The eastern indigo snake (Drymarchon couperi) has not been seen at the Conservancy’s Apalachicola Bluffs and Ravines Preserve in 20 years, although it’s possible that some may linger. Current staff has never seen so much as a snake shed, and – since a large shed like this is hard to miss – they are thought to be extirpated, or locally extinct.
Docile and remarkably beautiful snakes, indigos are not dangerous to people and were once routinely collected for the pet trade. Florida’s largest native snakes, male indigos commonly reach 7-8 feet in length. The slightly smaller female produces annual clutches of 6 to 12 eggs, which result in 16-24” hatchlings.
Some of these snakes may travel up to two to three miles during warmer seasons in search of cooler habitat and appropriate prey. Each will return every autumn to the same gopher tortoise colony where it began – and often to the very same burrow.
In 1978 indigos were federally listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. Threats to the snake included loss of habitat, over-collection for the pet trade, and gassing of burrows by rattlesnake hunters. They are also often killed on the roads by vehicles, or by misinformed humans.
One or two indigo populations are known to remain on Eglin Air Force Base in the Florida panhandle. Others still live in central Florida and Brevard County. There is also a good-sized population in south Florida.
It’s ironic that while indigos have mostly vanished from large, forested tracts in north Florida, larger communities remain in highly-populated central and south Florida.
But, indigos hibernate during cold weather – going down into gopher tortoise burrows when temperatures reach the 20s – and it rarely gets that cold further south. When tortoises were heavily harvested and suffered habitat loss in north Florida, the indigo snake population was impacted as well.
Thanks to Orianne’ Society's herpetologist Dirk J. Stevenson and the Conservancy’s David Printiss for many of these facts.