longest and darkest of all the snakes in Galapagos. However, others argue that there is enough distinction to classify four separate species – Galapagos racer, Espanola racer, banded Galapagos racer and striped Galapagos racer.
It is the western racer subspecies which has been observed hunting for marine fish from rock pools and the shallows around Fernandina. GCT Ambassador Godfrey Merlen was the first scientist to ever see this behaviour happening as he noted up to 15 individual snakes slithering around the lava rock pools around Cape Douglas. This is a unique behaviour of terrestrial snake not observed anywhere else in the world. The racers on Fernandina were also the stars of BBC’s Planet Earth II where they were filmed hunting juvenile marine iguanas.
Where to see them: Eastern subspecies – Gardener and Champion islets off Floreana and San Cristobal. Central subspecies – Baltra, Bartolome, Rabida, Santa Cruz, Santa Fe and Santiago. Western subspecies – Isabela and Fernandina
When to see them: The snakes are found throughout the year, but unlike many other Galapagos animals they are shy of humans and will hide away making them reasonably tough to spot without looking for them specifically. They are diurnal, most active around dawn and dusk, and often rest around midday.
Threats: The native snake population has been decimated by introduced species such as cats, pigs and feral goats which forage for their eggs.
Conservation actions: There is research into the Galapagos racer on the islets off Floreana island, looking at their demography and conservation. They are a priority species for reintroduction to Floreana island from which they are locally extinct.