Pine Snake

Pituophis melanoleucus

Order: Squamata Family: Colubrida

Husbandry Information

Housing Requirements

Pine snakes drink a lot of water so a heavy, securely placed water bowl should be present with clean water at all times. Pine snakes often defecate in their water bowls

  • Temperature, Humidity, & Lighting:
    • Temperature:
    • Humidity:
    • Lighting:
  • Substrate: Suitable substrate for your pine snakes enclosure can be in the form of ground pine bark mulch a few inches deep. This will enable the snake to burrow freely, something that pine snakes do frequently in nature. Dust free beach sand is also a suitable substrate

Diet Requirements

  • Juveniles: Pine snakes are fast growing powerful snakes which require a steady diet of rodents or chicks. Feeding you juvenile pine snake twice a week and a couple of appropriately sized small prey items in a sitting will suffice. Can be weaned back to once per week, then every other week as prey sizes increase.

Veterinary Concerns

Notes on Enrichment & Training

Other

Colony or Breeding Management

Notes species is housed or managed socially or for breeding purposes.

Individual Identification

Dimorphism or practiced ways to individually mark species (such as those in colonies, like giant millipedes).

Programmatic Information

Transportation

hot water bottle

Temperature Guidelines

  • Brandywine Zoo: During cool weather (under 65°F), supplemental heat is provided with a hot water bottle set to one side of the cooler.

 

Crating:

  • Brandywine Zoo: reptiles travel in a Coleman style coolers that have been amended with extra ventilation holes on the lid (with a wood-burning tool). Small and medium sized snakes travel inside an inside-out, knotted pillowcase. Large snakes travel loose in the cooler that is also bungeed shut.
  • lg cooler sm cooler cooler

Tips on Presentation

Touching Techniques

Tips on Handling

  • Handle new individuals frequently, in short sessions, to acclimate to the life of a program animal and desensitize to many situations. This will reduce hissing displays and general defensiveness when handled.

 

Potential Messaging

Acquisition Information

It’s suggested to acquire juvenile pine snakes to allow proper handling and desensitizing of this active, vocal, and potentially aggressive species. Working with this species frequently, in short sessions, will help to slowly desensitize the individual until you get to the point of having a nonreactive snake.

Comments from the Rating System

  • Lee Richardson Zoo: Aggressive and difficult to calm
  • Zoo America: Lively snake!

Natural History Information

Range and Habitat

Geographic Region and Range
Pine snakes are found across the Southeast US; found throughout the Coastal Plain of North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and throughout Florida, and in disjunct populations in the dry mountains of Virginia, Tennessee, and northern Georgia. A large, but isolated population occurs in the Pine Barrens of southern New Jersey.

Habitat
Pine snakes are found at elevations up to 152.4 meters above sea level in a variety of habitats, including Pine Barrens, mixed scrub pine and oak woods, dry rocky mountain ridges, sand hills, and old fields.

Physical Description

  • Size: 48-66 inches (122-168 cm)
  • The ground color of pine snakes may be white, yellow, or light gray. There are usually dark, squarish, blotches on the sides and back that are lighter toward the tail and darker near the head. The belly is white with dark spots on the sides.
  • Pine snakes also have a relatively small head compared to other large colubrids and have a snout that is somewhat pointed . They have four prefrontal scales, unlike most other colubrids, which have two.
  • Pine snakes are the second-largest snake in northeastern North America, ranging in size from 91 to 254 cm in length and up to 5 cm in diameter.
  • All members of the genus Pituophis have a cartilaginous keel in front of the glottis which amplifies hissing to mimic a rattlesnake.
  • Their skulls are different from those of western pine snakes, specifically in regard to nasal/premaxilla articulation, suggesting differences in digging behavior.
  • Dimorphism– Males: Males will have a longer tail that does not taper as quickly as the female tail. Females: Females typically have a heavier build than males.

