Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens is celebrating the hatching of two Eastern Indigo Snakes. The hatchlings emerged on July 10 and 11, and they mark the first time the Zoo hatched this vulnerable species since 1997.
The species is listed as “Threatened” under the Endangered Species Act, and population numbers are decreasing rapidly in its native range of the southeastern United States due to habitat loss.
Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens recognized the importance of increasing the population of Eastern Indigo Snakes, and in 2012 received a pair with a breeding recommendation. The snakes recently reached sexual maturity and the female laid her first clutch. Eastern Indigos, while nonvenomous, can be both territorial and voracious eaters, so the breeding pair was only together for a brief time.
According to the Zoo’s Deputy Director for Animal Care & Conservation, Dan Maloney, “We are very proud and excited to welcome such significant new additions to the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens family. Six years ago, we acquired young snakes in hopes that they would be future parents. To finally have healthy hatchlings is extremely satisfying and lays the foundation for a successful, sustainable breeding program.”
The two hatchlings emerged from their 4-inch eggs after a 100-day incubation. They are 13-inches long now but will quickly grow into the longest native snake species in the United States.
Eastern Indigo Snakes are a top predator and have a wildly varied diet consisting of everything from small mammals, birds, and amphibians, all the way up to one of their favorite prey items, Eastern Diamond Rattlesnakes.
The decline of rattlesnake and Gopher Tortoise populations is contributing to the rapid decline in Eastern Indigo Snakes. Gopher Tortoise burrows serve as an important shelter for the snakes in winter months. These three threatened animals are linked by their habits and habitats, and their decline helps highlight the importance of keystone species to entire ecosystems.
The Zoo hopes that the new hatchlings can serve as ambassadors for local conservation efforts and reinforce our message of Living Well With Wildlife.
The mother of the two hatchlings can be viewed in the Wild Florida herpetology house. She shares her enclosure with a Box Turtle and a three-legged, rescued Gopher Tortoise.