Although not well-known for climbing, did you know that blue racers are able to zip through shrubs and trees almost as quickly as they can move on the ground? As blue racers can move at speeds approaching 7 km/h, this is pretty speedy!.

During surveys carried out this season on Pelee Island in Lake Erie, several blue racers have been observed basking on branches well over six feet in the air. As part of the recovery strategy for this endangered snake, under appropriate permits, we have been gathering measurements and data, and once released, some individuals retreat to the closest tree and immediately start climbing.

One individual even climbed to the top of a hackberry tree, nearly 30 feet in the air!

Though they are seldom seen this high in trees, radio-telemetric surveys from the mid-1950’s led to several observations of blue racers in and on trees of this height, and it is assumed that it is a somewhat common occurrence during the summer months.

Unlike other tree-climbing snake species such as the gray ratsnake and eastern foxsnake, the blue racer is not able to scale the vertical open face of a tree. Instead, they rely on vine-draped trees or shrubs with low branches to get off the ground.

Besides using their ability to climb as an escape route from predators, blue racers will also climb to forage on bird or mouse nests they may find in trees, and find sunny spots to bask in, for thermoregulation.

Blue racer on Pelee Island, ON. Photo: Candace Park

Fast-moving and shy of humans, the blue racer is one of Canada’s rarest, and one of Ontario’s largest, snakes. Reaching almost two meters in length, they prey on rodents, insects, birds, and other snakes. The Blue Racer Recovery Strategy cites hibernation and nesting locations as the areas most important to the species’ continued survival. In recent years, efforts have been made to protect and restore blue racer habitat on Pelee Island, with tree removal and a prescribed burn taking place to maintain savannah conditions. Surveys to estimate the population size of blue racers on Pelee Island are currently being carried out (2020-2022) to update the estimate done from 2000-2002, along with recent genetic studies to determine the long-term sustainability of the Canadian blue racer population.