Happy World Snake Day! Snakes, just like all wildlife, are threatened by issues in the wild that affect their populations, but many do not recognize the needs of these unique creatures. We are proud to participate in the conservation of the Louisiana pine snake (LPS) and celebrate the release of four LPS into the wild on June 4, 2020 that we hatched right here at Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens!
Photo by Cayle P, Assistant Curator - Herps, Birds, and Others
These snakes were part of the largest release ever of this endangered species, which is one of the rarest snakes in North America. Native to longleaf pine savannas of Louisiana and east Texas, LPS have suffered a decreased population due to habitat destruction and low reproductive rates.
To help save this snake, the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens partnered with the U.S. Forest Service and six other zoos to breed LPS for eventual release to the wild. Audubon Zoo, Memphis Zoo, and the U.S. Forestry Service facilitated the June release in Kisatchie National Forest.
Our adult LPS are paired for breeding in early spring. The females are only receptive to breeding for two weeks out of the year which makes this species particularly tricky to breed. Our female LPS, Phyllis, usually lays her eggs in May with a typical clutch around 6-8 eggs.
We weigh the eggs and take measurements of the length and width, then bury the eggs about halfway down in damp vermiculite (a type of mineral) inside plastic containers. To monitor water loss, we also weigh the entire container and write the total weight down to track it over time. The LPS egg containers are placed inside an incubator and incubated at 85 degrees Fahrenheit. They will typically hatch around 64 days later.
The eggs and resultant hatchlings are kept in a building with no other reptiles to reduce the chance of them getting any diseases or parasites that they might take to the wild when released. These animals are treated as “quarantined” and worked with daily before any other reptiles.
Hatchling LPS are the largest of North American Colubrids—a group of nonvenomous snakes which include corn snakes, garter snakes, and eastern indigo snakes—and grow very quickly. By the time they are 6 months old they are well over 3 feet long!
The hatchlings are raised here for at least 6 months before being sent out for release to the wild. Releasing these older, head-started youngsters helps them to have a better survival rate.
Photos provided by Robert Mendyk
To date, Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens has hatched out 20 Louisiana pine snakes from our pair. Eight of those hatchlings will be raised as part of the Species Survival Plan (SSP) Programs or potentially slated for release in the future. The other 12 have already been released into the wild, including three LPS that were released to Kisatchie in September 2019.
Written by Stefanie Jackson, Herpetology Keeper