The coachwhip is a diurnal species, meaning that it is active during the day (2) (3) (4) (7). It is thought to take shelter in crevices or animal burrows at night, and may also use such retreats in the winter (2). This species is typically active from March to October, or even until November in the warmer parts of its range (2) (7). An agile, fast-moving snake (2) (9), the coachwhip can reach top speeds of about four miles per hour on the ground (2), and is also reported to be an excellent climber (3).
A non-venomous species (3), the coachwhip has needle-sharp teeth (2) which produce lacerations rather than punctures when it bites (9). This species’ diet is varied (1) (2), depending on both geographic location and prey availability (2). Lizards, snakes, turtles, small mammals and birds and their eggs are all eaten by the coachwhip (1) (2) (3) (4) (5). This species is also known to feed on invertebrates (1) (2), such as grasshoppers and cicadas (2), and carrion (1). Interestingly, there have been reports of the coachwhip eating sidewinders (Crotalus cerastes) (4). Studies have shown that lizards make up the majority of the coachwhip’s diet, followed by mammals, snakes and insects (2).
After flushing its prey out of the undergrowth by gliding effortlessly through brush and grass (2), the coachwhip actively chases its quarry (2) (4), catching it with a sudden burst of speed. While in hunting mode, this species is almost constantly on the move (2), usually with the front part of its body raised a considerable distance off the ground (2) (9). In addition to being an efficient active hunter, the coachwhip is reported to be an effective ambush predator, lying in wait for its victims (2) (4), and can also locate its prey by chemical scent trailing (2).
When provoked, the coachwhip will attempt to drive off potential predators by vibrating its tail rapidly, making a sound much like that of a rattlesnake (2). It will also strike out if cornered (2) (3), but will generally elude predators with a sudden burst of speed (2), by climbing into trees and bushes (2) (7), or disappearing into the burrows of small mammals (2).
Mating in the coachwhip typically takes place in the spring (2) (3) (4) (7), often in late April and May (2). The coachwhip is an oviparous species (1) (5) (8), and the female lays its eggs in late spring and early summer (2) (3) (4) (7), using a variety of areas as nest sites, including piles of leaf litter, loose soil, the hollows of decomposing logs, and the abandoned burrows of small animals (2). Female coachwhips lay clutches of up to 20 eggs (1) (5), although typically about 12 or 13 eggs are laid (2). The young snakes hatch in August or September (2), after an incubation period of between 6 and 12 weeks (1) (2) (7).
Although little is known about the lifespan of the coachwhip in the wild, captive eastern coachwhips have been known to live longer than 16 years (3).