Florida

Eastern Indigo Snake

Docile and beautiful, the Eastern indigo snake is North America’s largest native snake.

The eastern indigo snake (Drymarchon couperi) is an icon of the southern longleaf pine forest and is the longest native snake in the US. It’s a non-venomous apex predator that preys upon many species of animals including venomous snakes, and it plays a critical role in keeping an ecosystem healthy and balanced.

The indigo is a bluish black, appearing an iridescent purple in the light, with orange red present on the chin, sides of head, and throat. Male indigos commonly reach 7-9 feet in length. The slightly smaller female produces annual clutches of 6 to 12 eggs, which result in 16-24” hatchlings. Indigos may travel up to two to three miles during warmer seasons in search of new habitat and appropriate prey.

In 1978, eastern indigos were federally listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. Threats to the snake included loss of habitat, which continues, and over-collection for the pet trade – they were once routinely collected. They are also in danger of vehicle strikes on Florida’s roadways.

Eastern indigos have largely been eliminated from northern Florida due to habitat loss and fragmentation. The snake has not been seen at the Conservancy’s Apalachicola Bluffs and Ravines Preserve (ABRP) since 1982. But as of July 17, 2017, the king of North America’s snakes has been returned to its home along the Apalachicola River, to restored longleaf pine habitat, in an effort many years in the making.

The reintroduction of 12 young snakes at ABRP is the result of the long-term commitment and collaborative land, water, and wildlife conservation efforts by the Conservancy and several partners, including Central Florida Zoo’s Orianne Center for Indigo Conservation, Auburn University, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, US Fish and Wildlife Service, The Orianne Society, Joseph W. Jones Ecological Research Center, Gulf Power, Southern Company through the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, and the Fish & Wildlife Foundation of Florida. The reintroduction is the culmination of efforts in the region by the partners, as well as the US Forest Service, and Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

The release marked the beginning of a 10-year indigo release program to support species recovery in the region, and began a monitoring program by Auburn University which will track the snakes to inform future conservation efforts.

With the exception of the new population at ABRP, few if any indigos persist in northern Florida. Populations in other parts of the state, although declining, still have significant strongholds. While indigos have mostly vanished from large, forested tracts in north Florida, larger numbers of indigos remain in highly-populated central and south Florida. 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 northern Florida, the indigo snake population was impacted as well. Indigos often return every winter to the same gopher tortoise burrow.

Just a few days after being released to individual gopher tortoise burrows at ABRP, it seemed that the snakes were settling in well -- one of the snakes was tracked and observed at just the right moment, trying to consume a copperhead snake.

Thanks to Orianne’ Society's herpetologist Dirk J. Stevenson and the Conservancy’s David Printiss for many of these facts.

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