Longest Native North American Snake Has Reproduced in the Wild in Alabama for First Time Since 1950s

Researchers have uncovered evidence that the longest snake native to North America is breeding in the wild in Alabama for the first time since the mid 1950s when it disappeared from the state.

For several years, scientists have been trying to reintroduce the eastern indigo snake to southern Alabama's Conecuh National Forest. The species has not reproduced in the state for seven decades.

But last week, biologists found a young eastern indigo snake measuring around 27 inches in length which they say is the offspring of reintroduced animals, AL.com reported.

"We're releasing these snakes that are all generally about two years old, with the hope, and the expectation that eventually the snakes will survive from year to year and breed in the wild," Jim Godwin, a biologist from Auburn University who is heading the reintroduction efforts, told AL.com.

"It's very exciting for us to find this young snake that confirms one measure of success that we've been after all along," he said.

Researchers from Auburn University found the snake—which is estimated to be around 7 months old—while investigating gopher tortoise burrows. The serpents often take refuge in these burrows throughout the cold winter months.

The scientists did not specify exactly where in the forest the young snake was discovered due to fears over poaching.

The species—scientific name Drymarchon couperi—grows longer than any other native snake in North America. Individuals usually grow to between 5 and 6.5 feet in length, although some male specimens have been recorded which are nearly 9 feet long, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS.)

It can be recognized by the glossy, iridescent, blue-black coloration of its head and body, with some individuals displaying flecks of red, reddish orange, or cream on the chin, throat or cheeks.

The snake is not venomous and rarely bites humans. However, it does use its teeth to bite prey—including other snake species—or enemies. It is protected by law in the United States, and as such, a permit is required to handle one.

The snake's historical range encompassed Florida, the coastal plains of southern Georgia, southern Alabama and the southeastern Mississippi. However, this range has shrunk significantly and the species is now listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

eastern indigo snake
Stock photo of an eastern indigo snake. iStock

"Today the indigo snake survives in peninsular Florida and southeast Georgia, persists in the Florida panhandle, but in low numbers, but has been extirpated from Alabama and Mississippi," according to the USFWS.

The eastern indigo snake thrives in the longleaf pine forest ecosystems which were once widespread across the southeastern United States. However, they now cover only around three percent of their historic range, and are usually only found in isolated clusters such as Conecuh.

The USFWS states that: "The loss, fragmentation, and alteration of the longleaf pine ecosystem are most likely the major underlying cause for the disappearance of the eastern indigo snake in Alabama. As the forests were converted, gopher tortoises were reduced, and the gopher tortoise burrows, upon which the indigo snakes depend, were reduced."

Reintroducing the snakes into Conecuh National Forest is part of an attempt to restore the longleaf pine forest ecosystem in Alabama. The species plays an important role in the ecosystem where it acts as an apex predator. In total, researchers have reintroduced more than 160 snakes into the wild in Alabama since 2010.

This article was updated to correct the original source of the story from The Oregonian to its affiliate website AL.com.