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Taking America's rarest snake back to the woods
Date:5/7/2012

On May 1, USDA Forest Service, U.S Fish and Wildlife Service, Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, the Memphis Zoo, and other partners released seven young Louisiana pine snakes on a restored longleaf pine stand in the Kisatchie National Forest in Louisiana. The release is the fourth in 2 years, part of a plan to restore a very rare snake to its range in Louisiana. Last year the partners released 20 newly hatched snakes; this year's snakes are 6 months old and about 3 feet long.

Four to 5 feet long as an adult and covered with a striking pattern of black, brown and beige, the Louisiana pine snake is a rare sight in its native range in east-central Texas and across Louisiana. Craig Rudolph, Forest Service Southern Research Station research ecologist and a member of the reintroduction team, has monitored the species for decades, and concurs with other herpetologists that it well may be one of the rarest snake species in the United States. Snakes released for the restoration effort are hatched and raised in zoos, and are the offspring of Louisiana pine snakes captured from the wild.

Already listed as threatened in Texas and a candidate for listing under the Federal Endangered Species Act, the Louisiana pine snake population has declined because of alterations to the its native pine longleaf pine habitat and that of its prey.

A nonvenomous species, the Louisiana pine snake spends most of its time underground in burrows of its favorite prey, the Baird's pocket gopher. The ideal habitat for both species consists of dry, sandy-soiled ridges covered with longleaf pine trees and an open understory of the grasses and forbs the pocket gophers feed on. This habitat largely disappeared due to commercial logging in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and subsequent fire suppression.

"Without fire, these upland pine savannahs rapidly develop a midstory that shades out the grassy understory that pocket gophers need," say
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Contact: Craig Rudolph
crudolph01@fs.fed.us
936-569-7981 x4012
USDA Forest Service ‑ Southern Research Station
Source:Eurekalert  

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