More indigos to be released

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Twenty-five more threatened Eastern indigo snakes will be released into the Conecuh National Forest on Friday.

Auburn University scientists, along with representatives from the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, and the Birmingham Zoo, will release the snakes.

The release is part of an ongoing reintroduction project that is coordinated by Auburn to reestablish the Eastern indigo in its native habitat in south Alabama.

The reintroduction effort began in 2011. Previously, there had been no confirmed sightings of the Eastern indigo in the wild in Alabama since the 1950s.

So far, approximately 110 snakes have been released in the Conecuh National Forest so far.

All snakes that have been released were implanted with a passive integrated responder tag, for permanent identification.

Early results indicate the snakes are quickly growing in size and breeding in the wild.

The majority of the snakes and those to be released Friday, were raised in captivity by Central Florida Zoo’s Orianne Center for Indigo Conservation.

The harmless Eastern indigo snake likes to eat copperheads. The copperhead is a venomous snake, and it is responsible for more snake bites in the Southeastern U.S. than any other snake. Copperhead observations are increasing, and, in south Alabama, population growth of the copperhead could be due to the absence of the once-prevalent Eastern indigo snake. Researchers are currently monitoring how populations of Copperheads change after Eastern indigo snakes are reintroduced.

The Eastern indigo snake is part of the longleaf pine ecosystem, which is endangered. Once the most extensive forest system in North America representing 90 million acres, the longleaf pine forest has been reduced to an estimated 2.7 million acres. As the longleaf pine forest has dwindled, many plant and animal species associated with it have also declined, including the Eastern indigo snake. Reintroduction of the Eastern indigo snake is part of a larger conservation effort to reestablish the longleaf pine forest in the southernmost part of the state of Alabama.

The Eastern indigo snake is listed as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act and is a non-game protected species in Alabama. The species disappeared from the state due to a variety of factors, including loss and degradation of their natural habitat, over collection associated with the pet trade, excessive mortality from automobiles, and gassing of their winter refuges (tortoise burrows) to catch rattlesnakes.

Jim Godwin of the Auburn University Museum of Natural History’s Alabama Natural Heritage Program is the primary investigator for the Eastern indigo snake reestablishment project, which was made possible by a Wildlife grant from the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources