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Black Pine Snake

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Is the Black Pine Snake right for you?

Species group:

Scientific name: Pituophis melanoleucus lodingi

The basics:
The Black Pine Snake is one of the rarest of the 15 or so snakes placed in the genus Pituophis, which includes the Pine, Bull and Gopher Snakes. Protected in the wild, it has long been hard to come by, but is now regularly bred by American snake enthusiasts. The Black Pine Snake has a tiny natural range, being found only in a few localities in extreme eastern Louisiana, southwestern Alabama and, possibly, Mississippi. Within this range, it is limited to the equally-threatened Longleaf Pine Ecosystem. The Black Pine Snake spends most of its life underground, within rodent burrows or the root systems of decaying Longleaf Pine Trees.

Appearance / health:
True to its name, this melanistic subspecies of the Northern Pine Snake is usually black above and below. Dark brown individuals, some bearing faint patterns, are also seen. Adults are stoutly-built and average 5 feet in length, with some reaching 6 feet. Hobbyists often breed the darkest pairs, so as to produce the “deepest” black offspring possible.

Behavior / temperament:
Agitated Black Pine Snakes put on an impressive display –swelling the body, flattening the head and hissing very loudly while vibrating the tail. They also rear up in a series of ‘S” shaped curves and strike repeatedly. Most adjust well to gentle handling, but like all large snakes they must be treated with caution.

Housing:
A 55-75 gallon aquarium will suit a small adult, but larger individuals are best provided custom-built cages measuring at least 5 x 5 feet. Cypress mulch, eucalyptus bark and similar materials are preferable to newspaper as substrates, as the Black Pine Snake is most at home below-ground. Standard caves and hide boxes will also be used. Ambient temperature: 75-80 F; Basking temperature: 86 F.

Adult Black Pine Snakes are sizable creatures that produce copious amounts of fecal material which must be removed regularly. The enclosure should be misted daily and thoroughly cleaned each 2-4 weeks.

Diet:
Wild Black Pine Snakes take ground squirrels, deer mice, pocket gophers, rabbits, ground-nesting birds and their eggs, voles, chipmunks, and many other creatures. They often hunt below-ground, and can kill rodents by forcibly pressing them against burrow walls if space does not permit constriction. Often a number of animals will be killed in this manner before the snake stops to feed. Captives do well on a diet comprised of rats and mice. Males do not feed during the breeding season, and both sexes may refuse food during the winter, even if kept warm.

Breeding:
A 3-4 month cooling off period at 50-52 F will stimulate reproduction. Clutches range from 6-12 eggs in size, and double clutches have been recorded. At an incubation temperature of 82 F, they typically hatch within 60-75 days. Hatchlings measure 11-18 inches in length and, like the adults, are heavy-bodied.

Written by Frank Indiviglio

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