- In the 1950’s, Eastern indigo snakes completely disappeared from Alabama because of habitat loss, human persecution, and pet traders.
- The first wild-hatched Eastern indigo snake was discovered in Alabama in 2020, suggesting that the Eastern indigo snake is finally establishing itself in Alabama and breeding.
- The Eastern indigo snake is protected by the Federal Endangered Species Act, so if you encounter one, stop your activities and allow it time to leave the area.
Massive snake discovered in Alabama for just the second time in 60 years! The discovery of an Eastern indigo snake is very exciting, since there has only been one other Eastern indigo snake observed in the state since the 1950’s.
Eastern Indigo snakes disappeared from Alabama nearly 60 years ago, but scientists and conservationists have been working with the Eastern Indigo Project to bring them back to the state.
Why are Eastern indigo snakes so rare in Alabama?
Eastern indigo snakes are native to the southeast United States, and once thrived in the state of Alabama. However, in the 1950’s Eastern indigo snakes had completely disappeared from Alabama, primarily because of habitat loss and human persecution.
Additionally, because of their docile nature, domestic and international pet traders collected these snakes (which is now illegal). Furthermore, rattlesnake collectors (illegally) gas gopher tortoise burrows in hopes of collecting snakes and end up accidentally killing many Eastern indigo snakes as well.
Today, the Eastern indigo snake is a federally threatened species and is protected by federal and state laws.
Eastern indigo snakes are one of the largest North American snakes, reaching lengths of up to 8 feet long. Their primary diet consists of small mammals, birds, frogs, turtles, and small alligators. They are non-venomous creatures and known for their particular hue of red found on their chins, throat, and cheeks.
To even interact with an Eastern indigo snake in Alabama requires a legal permit—assuming you can find one of these snakes. For the past 60 years, sightings of Eastern indigo snakes in Alabama were unheard of. Which is why this most recent discovery is so exciting!
An Exciting New Discovery
The recently discovered Eastern indigo snake was reported by Francesca Erickson, a grad student conducting a survey in the Conecuh National Forest in Southern Alabama.
She reported that the snake was about a foot long and probably less than a year old.
The snake did not have a tracker on and was much smaller than the snakes released by conservationists (those snakes are usually five feet or longer). The Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division confirmed that this snake “is the product of natural pairings among those purposely released in Conecuh National Forest.”
The first wild-hatched snake found in Alabama was discovered in 2020. The discovery of this second snake suggests that the Eastern indigo snake is finally establishing itself in Alabama and breeding.
On their Facebook page, the Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division explained that this second snake “indicates that the project is resulting in some thriving and reproducing indigos – just what we wanted!
Reintroducing a species to its native range is a daunting task, and we celebrate each step of its success!”
Why are Eastern Indigo Snakes Being Reintroduced into Alabama?
The Eastern indigo snake is an important apex predator in long-leaf pine ecosystems. In Alabama, this snake helps to keep these ecosystems balanced.
Eastern indigo snakes are carnivorous and eat turtles, turtle eggs, lizards, toads, frogs, fish, small alligators, small birds, and other snakes. They even eat venomous snakes like cottonmouths and rattlesnakes!
The Eastern Indigo Project began reintroducing Eastern indigo snakes in 2010, hoping to re-establish a viable population in Alabama. Their goal is to release 300 snakes over the course of several years (approximately 30 snakes a year).
Alabama is not the only state where Eastern indigo snakes are being re-introduced. For the past six years, they have been released in batches in northern Florida, for a total of 107 so far.
And Georgia is teaming up in the efforts. Zoo Atlanta has been responsible for raising over 100 of the Eastern indigo snakes that were reintroduced in Alabama. Hopefully, populations will slowly continue to grow.
What does the Eastern indigo snake look like?
The Eastern indigo snake’s name comes from its unique blue-black, glossy scales. In the light, these scales have an iridescent shine that appears purple. Some of these snakes may also have a red or creamy color on the chin, throat, and cheeks.
Eastern indigo snakes grow to be around 5-7 feet long on average, although the longest one on record was 9 feet and 2 inches long! The Eastern indigo snake is the longest snake native to the United States!
We don’t really know how long Eastern indigo snakes live in the wild yet. However, the oldest snake in captivity lived to be 24 years and 11 months old.
Eastern indigo snakes are diurnal, so they are active during the day and sleep through the night.
Where do Eastern Indigo Snakes live?
The Eastern indigo snake is native to the southeastern United States. It lives in the Florida peninsula, Georgia, and a small part of southeastern Mississippi. It once thrived in Alabama as well, but for the past 60 years, there haven’t been any Eastern indigo snakes here.
Eastern indigo snakes use a variety of habitats depending on the season, like pine, sandhills, marshes, freshwater, prairies, and burrows.
When it gets cold in the winter, the Eastern indigo snake relies on gopher tortoise burrows to stay warm.
As a matter of fact, these snakes actually cohabitate with gopher tortoise colonies throughout the winter! When it warms up in the spring, the snakes resurface and move several miles away from their winter refuge.
Because their habitat changes depending on the season, Eastern indigo snakes need access to natural corridors. When humans split up their environment, it is very difficult for these snakes to thrive.
Are Eastern indigo snakes dangerous?
Eastern indigo snakes are not dangerous! Although they may appear intimidating, these snakes are not venomous or aggressive.
In fact, Eastern indigo snakes are extremely docile, and even when they are picked up, they rarely bite. When it feels threatened, an Eastern indigo snake will hiss and flatten its neck while vibrating its tail.
What should I do if I see an Eastern indigo snake?
If you happen to come across an Eastern indigo snake, do not interfere with it. Stop your activities and give the snake plenty of time to move from the area.
Do not try to touch it or move it yourself! The Eastern indigo snake is protected under federal and state laws.
However, if you can get a picture of the snake (safely, without harming yourself or disturbing the snake), please do!
The United States Fish and Wildlife Services, Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division, and the Eastern Indigo Project would love documentation to help them identify and track Eastern indigo snakes, especially in Alabama.
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