Louisiana Pine Snake
Scientific Name: Pituophis ruthveni
Description: Louisiana pine snakes are tan in color with a pattern of brownish black splotches running down their bodies. Their snouts are pointed for burrowing into pocket gopher tunnels.
Size: Adults reach 4–5 feet in length. The largest recorded Louisiana pine snake was 5.8 feet long.
Diet: Louisiana pine snakes are carnivorous. Baird’s pocket gophers (Geomys breviceps) are the largest component of their diet. Louisiana pine snakes are constrictors, but they don’t wrap themselves around prey like boa constrictors do. Instead, they burrow into pocket gopher tunnels, and use their bodies to pin rodents against the wall of the passageway. The snake then expands its body so the gopher is crushed and can’t escape.
Predation: Predators of pine snakes and their eggs are mostly limited to large mammals. Threats to the species from predation are not as critical as habitat loss.
Typical Lifespan: Little information exists on the longevity of the Louisiana pine snake. Close relatives of the species can live over 20 years in captivity, but this is probably higher than average.
Habitat: Louisiana pine snakes prefer sandy soil longleaf pine forests. Longleaf pines are slow growing and allow lots of sunlight to penetrate through to the forest floor. This leads to drying of the soil and growth of understory plants, which are perfect conditions for pocket gophers, and therefore, for the pine snakes. Unfortunately, longleaf pine forests have been extensively logged and replaced with faster growing loblolly pine. Loblolly pine trees shade out the forest floor and reduce habitat.
Range: Populations of Louisiana pine snakes are found in Louisiana and east Texas.
Life History and Reproduction: Louisiana pine snakes produce the largest eggs and hatchlings of any North American snake. Hatchlings can measure up to 22 inches in length—over a third of their mother’s body length. However, they also produce some of the smallest clutch sizes with just three to five eggs produced per pregnancy.
Fun Fact: Louisiana pine snakes aren’t venomous, but they do hiss quite loudly when disturbed!
Conservation Status: The loss of longleaf pine forests has reduced the amount of habitat available for Louisiana pine snakes. Fire suppression is also a problem. The snakes can easily escape the flames by retreating underground, and fire helps to maintain a landscape dominated by longleaf pine. Without fire, crowding of the midstory of the forest leads to unfavorable conditions for pocket gophers and pine snakes. Additionally, most pine snake habitat is near roads, and the snakes are often killed by automobiles. Despite their imperiled status, Louisiana pine snakes aren’t federally listed as endangered. Fortunately, several steps have already been taken to conserve these rare reptiles. Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries are both involved in restoration of longleaf pine forests. Some timber companies have stopped planting fast-growing loblollies in favor of the longleaf pine. Finally, Louisiana pine snakes are bred in captivity and reintroduced into the wild.
IUCN Red List
Louisiana Conservationist Magazine
University of Michigan Animal Diversity Web
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service