Photo: Rachel Hancock Davis\TNCTwo-year-old snake awaiting release.
15 Eastern Indigo Snakes just released in year three of the North Florida recovery effort
Tallahassee, FL (June 11, 2019) – Fifteen eastern indigo snakes, listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, have just been released in northern Florida as part of a continuing collaborative plan to return the important, native, non-venomous apex predator to the region. This effort marks the third year in a row that snakes raised specifically for recovery of the species have been released at The Nature Conservancy’s Apalachicola Bluffs and Ravines Preserve (ABRP) in Bristol.
The eastern indigo species recovery effort in North Florida is the long-term joint commitment of multiple nonprofit, agency, and academic partners: The Nature Conservancy, the Central Florida Zoo & Botanical Gardens’ Orianne Center for Indigo Conservation (OCIC), Auburn University, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (the Service), Welaka National Fish Hatchery, The Orianne Society, Joseph W. Jones Ecological Research Center, Gulf Power, Southern Company through the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF), and the Fish & Wildlife Foundation of Florida. The partners have worked together for decades to restore and manage the habitat required by the snake, and many other species, to make the release possible.
The eastern indigo snake (Drymarchon couperi) is the longest snake native to North America and an iconic and essential component of the now rare southern longleaf pine forest. It serves a critical function to balance the wildlife community—it consumes a variety of small animals including both venomous and non-venomous snakes. At over eight-feet long, the impressive indigo often relies upon gopher tortoise burrows for shelter. The snakes were historically found throughout southern Georgia, Alabama, eastern Mississippi, and throughout Florida, though their range is now far more restricted.
Following recent investigation, a scientific study by Folt et al published in PLOS ONE firmly concluded that the eastern indigo snake is indeed one distinct species, and there is no current evidence to support splitting D. couperi isolated by location. Gene sequence data does not provide evidence to support two distinct species.
Largely eliminated from northern Florida due to habitat loss and fragmentation, the indigo was last observed at ABRP in 1982, until 2017 and 2018 when several dozen snakes were introduced to the preserve. This year’s annual release is part of a 10-year commitment to the species’ recovery and continues a focus on establishment of healthy ecosystems through collaborative land, water, and wildlife conservation efforts.
“We continue our work throughout the state and at our preserves to create healthy habitats and properly functioning natural systems that support iconic and important wildlife and plants,” said Temperince Morgan, Executive Director, The Nature Conservancy in Florida. “With the third annual snake release and the teamwork of our dedicated partners, we’re moving the indigos in the direction of species recovery.”