Heart of Louisiana: Pine Snake

Heart of Louisiana: Pine Snake
Heart of Louisiana: Pine Snake(Heart of Louisiana)
Published: Jul. 16, 2023 at 8:53 PM CDT

BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - As the forest service works to restore Louisiana’s Longleaf Pine habitat, it’s also bringing in more snakes. Hundreds of rare Louisiana pine snakes are being released into the woods of Central Louisiana.

There is something special about a Longleaf Pine Forest.

“If you look up, it’s just a pine tree. It’s a cool pine tree because has the longest needles of any pine tree in Louisiana. However, what you want do is you wanna look down. It’s the understory that makes this so special,” Matt Pardue said.

The ground cover is prairie, like full of green vegetation and wildflowers, and the diverse plants attract wildlife, including the rare Louisiana pine snake.

“These are gopher mounds right here. This is apart of the baird’s pocket gopher tunnel system. Here what they do is they have little intricate tunnel systems under the ground and then they bring the dirt up all these tunnels are intertwined,” Pardue said.

Wildlife biologists, Matt Pardue of the Kisatchie National Forest, explains that the tunnel digging gophers are the main prey of the pine snake.

“It kind of gets up under the gopher, traps it up under there, and expands itself and pushes the gopher up to the top of the tunnel and suffocates its prey that way,” Pardue explained.

Louisiana has a lot of snakes. And we’ve got a lot of the poisonous venomous snakes, right? This is not one of those?

“This is not one of them. Like I said, it’s one of the rarest snakes. Less than 400 records of this have ever been found,” said Pardue.

You are not likely to see one of these pine snakes because they spend most of their time underground, but they are easy to identify.

“He’s almost like two snakes if you bend him in half here. He’s got a lot of mottled patterns on the top. And then it transitioned to what almost sort of little light tan and brown bands there,” Pardue said.

The bark of the fire-resistant longleaf pine is charred from a recent controlled burn that’s used to clear the undergrowth. Centuries ago, the ground cover was cleared by wildfires from lightning. Now the controlled fires are manmade.

“And it’s been said that if you take the fire out of the longleaf, it’s like taking rain out of the rainforest. This is what a lot of western Louisiana looked like. You know, before we got here, it was kind of wide open pine trees and longleaf pine, which lived to almost 200 plus years old,” Pardue said.

And it’s the habitat loss that has made the Louisiana pine snake so rare. But an effort is underway to change that. For more than a decade, pine snakes bred in zoos had been released in the Kisatchie forest more than 400 so far.

“You know, it’s part of our heritage. It’s Louisiana pine snake. Once you lose them they’re gone forever,” Pardue said.

And saving this rare snake also means restoring this special longleaf pine forest and saving a unique and diverse landscape

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