Aristos Georgiou (Newsweek) reports on a documented sighting of a rainbow snake (Farancia erytrogramma) in the Ocala National Forest in south Florida. It is the first sighting of the elusive species since 1969.
An elusive rainbow snake has been spotted in Ocala National Forest, Florida, for the first time in over 50 years. State wildlife officials said the snake species Farancia erytrogramma had not been seen in Marion County—which covers encompasses much of the forest—since 1969. The nonvenomous snake was spotted by two women who were hiking in the area.
Sightings of the elusive, non-venomous snake are rare due to its secretive behavior, being aquatic and a skilled burrower. “Rainbow snakes are highly-aquatic, spending most of their life hidden amongst aquatic vegetation; seldom seen, even by herpetologists, due to their cryptic habits,” the FWC Fish and Wildlife Research Institute said in a Facebook post. “Burrowing near creeks, lakes, marshes, and tidal mudflats, rainbow snakes specialize in eating eels, earning the nickname ‘eel moccasin.'”
According to the Florida Museum, when sightings do occur, the snake is usually spotted in debris, such as moss and logs, which have washed up on the shores of a body of water. On occasion, farmers working in fields near water plow up the snakes. And sometimes the snake has been seen crossing roads at night, particularly on rainy summer nights.
Adult rainbow snakes usually grow to between 40 and 54 inches in length, although the largest specimen ever recorded was measured at 66 inches, the Florida Museum says. They are relatively thick-bodied, and can be recognized boy their distinctive coloring.
Their backs are iridescent blue-black, with three bright red stripes running lengthways along their bodies. The belly, meanwhile, is red or pink and features two or three rows of black spots. It is common to find yellowish coloration on some parts of the head and sides. The snakes have smooth, shiny scales, dark eyes and pointed tail tips.
The range of the rainbow snake in Florida extends from the panhandle and northern peninsula southwards up to northern central parts of the state. Elsewhere in the United States, the snakes can be found across a wide area of the Atlantic Coastal Plain, stretching from eastern Louisiana to southern Maryland, according to Florida Museum.
Despite being rarely seen, rainbow snakes are classified by the IUCN Red List as of “least concern.” However, according to the Savannah River Ecology Lab at Georgia University, which studies the species, it could come under threat from habitat destruction in the future.
“Rainbow snakes rely on aquatic habitats and eels for prey, which may put them at risk if wetlands are destroyed or degraded, or if damming rivers results in eel declines,” it said.