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Florida Rainbow Snake

Photo Credit: Ryan means

We are highlighting a Florida native species that many of you probably don't know about. This is the Florida rainbow snake (Farancia erytrogramma). These snakes grow to around 3 - 5.5 feet long with averages around 4.5 feet. The snake’s body is blue-ish black with red stripes going down the entire length. It has yellow on its lower sides, with a red dot within each scale, while the underside sports a red or pink coloration with three rows of black spots trailing down the length of the body. The rainbow snake is aptly named, as it is iridescent and will give off a rainbow hue when sunlight is shines on it. These snakes have an interesting tail tip, as it ends in a pointed, horny scale. They may press their tail tip into potential attackers, however, it is quite a harmless action. The presumed action this tail tip serves is for prodding their prey into place.

Image Credit: Monica E. McGarrity

These non-venomous snakes call cypress swamps, clear springs, blackwater creeks, streams, and rivers throughout the South-Eastern United States home. They can even be found within brackish water in coastal areas. Rainbow snakes are rarely seen as they live very aquatic lives and are nocturnal. If not in the water, these snakes will be hiding under debris or within rock crevices at the water’s edge or can seldom be found crossing roads on rainy summer nights looking for different bodies of water to live and hunt in. Due to this very aquatic lifestyle, they rarely bask out of the water.

Females of this species can lay over 50 eggs, however the average clutch size is around 20 eggs. These amazing snakes have evolved to life underwater and their main source of diet is freshwater American eels, donning them the nickname "Eel Moccasin." Outside of the eels, these snakes as juveniles will eat earthworms, tadpoles, fish, aquatic salamanders, and amphiumas. Due to their lifestyle, not much is known about the ecology of these rainbow snakes. Much of what we know was discovered from research conducted at the Savannah River Ecology Lab in Georgia. One of the things we don’t know but can estimate, is the rainbow snake's lifespan. Based on the closely related mud snake that can live up to 19 years in the wild, these rainbow snakes probably have a lifespan close to 17-21 years.

There are two subspecies of these snakes, the common rainbow snake (Farancia e. erytrogramma) and the Southern Florida rainbow snake (Farancia e. seminola). There has only been three confirmed specimens found of the Southern Florida subspecies, between the dates of 1949 and 1952. The only known specimen currently left is secured within the Florida Museum of Natural History at University of Florida. There have been a small number of reported sightings since 2010. These supposed sightings got people revved up, bringing these like-minded organizations together: Center for Biological Diversity, Center for Snake Conservation, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, to go out on an expedition in 2012. No evidence of these snakes were found, however suitable habitat was found at Fisheating Creek, FL. It is currently believed this subspecies is extinct, although the search is still ongoing.

common rainbow snake (Farancia e. erytrogramma)
common rainbow snake (Farancia e. erytrogramma)

Although not endangered, except for in Maryland, these snakes still need our help as they are important to our sensitive waterways. The biggest threat to rainbow snakes is habitat degradation. To ensure their survival we need to do our part by reducing, eliminating, or alternately using eco-friendly pesticides and herbicides in our agriculture. Keeping our waterways clean and free of trash and pollution, and educating those around us to do the same, will help ensure Rainbow Snakes are around for future generations.

Daphne Kline

Environmental Educator

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