Florida Pine Snake
(also called the Southern Pine Snake)

Pituophis melanoleucus mugitus

Size:
  Hatch: 45-64 cm (18-25 inches)
  Average length 122-168cm(48-66 inches)
      record 229 cm/90 inches
      (Conant & Collins, 1991)
      over 244 cm/96 inches
      (Tennant, 1997)

Scalation:

Dorsal scale rows midbody
Ventrals:
 
Sub-caudals:
 
Infralabials:
Supralabials:
Prefrontals:
Anal Plate:
Scales:
27-30
Females 210-225
Males 205-218
Females 28-33
Males 46-62
n/a
7-9; average 8
4
Single
Keeled

Text by Kevin Baesler


Normal Phase
Click on picture to enlarge

Photo by Kasi Russell

Coloration and Description:

General:
The Florida Pine Snake is a highly variable snake. The ground color ranges from an off white to ash gray. The dorsum is blotched; on the anterior portion of the body the blotches are ill defined, becoming more distinct farther toward the posterior. Blotches themselves are highly variable, being almost invisible in some animals to black, dark tan or almost brick red in others. Some specimens I have viewed had blotches with pale centers. Dorsal blotches range from 25-31. The Florida Pine Snake is the largest of the eastern pituophis species.

Head & Neck:
The head is usually devoid of any pattern, although neonates are occasionally marked with post ocular stripes and a supraocular bar, which fades as the animal matures. Many animals have maculations or small markings on the head, usually in the same color as the dorsal blotches. The head is disproportionately small for the animals' size and its wedge shape and prominent rostral scale equip it well for its burrowing activities. The blotches along the neck are usually indistinct in mature animals, although some neonates will display distinct neck markings, which gradually fade.
Ventral:
The ventrals are usually immaculate, colored typically in a smoky gray or off white. I have examined specimens from Alachua County, Florida and Dodge County, Georgia which had small black "checks" profusely distributed along the ventrals, possibly reflecting genetic influence from the Florida Pine's northern relative, the Northern Pine Snake.

Captive Varieties:
The Florida Pine Snake is bred today in a number of interesting morphs. Commonly seen examples include amelanistic, in which the dorsal blotches are bright red; patternless, a variant first discovered in the wild in west central Florida in which the dorsal blotches are absent and the snake is an overall tan color with some dark speckling on the anterior portion of the dorsum; leucistic, a pale pink or white animal absent almost all coloration except for faint dorsal blotches in a rose colored shade, and snow, a morph produced by breeding amelanistic and leucistic animals to achieve a solid white animal. More recently there has been word of a hypomelanistic animal being bred by a few breeders, but as yet it is not commonly seen in the trade.

Range:
The Florida Pine Snake occurs in suitable habitat throughout most of Florida (excluding the Keys) , southern and middle Georgia, southeastern Alabama, and the southwestern quarter of South Carolina. It intergrades with the Black Pine Snake in Escambia County,Florida and in peninsular Alabama east of Mobile Bay, and with the Northern Pine Snake across middle Georgia on a line roughly from Columbus through Augusta and into South Carolina around Barnwell and Aiken. Strangely, the Florida Pine seems to be absent from a considerable portion of southwestern Georgia. Conant & Collins indicate intergradation with the Northern Pine Snake in Alabama, but the only example I have heard of was a single individual cited by Mount from Elmore County. Like other pituophis species, the fossorial nature of the Florida Pine Snake make pinning down its exact range an inexact science.

Habitat:
Florida Pine Snakes are found in sandy, open areas, including pine-turkey oak woodland, abandoned fields and longleaf pine forests. This environment is characterized by soft, sandy soil frequented by the burrowing rodents the Florida Pine most often preys upon. Studies have shown the Florida Pine spends as much as 85% of its time underground, often in the burrows of pocket gophers or, less frequently, gopher tortoises. The Florida Pine occupies large home ranges: one study in Florida using radio telemetry indicated 2 adult females occupied territories 11 and 12 ha (27.5 and 30 acres) each, while 3 males used areas 2-8 time larger.

