Just days after the eastern indigo snake was reintroduced in Florida, one of the newly free reptiles was spotted devouring a copperhead snake. That's not a surprise since this snake's favorite food is other snakes.
Lots of people don't like the sinuous reptiles and might wonder why we would want more of them anywhere. But all types of snakes serve important ecological functions — and most of them are nonvenomous and aren't a threat to humans.
In fact, indigo snakes are an essential component of the Southeast's longleaf pine habitat. That's because they're an apex species, which means they sit at the top of the food chain, affecting how well the animals and plants below fare. But due to habitat loss and fragmentation, the last eastern indigo snake spotted in northern Florida was in 1982.
Ensuring apex predators like the eastern indigo snake are able to do their important snake-y duties to keep their habitats balanced is imperative to ensuring that preserved lands are robust and healthy for all inhabitants.
This homecoming is first of many
The reintroduction took place at The Nature Conservancy's Apalachicola Bluffs and Ravines Preserve, and this release is the start of a 10-year commitment to annual releases — that means over the next decade, more eastern indigo snakes will be released each year. The preserve covers over 6,200 acres of land in northern Florida’s Liberty County and includes longleaf pine landscape and other environmentally important features, like steephead ravines and streams, which lead to the Apalachicola River. The preserve lies in the center of "one of five biological hotspots in North America," according to The Nature Conservancy.
You may have heard about the importance of the longleaf pine ecosystem before — it's one of the most diverse in the world, though only 5 percent of its original lands remain intact. Due to the number and type of species that thrive in this landscape, it's home to a high number of threatened plants and animals. The good news is that restoration has been possible, and both private and public landowners have preserved more than 100,000 acres so far.
“The eastern indigo snake has been listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act since 1978, and today’s release is an important milestone in our efforts toward recovering this important reptile,” said Cindy Dohner, regional director for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) in a release.
The eastern indigo snake is so-named because in the sunshine, its scales do indeed look dark blue. The snake grows to be up to 8 or 9 feet long, making it the United States' longest native snake. While today its range is restricted and occurs in patches here and there, historically, the snake's range included "... the southernmost tip of South Carolina west through southern Georgia, Alabama, into eastern Mississippi, and throughout Florida," according to The Nature Conservancy.
A large number of people and organizations came together to make this reintroduction happen, and they'll continue to make the eastern indigo snake reintroduction a success.