Black Pine Snake
Pituophis melanoleucus lodingi

Size:
  Hatch: 45-56cm (18-22 inches)
  Adult: Normally 2m + (6 feet)

Scalation:

Dorsal scale rows
Dorsal scale rows(nuchal)
Ventrals:
 
Sub-caudals:
 
Infralabials:
Supralabials:
Prefrontals:
Anal Plate:
Scales:
19-32
27-31
Females 213-224
Males 212-221
Females 52-58
Males 58-65
13-15
7-9
4
Single
Keeled

Text by KJ Lodrigue, Jr.



Hatchling Black Pine
click to enlarge

Photo by KJ Lodrigue, Jr.

Coloration and Description:

General:
The adult black pine is the only melanistic pine snake. They range in coloration from an overall black and brown banded snake to a nearly jet-black animal. The browner ones seem to retain a little of their juvenile pattern and get blacker the more anteriorly you look. In appearance, they superficially resemble the coloration of a Broad-banded water snake. The other extreme of the adults is a nearly solid black animal that retains only a trace of pattern on the tail at most. There seems to be little or no correlation between locality and extreme pigmentation in these snakes, except where historic intergredation is demonstrated. Almost all individuals are much lighter around the chin area with the underside often appearing white.

Ventral:
The ventral coloration of adults has to be one of the prettiest of any snake. They are strikingly similar to that of a Mexican Black King in that it is an overall blue-black. When a shed is imminent, the ventral surface becomes a pearly blue coloration. Many also retain a bit of white running down each side of the ventral surface paralleling the edges of the ventrals. This white forms a pattern similar to a dotted line.

Young:
The young can range from appearing almost indistinguishable from a northern pine hatchling to almost jet-black dorsum with a less patterned ventral. It has been reported that some are born completely jet black out of the egg, but no significant evidence of this has been demonstrated to me yet. Although their seems to be some trend in that a darker the hatchling leads to a blacker adult, but this is apparently not a rule that is upheld 100%.

Captive Varieties:
The most common captive variety would involve the continued breeding toward a blacker individual. It seems that the goal of almost every breeder is to produce an indigo-like pine snake. Many breeders claim that they have such an animal already, but no evidence of this has seemed convincing yet. In bright sunlight, some brown banding can be seen on all individuals I have inspected and had described to me. The goal of a solid black pine may be within the reach of breeders over the next few years, but little evidence that a solid jet black pine from egg to adult is currently available. The second morph commonly bred in captivity is the albino black pine snake. This is a overall solid white snake. However, the purity of these individuals may be of some question. There seems to be a new Piebald/hypomelanistic black pine snake slowly becoming available on the market; however, the history, genetic make-up, and availability has not been described. Only with a few more breeding seasons can the future and description of this trait be demonstrated.

Range:
The natural range probably could be defined as southwestern Alabama through southeastern Mississippi (up to Lauderdale County) into Washington Parish in extreme eastern Louisiana.

The present day range is almost definitely greatly reduced. For all practical reasons, they are almost definitely extirpated in Louisiana. Their numbers are greatly reduced in both Mississippi and Alabama to the point of being protected in both states. Louisiana currently offers no protection for them. Most of the wild Black Pines now occur on De Soto National Forest where they are completely protected. This is currently their last stronghold as a wild population. In the past few years, more and more scientific research has been conducted concerning their natural history. This subspecies is known to intergrade with Florida, or Southern, Pines in the extreme southeastern part of their range. Some Northern pines in the extreme southwestern part of their range may show some indications of past integredation with Black and southern pine snakes. The original specimens collected in Louisiana are thought to demonstrate characteristics of historic intergredation with Louisiana pine snakes.

Habitat:
They prefer open longleaf pine forests with loose sandy soil that they can readily burrow through. One of the most important factors would be a track of forest with sandy soil and less than 20% aerial covering for successful nest construction and egglaying. Due to commercial harvesting and replanting with faster growing loblolly pine and the cessation of natural summer forest fires, there habitat is being greatly reduced.

Prey:
In captivity, they can be easily maintained on a diet consisting solely of lab mice and rats. Quail and chicken chicks are an alternative meal, but may make the defecation wetter. One point that is important to note is that these snakes may occasionally become hard and fast feeders on one particular prey type. In other words, once offered a rat, they may not accept mice again. Because of these, we generally try to start them off on pink rats (which is the best staple for an adult pine snake) as hatchlings and feed them that solely their entire life.

In the wild, they feed on a large assortment of endothermic prey. They are known to take small rodents (such as various wild rats and mice), small rabbits and their young, squirrels, and birds and their eggs. They seem to especially appreciate squirrels.

Captive Behavior:
This subspecies often does very well in captivity. They are extremely hardy; however, many undergo temporary fasts for no apparent reasons. These can extend as long as 2 or more months and not be detrimental to the snake. Additionally, expect the males to normally go off feed for the entire active breeding season.

Although most hardly hiss in captivity once acclimated, the young and infrequently handled snakes often hiss with such extreme that a normal conversation is nearly impossible to conduct in their presence.

Captive Breeding:

This species has been shown to be relatively easy to bred in captivity. First, make sure that the adults are at least 1.5+m (>4.5 feet) to ensure the least chance of problems. Adults should be brumated for a full 3 months at as close to 10C (50F) as possible. Be careful not to drop too much below that temperature, though. Breeding should occur that "spring" after the first shed of the season for the pair.

Black Pine eggs
click to enlarge

Photo by KJ Lodrigue, Jr.

Eggs are deposited in the usual manner about 6 weeks after breeding. A prelaying shed occurs 7-14+ days before egg deposition. They normally lay from 7 to 11 eggs at a time. Double clutching is uncommon but possible. Care for the eggs are standard, except that special care should be taken to assure that the shell does not dry out. This will cause near full-term dead eggs due to the neonates' inability to get enough oxygen and/or pip through the toughened eggshell. Care of neonates is standard with many hatchlings accepting pink rats or fuzzy mice even before their first shed.

Literature Cited:

Conant, R. 1956. A review of two rare pine snakes from the gulf coastal plain. American Museum Novitates. 1781:1-31.

Conant R. and J. T. Collins. 1991. A field guide to reptiles and amphibians of eastern and central North America. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston.

Richling, S. B. 1995. The taxonomic Status of the Louisiana Pine Snake (Pituophis melanoleucus ruthveni) and its relevance to the Evolutionary Species Concept. Journal of Herpetology 29(2):186-198.


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