Sustain Our Nation's Forests and Grasslands

Eastern indigo snake makes a comeback in Alabama

Man dops snake in the woods
Tim Mersmann, district ranger for the Conecuh National Forest, releases an indigo snake into a gopher tortoise burrow. Photo courtesy of Christopher Smith.

ALABAMA – We all love a good comeback story, and as for America’s longest native snake, it’s been a long time coming. Dubbed the Eastern Indigo Snake Reintroduction Project, the collaborative and active restoration efforts from private, local, state and federal government organizations, created a perfect haven to reintegrate the indigo snake in Alabama.

Experts from various state and federal organizations chose Alabama’s Conecuh National Forest because of its restored longleaf ecosystem, providing the best available habitat in Alabama for bringing indigo snakes back to the state.    

The first eastern indigo snakes were released into the Conecuh National Forest in June of 2010. Auburn University scientists, along with biologists and forest managers from the USDA Forest Service, Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Orianne Society and Zoo Atlanta were essential partners in the early stages of the project. The Central Florida Zoo and Tampa Zoo have joined the project in recent years. The most recent release of 15 additional snakes occurred on May 1, 2019 and elevated the total number of released snakes to 170 on the Conecuh National Forest since the start of the project more than nine years ago.     

The snake release project is an example of how collaboration can solve ecological issues. “Restoration of longleaf pine and fire management are very important for this ecosystem to support all of the animal species native to this area,” said Tim Mersmann, District Ranger for the Conecuh National Forest in Alabama. “Multiple agencies focused on restoring the entire ecosystem, and the reintegration of the indigo snake species to the whole system is very satisfying.”

In 1978, the lustrous, blue-black, non-venomous snake was listed as “threatened” by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service under the Endangered Species Act. Prior to the reintroduction efforts, there had been no confirmed sights of the snake in Alabama since the mid-1950s.

The eastern indigo snake (Drymarchon couperi) is the longest snake native to North America and an essential component of the now rare southern longleaf pine forest. It serves a critical function to balance the wildlife community. Multiple partners collaborated to bring the more than eight-foot long apex predator back to Alabama and the success of the project has led to an additional reintroduction site in North Florida. To date, these are the only two sites designated for indigo snake release in the United States.

Big indigo snake; non-poisonous
An adult eastern indigo snake on the Conecuh National Forest. USDA photo by Tim Mersmann.
Woman holding snake
One of the 15 recently released eastern indigo snakes during the May 1, 2019 release in the Conecuh National Forest. Photo courtesy of Christopher Smith.