The Eastern indigo snake is one of the most incredible and beautiful snakes in the United States, with rows of lustrous black scales that shine iridescent in the sunlight. Not only is this snake beautiful, but it is big. In fact, the Eastern indigo snake is the longest native snake in the United States! Their appearance may seem intimidating, but eastern indigo snakes are extremely docile creatures that are completely harmless to humans. Even though these snakes are not aggressive, they certainly are massive—but just how big are they? Let’s look at the largest Eastern indigo snake ever recorded!
What Does the Eastern Indigo Snake Look Like?
The Eastern Indigo Snake has a sleek, glossy “indigo” blue-black body. Its scales are smooth and shiny, reflecting a variety of iridescent colors when lit by the sun. This striking dark coloring has led to several nicknames for the snake, like “black snake,” “blue bull snake,” “blue gopher snake” and simply “indigo snake.” Although this snake is almost entirely black, some snakes also have red or cream coloring on their cheeks, chins, and throats.
What is the Largest Eastern Indigo Snake Ever Recorded?
The scientific name for the eastern indigo snake is “Drymarchon couperi”. Drymarchon is a Greek term that means “lord of the forest”. This title certainly fits the elegant coloring and massive bulk of this majestic snake. The eastern indigo snake grows between 5-7 feet on average, but there have been many snakes that are closer to 8 feet in length and weigh over 10 pounds. In fact, the Eastern indigo snake is the longest native snake in the United States. The largest Eastern indigo snake ever recorded was an astounding 9.2 feet long!
Where do Eastern Indigo Snakes Live?
Eastern indigo snakes are native to the southeastern United States. These snakes live in Florida (but are extremely rare in the Florida Keys), southeastern Mississippi, and southern Georgia. They were once abundant in Alabama but disappeared after the 1950’s. However, the Eastern Indigo Project has been working diligently to reestablish new populations of these snakes. In fact, recently young snakes have been observed in Alabama!
During the warm summer months, Eastern indigo snakes often live and hunt near the edges of wetland areas. In the winter, these snakes are more active in cold temperatures than most other snake species, moving to drier regions. Eastern indigo snakes also utilize gopher tortoise burrows for brumation and to keep warm. They seem to prefer longleaf pine habitats, but may also live in prairies, tropical hardwood hammocks, coastal dunes, and agricultural areas.
Are Eastern Indigo Snakes Dangerous?
Although these snakes are massive in size, Eastern indigo snakes are not at all dangerous to humans! In fact, these snakes are extremely docile and almost never bite. Eastern indigo snakes are shy and try to avoid encounters with humans or large animals whenever possible. When it feels threatened, an eastern indigo snake will hiss loudly and vertically flatten its neck. It may also vibrate the tip of its tail, which makes a buzzing-like sound if it is near leaf litter. The snake may also release a foul-smelling musk.
What Do Eastern Indigo Snakes Eat?
Eastern indigo snakes are carnivores and are not picky about what they eat. These snakes have very fast metabolisms and eat often. As generalists, they will eat just about anything that is small enough to swallow, once again living up to their name as “Lord of the Forest”. Eastern indigo snakes hunt during the day and use their massive bodies to overpower small prey. Grabbing it with their strong jaws, these snakes will press their prey against the ground until it stops struggling. Sometimes they will swallow it whole while it is still alive. Typically, these snakes seem to prefer eating reptiles, and will even eat most of the venomous snakes available to them. Eastern indigo snakes also eat small mammals, amphibians, and small birds. These snakes are important predators in their respective ecosystems, helping to keep everything in balance.
The eastern indigo snake is a federally threatened species in the United States. It is also protected by both federal and state laws wherever it is found. Although these snakes were once abundant in the southeast U.S., their numbers have significantly decreased for several reasons.
Threats to the Eastern Indigo Snake
Habitat loss and degradation has greatly affected the Eastern indigo snake. Long leaf pine forests, the primary habitat of the eastern indigo snake, have continually been eliminated over the past 150 years. An individual Eastern indigo snake can have a territory and range that extends up to 805 acres! Human development also fragments much of the snake’s native territory.
Additionally, these snakes move between habitats between the summer and winter. However, as urban development breaks up their natural corridors, it is harder for them to travel and often must cross dangerous roads. Unfortunately, many people do not see snakes crossing the road, and out of fear some will even purposefully run over these gentle giants with their cars. When people see these massive black snakes slithering nearby, they often attempt to harm or kill them, even though these beautiful snakes are docile and completely harmless.
More direct human interference and violence has also been detrimental to the numbers of Eastern indigo snakes in the United States. Although it is illegal today, for many years these snakes were collected for the exotic pet trade. In addition, both eastern indigo snakes and rattlesnakes utilize gopher burrows, and many have been killed by the illegal use of toxic chemicals by rattlesnake collectors.
However, as demonstrated by the efforts in Alabama, there is still hope for this remarkable snake species as conservationists continue to protect and support the Eastern indigo snake.
Eastern Indigo Snake Look-a-Likes
Although it is certainly a unique and one-of-a-kind snake, there are a few snakes that could be mistaken for the Eastern indigo snake. North American racer snakes, for example, also have long bodies covered in blueish-black scales. These snake, however, do not grow quite as long as the Eastern indigo snake. Instead, North American racers are usually between 20-56 inches in length. Additionally, the scales on this snake have a matte finish. They are much duller than the smooth, glossy scales of the Eastern indigo snake. North American racers are also much thinner, with long skinny bodies. Young North American racers are grey, with reddish-brown colored blotches along their backs.
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