A big, slow-moving reptile with highly specialized habitat requirements, the Florida Pine, even more than other snakes, has been adversely affected by man. Intensive cultivation of much of its habitat for monoculture loblolly pine plantations is probably the major factor in its population decline, although in Florida the citrus industry, real estate development and the corresponding road construction have also had their effect. More recently, some southern herpetologists are beginning to investigate the impact the accidental introduction of Latin American fire ants has had on native herp species, including the Florida Pine. Also, the gassing of gopher tortoise burrows during rattlesnake round ups has undoubtedly had a negative impact, since the Florida Pine is often a cohabitant with the tortoise.

Prey:
The Florida Pine Snake preys on a variety of small rodents, including mice, various rats, immature cottontail rabbits and pocket gophers. It will also eat the eggs and young of ground dwelling birds, such as bobwhite quail.

Like other Pines, captive Florida Pines feed readily on rats and mice. A neonate can easily eat a pink rat or fuzzy mouse. Adults will take large rats, although two or three small prey items are more easily digested than one really big one. Pine Snakes often get fixated on a particular prey item and may refuse anything else. Males will usually fast during breeding season.

Pine Snakes seem to have a high metabolism compared to their colubrid kin. It is not unusual for a neonate/juvenile to feed every 4-5 days; as an adult weekly feedings work well, although periodically the Florida Pine may go on a fast lasting several weeks.

Captive Behavior:
Florida Pines, like other pituophis, are renowned for their threat displays, featuring loud hissing and inflation of the body. Many will continue this display while being handled, although they usually cease shortly after being picked up. It is difficult to make blanket statements about Florida Pine Snake behavior. Some are as calm as the old family dog and others as explosive as nitroglycerine. As a general rule, they are more nervous than other popular colubrids such as lampropeltis and elaphe. For those individuals who wish to acquire a snake they will handle often, a Florida Pine Snake will require frequent handling sessions with the owner to get the animal acclimated. With time and effort almost all calm down. Neonates typically are the most nervous.

Captive Breeding:
Florida Pines breed readily in captivity. Standard colubrid husbandry techniques work fine. Two year old females can be bred but ideally three years of age is the best time to begin breeding; the female should at least be 4.5' - 5' in length. Adults should brumate for at least 8 and ideally 12 weeks with an average temp around 50-55'. Breeding usually occurs after the first shed after brumation has been concluded. Eggs are deposited around 35-50 days after breeding. Gravid females should have access to a ventral heat source to prevent egg binding.

Egg clutches average around 7-8, somewhat depending on the size of the breeder. Smaller clutches usually yield larger eggs. Compared to most other colubrid snakes Florida Pine Snakes lay huge eggs, ranging from 70-105mm in length and weighing some 100 grams. Moistened vermiculite is a great incubation medium; it should be moist but not so much that when a handful is squeezed, water seeps out. Incubate at 82' in a Rubbermaid container 2'x1'x1' and eggs should hatch in 60-68 days.

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:

Ashton, Ray E. and Patricia. 1988. Handbook of Reptiles and Amphibians of Florida. Part One: The Snakes. Windward Publishing, Miami. 176 pp.

Conant, R. and J. T. Collins. 1991. A field guide to reptiles and amphibians; Eastern and Central North America. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, New York. 450 pp.

Moler, Paul E. 1992. Rare and Endangered Biota of Florida. Volume III Amphibians and Reptiles. University Press of Florida, Gainesville. 291 pp.

Mount, Robert H.1975,1996. The Reptiles and Amphibians of Alabama. The University of Alabama Press, Tuscaloosa. 347 pp.

Rossi, John V. 1992. Snakes of the United States and Canada: keeping them healthy in captivity. Volume 1 Eastern Area. Krieger Publishing, Malabar, Florida, 209 pp

Tennant, Alan. 1997. A Field Guide to Snakes of Florida. Gulf Publishing Company, Houston. 257 pp.

 

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