Mississippi Species

Black Pinesnake

Rare Animal Research at Camp Shelby

The Camp Shelby Conservation Program provides information to the Mississippi Army National Guard.


The blotchy pattern on this hatchling will fade with age.

History and Range

The black pinesnake (Pituophis melanoleucus lodingi) has a range that extends from southwestern Alabama, through southern Mississippi, and into southeastern Louisiana. In each of these states it is considered imperiled or critically imperiled, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service considers it a candidate for federal listing under the Endangered Species Act.

In Mississippi, the pinesnake is state endangered and its distribution is limited to the 14 southernmost counties. Black pinesnakes are thought to be most abundant within the boundaries of the DeSoto National Forest.

The snakes live in upland, open longleaf pine forests with sandy, well-drained soils and dense grassy or herbaceous groundcover. These snakes may also be found within stream or river corridors and in or near pitcher plant bogs located within or adjacent to longleaf pine forests.


The black pinesnake has declined along with longleaf pine forests. Decades of timbering, conversion to agriculture and development, and suppression of natural fire have reduced all of the South’s once-extensive longleaf pine forests to less than 5 percent of its former range, making it one of the most critically endangered ecosystems in the nation.


Black pinesnakes...

  • are large, powerful constricting snakes that can grow up to 7 feet in length with heads that are disproportionately small compared to their bodies;
  • are known to hiss loudly and vibrate their tails when encountered; 
  • are often confused with the black racers; however, unlike these snakes, adult black pinesnakes are larger, have thicker bodies and have keeled scales, or raised ridges running down the midline of each scale;
  • have hatchlings with blotchy patterns that fade with age; although faint indications of blotches may persist in older individuals, particularly on or near the tail;
  • use rotted-out root systems as their daily retreat sites and for hibernation as adults, while hatchlings and juveniles predominately use small mammal burrows for the same activities;
  • consume mice, rats, baby rabbits, birds, bird eggs and baby squirrels, according to Conservancy research at Camp Shelby;
  • require large tracts of undisturbed land, from 135 to 385 acres, to conduct seasonal and daily activities such as eating, mating and hibernation.
What The Nature Conservancy Is Doing

The Conservancy has tracked and monitored black pinesnakes at Camp Shelby since 2004.

This research provides data that helps the land managers at Camp Shelby develop stewardship practices, identify areas that are compatible with development or intensive use as well as those areas that are critical to the black pinesnakes’ continued survival at Camp Shelby. (Watch a video about the Conservancy's work at Camp Shelby in the video tab above)

Black pinesnakes prefer open longleaf pine forests, and the Conservancy conserves and restores longleaf pine forests in every state in which this greatly diminished forest type remains.

Fire plays a critical role in maintaining the open, park-like characteristic of mature longleaf pine woodlands, and the Conservancy and its partners have active prescribed fire programs that focus on restoring and maintaining fire in the longleaf pine forests in Mississippi and beyond.