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Individual Highlight

Defining the Louisiana Pine Snake Breeding Season

Photo of A Louisiana pinesnake, a rare inhabitant of fire-maintained pine forests. Scott Wahlberg.A Louisiana pinesnake, a rare inhabitant of fire-maintained pine forests. Scott Wahlberg.Snapshot : Forest Service conservation efforts for the Louisiana pine snake, a rare and secretive snake of fire-maintained pine forests, include a captive breeding program. Snakes released for the restoration effort are hatched and raised in zoos, and are the offspring of Louisiana pine snakes captured from the wild. Making the best of the program requires knowing the timing of natural reproduction.

Principal Investigators(s) :
Pierce, Josh B. Rudolph, D. Craig
Research Location : Eastern Texas and western Louisiana
Research Station : Southern Research Station (SRS)
Year : 2016
Highlight ID : 1006

Summary

The Louisiana pine snake only lives in longleaf pine forests, which have disappeared in the face of logging, urban sprawl and the loss of natural fires. They are rarely seen in the wild and are considered one of the rarest snakes in North America.

The Louisiana pine snake’s biology presents a major constraint to its survival. While most other snakes produce large clutches of eggs, the Louisiana pine snake lays only three to five eggs, and in captive breeding programs, sometimes only one or two eggs per clutch hatch. This low reproductive rate means that the species might not recover quickly in the wild. Forest Service scientists have been studying the snake for decades and trapping the species in eastern Texas and western Louisiana since 1994. To determine when the snakes breed in the wild, they considered the timing of captures – if a male snake was caught in a trap that had recently (within nine days) captured a female, they assumed that was evidence of breeding interest. All of the recorded occurrences took place between April 12 and June 6, suggesting that in the wild, the snakes breed in late spring. In the captive breeding program, gestation averages about 50 days and incubation averages about 72 days. Protocols for the captive breeding of this rare and declining snake can be tailored to the snake’s natural cycles. Knowing when Louisiana pine snakes reproduce in the wild is critical for zoos and other facilities who want to develop protocols for captive breeding of this endangered species.

Forest Service Partners

External Partners

  • Kisatchie National Forest
  • National Forests and Grasslands in Texas
  • 17 additional zoos
  • Audubon Zoo
  • Ellen Trout Zoo, Lufkin, TX
  • Ft. Worth Zoo
  • Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries
  • Memphis Zoo
  • Stephen F Austin State University
  • Texas A&M University
  • Texas Parks and Wildlife Department
  • U.S. Department of Defense
  • U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Strategic
Program Areas

Priority
Areas