Eastern Indigo Snake Conservation
Other institutions involved with this effort include The Nature Conservancy, Central Florida Zoo, Auburn University, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Eastern Indigo Snake. Photo: USFWS National Digital Library.
Listed as Federally Threatened
Although the snakes were once found throughout southern Georgia, Alabama, eastern Mississippi, and throughout Florida, their range is now greatly reduced.
Indigo Snake being fed a young (dead) quail. Photo by Shari Pfannenstein.
Tony Brady, WNFH, releases an Eastern Indigo Snake into a Gopher Tortoise Burrow on June 12, 2019.
Protocol for Incoming Snakes at Welaka
Welaka biologist Jorge Buening is shown with racks of special tubs housing the young Eastern Indigo Snakes until they are ready to be released. Photo: Shari Pfannenstein.
They are fed a hearty diet of dead mice, quail chicks and rainbow trout. After they grow to about four-and-a-half feet long and gain a couple of pounds, they are transferred to Conecuh or Apalachicola Bluffs, a Nature Conservancy property, and released.
“The old stereotype of fish hatcheries doing fish and fish alone no longer holds,” stated Tony Brady, deputy project leader at the Welaka National Fish Hatchery. He continued, “We’re getting into non-traditional things that shows we can adapt to any situation we’re entrusted with.” It is important to note that future plans for Welaka include the propagation and release of the Gopher Tortoise, another step forward in conservation.
A Symbiotic Relationship with Gopher Tortoises
Indigos hibernate during cold weather, nesting in Gopher Tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus) burrows where they are protected from the cold. These snakes often use the same burrows every winter. So, combined with the effort to restore the Indigo Snake, the Gopher Tortoises also have to be protected. When the tortoise population suffers, the Indigo Snake population also is affected. Efforts are ongoing to assist in the recovery of the Gopher Tortoises and their habitats, which, in turn, helps in the recovery of the Eastern Indigo Snake.
The following 2019 YouTube video (no audio) by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission shows the release of captive-propagated Eastern Indigo Snakes at The Nature Conservancy’s Apalachicola Bluffs and Ravines Preserve in Bristol, FL. Note the young snakes seeking out the Gopher Tortoise holes as a safe refuge.