Kingsnake

A Species in Decline

In recent years, Common Kingsnakes (Lampropeltis getula) have virtually disappeared from much of their range in Florida, southern Georgia, and southeastern Alabama. Although known primarily from anecdoctal reports, these declines have appeared to occur at an alarming rate. In some regions, kingsnakes have gone from common to apparently absent in less than a decade. No discernable pattern of these declines has been determined, as the species may be undetectable across large areas yet still locally abundant in others. So far, the eastern (getula) and Florida (floridana) subspecies appear to be the only taxa affected, but other races are being watched closely.

Scientists are puzzled by these declines, which do not follow the patterns normally associated with invasive species, development/sprawl, known diseases, or unsustainable harvest.

Fire ants have been implicated in the decline of many native species since their introduction near Mobile Bay, Alabama, in the mid 20th century. These impacts usually radiate outward from the central Gulf Coast in a relatively uniform pattern. While fire ants have no doubt taken a toll, kingsnake declines appear to be centered considerably east of the inoculation point and do not follow the geographic pattern generally associated with ant-related extirpations.

While clearly a source of stress, development-related habitat fragmentation does not explain declines on large, relatively remote public lands such as the Conecuh, Ocala and Apalachicola National Forests.

Disease may also play a role but more research is needed to identify which, if any, pathogens are involved.

In the past few decades, advances in reptile husbandry have taken pressure off of wild snake populations by providing the pet industry with a renewable supply of captive-bred specimens. Most kingsnake declines have been noted in the years since commercial collection began to wane.

Well-known for eating other snakes, including venomous species, kingsnakes are arguably the most popular, least-persecuted snakes in the Southeast. However, for such a conspicious animal, suprisingly little is known of their ecology or population biology. Field studies are currently underway to help elucidate the natural history of this species but additional work is needed to help determine potential causes of their apparent decline. The Upland Snake Conservation Initiative is joining with Partners in Amphibian and Reptile Conservation to sponsor a multi-disciplinary effort to investigate the subject.

Individuals killed on the road may prove to be useful specimens in determining if there are harmful pathogens or parasites present in kingsnake populations. Consequently, we are soliciting for these individuals.

If You Encounter a Fresh Roadkilled Kingsnake

Please:

  • Contact Dr. Terry Norton at 912-884-5005 (or 5006) or 912-312-1886 or 912-554-1618 or via email at tnmynahvet@aol.com.
  • Ideal situation: Ship snake on ice packs via FedEx within 24 hours of collection to:Dr. Terry Norton
    St. Catherines Island Center
    182 Camellia Rd
    Midway, GA 31320Please call beforehand to make arrangements for shipping.
  • If you are unable to ship the dead snake within 24 hours, freeze the dead snake immediately and arrange for shipping at a later date. When shipped, snakes should be packed with dry ice or tightly packed with lots of ice packs by FedEx as described above.

We request that you include some information about the individual, including the site where the snake was found and date observed. We’re also interested in possible causes of mortality (if the individual is not a clear roadkill). Also include any available information on the area (heavy fire ants, agriculture, or any other potential issues that could affect the health of the snake).

Please use caution when retrieving animals on the road and be aware of oncoming traffic.

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