Snake hunt helps these reptiles survive
CHRISTY SWIFTLAKE PLACID - Pythons may be all over the news, but last weekend a quieter snake hunt was underway. Off the beaten path in southern Highlands County, a team of 21 researchers and volunteers combed the roads and brush for Eastern indigo snakes.
Published: January 18, 2013
Published: January 18, 2013
But this snake hunt was different. The goal wasn't to kill the animals, rather to preserve them.
Highlands County appears to be a stronghold for this large, robust, blackberry-colored snake with orange markings on its face. Javan Bauder, conservation scientist with the Orianne Society who led the blitz, said he hoped to find at least one Eastern indigo snake between Friday and Sunday.
The team caught three Eastern indigo snakes and identified three others that they weren't able to catch, wrote Bauder in a follow-up email. Two snakes were caught by Orianne Society staff, the third by a volunteer. They also found three indigo snake shed skins.
Scale clippings from the snakes and the skins will be used in an ongoing genetics study. The captured snakes were tagged and released. Much of the hunt was done on the property of Archbold Biological Station.
These beneficial snakes are not a threat to humans and, in fact, help to control pest populations, explained Bauder. Their scientific name translates to "Emperor of the Forest," and Bauder said that there is very little they won't eat, and they are excellent predators of rattlesnakes, toads and rodents.
While Bauder said it may be disconcerting to see a 7-foot black snake crawling across your backyard, it's illegal to bother them and they are actually a very important part of the ecosystem.
"They are very docile towards humans," he said, noting that they are non-venomous and non-constricting. "During the course of our research when we capture indigo snakes, we can just pick them up. They almost never strike," Bauder added.
The Eastern indigo snake is listed as "threatened," and their populations are dwindling due to habitat loss, habitat fragmentation (large areas of natural landscape being broken up by roads and development) and the gassing of gopher tortoise holes (to catch and kill rattlesnakes).
"They used to occur across southern Georgia, across Florida, and in extreme southern Alabama and Mississippi, but currently they have declined throughout their range, particularly in the northern part," said Bauder, adding that the snakes are locally extinct or very rare in Alabama, Mississippi, southwest Georgia and in the Florida Panhandle.
The Orianne Society is working to bring Eastern indigo snake populations back to normal levels. They are protecting land from development, working to understand how populations survive in developed areas, and breeding baby snakes in captivity for re-introduction into the wild.
A non-profit entity, the Orianne Society is "dedicated to the conservation of imperiled snakes around the world." The public is encouraged to submit Eastern indigo snake observations via email to email@example.com along with a photo.