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America's Largest Snake, with Amazing Video!
Eastern indigo snake
The southeastern United States has its share of snakes, including the largest in the nation. The indigo snake, Drymarchon corais couperi, grows to a length of over nine feet! Fortunately, this reptile is not only non-venomous, it’s also actually docile. The indigo is found throughout Florida, in southern parts of Georgia and Alabama, and in the extreme southeastern corner of Mississippi. The indigo snake, however, is extremely rare in Alabama and Mississippi, with most residing in Florida and the coastal plain of Georgia – where I live.
The indigo snake once had a much wider range, but the population has drastically declined, largely due to the destruction of their habitat. They often use underground burrows shared with the gopher tortoise or holes made by armadillos in the sandy soil of longleaf pine forests. According to the University of Georgia Herpetology Staff, 95% of this type of habitat has been destroyed. The indigo snake is listed as a threatened species in Georgia and Florida, and as an endangered species elsewhere in the U.S.
The snakes, members of the colubrid family, are a glossy iridescent bluish-black, with the belly the same color. On some individuals, reddish or rust-colored patches appear on the sides of the head. The indigo is slimmer and not as heavy as an eastern diamondback.
Indigo snakes seize and crush their prey with their powerful jaws and often use the weight of their coils, too, but they are not constrictors. The indigo hunts during the daylight hours, eating frogs, birds, small tortoises, and the eggs of other snakes and ground-nesting birds, along with small mammals. Their preferred meal is other snakes, including the venomous rattlesnake. It’s interesting to note that indigo snakes are immune to rattlesnake venom.
In the warmer months, indigo snakes prefer areas that are close to water, where they can feed on frogs, baby turtles, and water snakes. In the winter, the indigo moves to drier habitats, where they breed. Unlike most other snake species, the indigo remains fairly active in the colder months of the year. When a female is ready to breed, she is visited in her burrow by males. She lays clutches of nine eggs in the burrow, and they hatch three to four months later. The young indigo snakes instinctively travel to marshy wetlands where they can find small prey.
When threatened, the indigo snake often flattens its head, vibrates its tail, and hisses, but they seldom strike and rarely bite. Because of their docile nature, the snakes are popular as pets, even though owning them is illegal in many areas. The illegal pet trade is partially responsible for the indigo snake’s declining numbers. In some areas, a specimen will fetch $1,000.
Tied in closely with the survival of the indigo snake is the survival of two other threatened species, the gopher tortoise and the red-cockaded woodpecker. All three are dependent on the same type of habitat. Rattlesnake roundups are deadly for indigo snakes. When snake hunters gas gopher tortoise burrows in an effort to kill and capture rattlesnakes, indigo snakes are often unintended casualties.
I’ve never personally seen an indigo snake, although my husband has seen several. He sometimes works in a sandy area near the Alapaha River, where a few indigo snakes frequent large gopher tortoise holes. Although the longest eastern indigo snake recorded measured 9.2 feet, Johnny swears he’s seen one longer than that. This particular snake was crossing a paved road, and hubby claims the reptile stretched almost all the way across the narrow two-lane blacktop.