Louisiana Pine Snake
Pituophis ruthveni
(formerly P. melanoleucus ruthveni)

Size:
  Hatch: 45-61cm (18-24 inches)
  Adult: Normally

Scalation:

Dorsal rows(mid-body)
Dorsal rows(nuchal)
Dorsal rows(ant.-tail)
Ventrals:
 
Sub-caudals:
 
Infralabials:
Supralabials:
Prefrontals:
Anal Plate:
Scales:
27-33
27-31
20-25
Females 213-229
Males 210-230
Females 50-55
Males 51-64
11-14 **
6-9 ***
4
Single****
Keeled

click to enlarge

      * as low as 45
      ** as high as 15 (as seen in the holotype)
      *** as high as 10
      **** some noted exceptions

Text by KJ Lodrigue, Jr.

Coloration and Description:

General: Overall, this is a highly variable snake that is highly keeled in the anterior portion of the body. The posterior regions are slightly less keeled with a sharply tipped tail. Color ranges from a black blotched, yellow animal to a strong reddish brown colored snake. Body blotch counts normally range from 28 to 38, but may be as high as 42. Body blotches are normally not "clean" and perfectly distinct from dorsal speckling. The tail spots number from 7-10. Currently, there are no pure captive varieties available, but captive-bred young are produced by a few breeders in small numbers. However, the selling of hybrid/intergrades as pure Louisiana pines has been prominent in many areas of the trade.

Head and Neck: The head of the Louisiana pine is often devoid of a regular, consistent pattern. There is a semi-diffuse postocular stripe and supraocular bar. The rostral scale is disproportionally large. The head often has an overly chunky appearance. The blotches of the neck region often become hard to discern due to their crowded condition. This makes the nuchal pattern appear confusing with an overall brown area that extends slightly onto the body past the nuchal region. Blotches usually become more distinct posteriorly.

Ventral: The ventrals are almost never immaculate. The ventrals are intermediately blotched with brown. However, there is normally no distinct checkering pattern. The blotches become more diffuse posteriorly.

Range: The natural range of the Louisiana pine may never be known due to two factors: their highly secretive nature and extreme habitat degradation. First, the natural range is based on certified records and then extrapolated from there. This area was composed of a few counties in extreme eastern Texas (including specimens from Angelina, Nacogdoches, Polk, Tyler, and Wood Counties) and a few Parishes in west central Louisiana (including Natchitoches, Rapides, Vernon, and Bienville Parishes).

The present day range is almost definitely greatly reduced at this time. The lower Louisiana populations are almost definitely extirpated throughout most of their former range. Most of the Texas populations have been extirpated also. Louisiana pines are almost definitely reduced to three major remaining populations. There is apparently a population still present in Texas on the Louisiana border near the southern part of their former range. The last 2 remaining populations are surrounding Bienville Parish, Louisiana, and embedded within Louisiana in the middle of their former range (i.e., central Louisiana). It seems possible that a small, fourth extremely disjunct population remains in northeast Texas well away from the Louisiana border but not approaching the accepted range of bullsnakes.

Habitat: Louisiana pines have a very specific habitat type: mature Longleaf pine forests with loose, sandy soil. This forest type has been economically harvested and converted to monoculture Loblolly pine in many places. The soil is easily burrowed through and home to numerous burrowing rodents.

The specificity of Louisiana pine snake's habitat type is almost definitely the reason for their population declines. Populations are extremely dependent upon soil type; hence, their inability to spread west through the east Texas forests and east through the Mississippi floodplain. Extensive logging of old growth Longleaf pine Forests has greatly reduced their suitable habitat range. One future possibility is re-introduction of Louisiana pines into the Fort Polk WMA and Kisatchie National Forest areas.

Prey:
In captivity, Louisiana pines do fine on a diet of lab rodents, mainly rats. Hatchlings are often easily able to eat small weanling mice as their first meals. They will soon outgrow mice as a staple, though. Adults get robust and will accept large rats. Young chicken and quail chicks are also readily accepted and make excellent prey items. These guys are normally voracious feeders. They are often called (only semi-jokingly) vacuum cleaners when their feeding response is referred to.

I usually start mine on fair sized pink rats and increase the size and frequency of feeding until adulthood is reached. They are known for diet preference shifts and unexpected fasts. This is normally relatively brief and harmless; however, it may be safer to pick your choice of prey and stick with it.  Because of these facts and that rats are typically a healthier meal than mice, we recommend that all Louisiana Pinesnake hatchlings are started on appropriately sized rats and never offered another prey type in their life unless it becomes absolutely necessary.

In the wild, these snakes are known and/or assumed to consume a wide variety of prey types. Due to their large size, they are able to engulf fairly large prey items. Natural prey items include birds and their eggs, squirrels, young rabbits, and various other small mammals.

Captive Behavior:
Louisiana pines are the typical Pituophis in behavior: they put up a great bluff. They are one of the better hissers that usually become extremely relaxed once grabbed. They become extremely tame with handling and cease the hissing behavior as a normal response. However, infrequently handled adults may be "on the move" or "wormy" at first. Neonates are often the biggest bluffers. Wild caught individuals in collections are so rare as to not warrant much mention; however, most calm down fairly quickly with a little handling.

Captive Breeding:
This species has seemed to be one of the harder pines to breed for many people. I think this is mainly due to too warm brumation temperatures. The extremely large egg size is another problem. 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. However, do not be surprised if you find that many are late breeders.

Up to 7 eggs (average is about 4-5) are deposited in the usual manner about 6 weeks after breeding. A prelaying shed occurs 7-14+ days before egg deposition. Care for the eggs is 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 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, New York. 450pp.

Reichling, 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.

Thomas. R. A., B. J. Davis. and M. R. Culbertson. 1976. Notes on variation and range of the Louisiana pine snake, Pituophis melanoleucus ruthveni Stull (Reptilia, Serpentes, Colubridae). Jounal of Herpetology. 10(3):252-254.


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