Monday, August 27, 2012

Readers Write In: Is this an Indigo Snake?

   This summer I received an e-mail from a reader who, since he was a boy, has been fascinated with snakes, looking for them wherever he lived throughout the eastern United States. He told me about how his mother-in-law, in India, frequently spotted cobras around the house but he was disappointed to report that none ever revealed themselves during his visits.

    Having settled down into Venice, Florida, Andy W. told me of his plans to spend some time searching for Indigo Snakes, Drymarchon couperi. Indigo Snakes, as you might remember, are one of North America's largest snakes (although their real claim to fame is their taste for rattlesnakes). Andy told me he wasn't optimistic about his chances after reading about my failure to find the species in the Florida panhandle, but I reassured him that although this federally-protected species was once driven to extinction in Alabama and likely the Florida panhandle as well, they can still be found in peninsular Florida if one knows where to look.

   That said, I thought to myself, Indigo Snakes are rare, having been brought to the edge of extinction due to habitat loss and collection by poachers. I didn't expect to hear from Andy again.

   So, just a few days later, I was surprised to get this e-mail:

"I watched a snake with its head erect out of a gopher tortoise burrow for about ten minutes before it ducked back in.  I'll send photos later.  


   I didn't know what to think. Indigo Snakes and Gopher Tortoises, Gopherus polyphemus, have a close relationship and the snakes often use tortoise burrows for shelter. In addition, Jimmy and Sierra Stiles, tasked with monitoring the reintroduced population of Indigo Snakes in Alabama, had recently told me about how they had observed an Indigo Snake do just as Andy had described. We thought this was a way for the snakes to periscope and see what was going on from the relative safety of a tortoise burrow. When disturbed, the Alabama snake had also ducked back in, just as Andy had seen in Florida (they are a crafty species).

   So, was this a spotting of the federally-threatened Indigo Snake? A snake, I might add, that I have never seen in the wild? I kept hitting refresh on my e-mail until the pictures arrived.

   You tell me...Is this an Indigo Snake? Why or why not?

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