A Rare Resident

The Eastern Indigo Snake

By Bill Rhodes | Conservancy of Southwest Florida Volunteer

Not everyone wants to see a live snake, let alone hold one, but visitors to Southwest Florida have the opportunity to do both at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida’s Dalton Discovery Center.

The Center is home to several species of nonvenomous snakes; all are kept in large glass enclosures and on display for educational proposes. The three housed in the Center are the eastern indigo snake, the Florida pine snake, and the corn snake.

During the Center’s daily presentation on reptiles, a docent will bring a live snake out to be seen and gently touched by the guests. Visitors will be asked to apply the provided hand sanitizer before touching the snake in order to ensure the animal does not acquire harmful bacteria from their hands.

Conservancy Aquarist Katie Ferron with ambassador eastern indigo snake, Bindy

As you walk into the Center building and begin your tour, starting at the uplands pine habitat and slowly ‘descending’ in altitude until reaching an offshore patch reef, you immediately see the Eastern indigo snake, Drymarchon couperi, in a large glass tank.

Our specimen, named ‘Bindi’, is still a juvenile. The indigo snake is the largest snake species in the United States, growing from five to seven feet long as an adult. It is a beautiful shimmering blue-black in color, both on its back and its belly, and often has lighter, reddish areas on its mouth.

The indigo is listed as a federally threatened species in Florida, and it would be quite rare to see one in the wild. Much of its decline is due to the rapid development and loss of habitat; but sadly, it has been eagerly sought by collectors for use in the pet trade, which together with habitat loss has caused a steep decline in the species.

The range of the indigo is restricted to Florida and parts of Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi. It is a constrictor, meaning it squeezes its prey until the animal becomes unconscious and limp. It hunts mammals, other snakes, reptiles and amphibians — essentially whatever smaller animals it can catch.

The snake’s preferred habitat is pine and oak forest edges, and often is found alongside gopher tortoises in scrubby, sandy areas. The indigo will occupy gopher tortoise burrows as a means to escape the intense summer heat, and will also use the burrows to breed and lay eggs. Indigos are active during the day, and stay active well into the mild Florida winter, when they breed. The indigo will rarely bite and prefers to hide or flee. It is not venomous, and is harmless to humans. When cornered and feeling threatened, though, it may flatten itself against the ground and shake its tail, making a rattling sound, imitating a rattlesnake.

Don’t miss the chance to see one of Florida’s rarer residents when you visit the Conservancy of Southwest Florida.

Bindi, with good care and good food, will live as many 20 years, and could grow to over 7 feet in length.