Life Cycle

  • Oviparous– Pine snakes are oviparous and lay their eggs in June through August. Breeding occurs annually.
  • They are known to build communal nests, with several females laying eggs in one spot.
  • The eggs are some of the largest of any US snake and hatchlings hatch out at over 12 in (30.5 cm) in length.
  • Gestation usually lasts 28 to 39 days (only studies in this area have been on Florida pine snakes). Incubation is 51 to 100 days.
  • Clutch size ranges from 3 to 24 eggs with an average of 8.
  • Pine snakes reach sexual maturity about 3 years after hatching.

Behavior

Pituophis species have a somewhat tainted reputation with respect to their behavior, as some specimens are prone to loud displays of hissing, vibrating their tails and opening their mouths to strike.

Due to the cartilaginous keel in their throat, pine snakes are capable of creating a very loud, intimidating hiss.

  • Temporal Behaviors
    • They hibernate in underground burrows during the winter months and sometimes aestivate during the summer.

    Home Life

    • These snakes are excellent burrowers, spending the majority of their time underground. Their occasional surface activity can be observed in the spring through the fall, particularly May to October.
    • Pine snakes have a pointed snout and enlarged rostral scale which are designed for burrowing underground to escape uncomfortable temperatures or predators, to find prey, and to build their nests.
    • Pine snakes are usually found on the ground, but may climb into low bushes or trees.

    Defense Mechanisms

    • When pine snakes are first approached they tend to hiss very loudly, vibrate their tails, and strike.

    Social Behaviors

    • Males of several subspecies are known to engage in combat during breeding season.
    • Juveniles recognize conspecifics via olfaction. It is possible that adult males recognize females in a similar manner.

Threats and Conservation Status

  • Pine snakes have no federal protection, but several states have them listed as threatened. This species has been decreasing rapidly in its northeastern range and is believed to have been extirpated from West Virginia and Maryland, with a high risk of being extirpated from the New Jersey pinelands. In Georgia, pine snakes are listed as threatened and are protected throughout the state.
  • Use & Trade: Pine snakes are important predators of small mammals such as mice and rats, ground squirrels, and gophers, which are destructive agricultural pests.
    • Hatchlings are sometimes captured and either sold or kept as pets. They are among the most popular snakes kept as pets. [3]
  • Threats: The single greatest threat to this species is habitat destruction; however, it occurs in protected habitat at various locations throughout its geographic range.
  • Predators: Pine snakes are preyed upon by short-tailed shrews, raccoons, striped skunks, red foxes, domestic dogs and cats. Pine snake eggs are commonly eaten by scarlet snakes.

Did you know…

  • Pituophis melanoleucus belongs to the family Colubridae, the largest family of snakes in the world.
  • They are well known for the rattling their tails when extremely aggravated.
  • Pine snakes are the second largest snake in North America.

Photographs

Featured images is of a juvenile specimen

Documents

Any Documents to attach, species spotlights, etc.

Contributors and Citations

  • Houston Zoo, Natural Encounters, Brandywine Zoo

Citations
Reptiles Magazine, “Pine Snake Care Sheet,” Reptiles Magazine, June 2017. [Online]. Available: http://www.reptilesmagazine.com/Care-Sheets/Pine-Snake-Care-Sheet/. [Accessed June 2017].

B. Morrison, “Pine Snake (Pituophis melanoleucus),” University of Georgia, June 2017. [Online]. Available: http://srelherp.uga.edu/snakes/pitmel.htm. [Accessed June 2017].

L. Rasmussen, “Pituophis melanoleucus,” Animal Diversity Web, 2012. [Online]. Available: http://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Pituophis_melanoleucus/. [Accessed 28 June 2017].

J. KJ Lodrigue, “General Care of Bullsnakes, Louisiana Pine Snakes, and Eastern Pine Snakes,” The Pituophis Page, 2017. [Online]. Available: http://www.kingsnake.com/pituophis/care_group1.html. [Accessed June 2017].