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Eastern indigo snake

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Eastern indigo snake

Eastern Indigo Snake
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Subphylum: Vertebrata
Class: Reptilia
Order: Squamata
Family: Colubridae
Subfamily: Colubrinae
Genus: Drymarchon
Species: D. couperi
Binomial name
Drymarchon couperi
(Holbrook, 1842)
  • Coluber couperi Holbrook, 1842
  • Georgia couperi
    Baird & Girard, 1853
  • Spilotes couperi Cope, 1860
  • Spilotes corais couperi
    Lönnberg, 1894
  • Drymarchon corais couperi
    — Amaral, 1929
  • Drymarchon couperi
    — Crother, 2000[2]

The eastern indigo snake (Drymarchon couperi) is a species of large nonvenomous colubrid snake native to the Eastern United States. It is of note as being the longest native snake species in the U.S.


  • Description 1
  • Taxonomy 2
  • Etymology 3
  • Common names 4
  • Distribution 5
  • Conservation status 6
  • Preferred habitat 7
  • Cover requirements 8
  • Food habits and behavior 9
  • Predators 10
  • Reproduction 11
    • Captivity and care 11.1
  • References 12
  • Further reading 13
  • External links 14


The eastern indigo snake has even blue-black dorsal and lateral scales, with some specimens having a reddish-orange to tan color on the throat, cheeks, and chin. This snake received its common name from the glossy iridescent ventral scales which can be seen as blackish-purple in bright light. This smooth-scaled snake is considered to be the longest native snake species in the United States. The longest recorded specimen measured 2.8 m (9.2 ft). Unlike many snakes, mature male indigo snakes are slightly larger than females. A typical mature male measures 1.2–2.36 m (3.9–7.7 ft), with a reported average of 1.58 m (5.2 ft), and weighs 0.72–4.5 kg (1.6–9.9 lb), reportedly averaging 2.2 kg (4.9 lb). Meanwhile, a mature female typically measures around 1.1–2 m (3.6–6.6 ft) in length, averaging 1.38 m (4.5 ft), and weighs 0.55–2.7 kg (1.2–6.0 lb), averaging 1.5 kg (3.3 lb).[3][4] In specimens over 2.6 m (8.5 ft), these snakes can weigh up to 5 kg (11 lb).[5] Although the indigo snake is similar in average body mass, extremely large specimens of the bulky, co-occurring venomous eastern diamondback rattlesnake can outweigh them.[6]


The eastern indigo snake was first described by John Edwards Holbrook in 1842. The species was considered monotypic with 12 subspecies until the early 1990s when it was elevated to full species status according to The Society for the Study of Amphibians and Reptiles, in their official names list.


The generic name, Drymarchon, roughly translates to “lord of the forest”. It is composed of the Greek words drymos (Δρυμός), meaning "forest", and archon (ἄρχων), meaning "lord" or "ruler".

The Wayne County, Georgia.

Common names

Eastern indigo snakes have a number of common names including indigo, blue indigo snake, black snake, blue gopher snake, and blue bull snake.


The eastern indigo snake ranges from southern South Carolina south through Florida and west to Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama.[1] A related species, the Texas indigo snake (Drymarchon melanurus erebennus), is found in southern Texas and Mexico.[8]

Conservation status

Because of habitat loss, the eastern indigo snake is listed as a federally threatened species in Georgia and Florida.[9] The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources has listed the species as possibly extirpated within the state.[10]

Preferred habitat

Eastern indigo snakes frequent flatwoods, hammocks, dry glades, stream bottoms, cane fields, riparian thickets, and high ground with well-drained, sandy soils.[8] In Georgia, eastern indigo snakes prefer excessively drained, deep sandy soils along major streams, as well as xeric sandridge habitats.[11] Xeric slash pine plantations seem to be preferred over undisturbed longleaf pine habitats.[12] Habitat selection varies seasonally. From December to April, eastern indigo snakes prefer sandhill habitats; from May to July the snakes shift from winter dens to summer territories; from August through November they are located more frequently in shady creek bottoms than during other seasons.[13]

The eastern indigo snake is most abundant in the sandhill plant communities of Florida and Georgia. These communities are primarily scrub oak-longleaf pine (Pinus palustris) with occasional live oak (Quercus virginiana), laurel oak (Q. laurifolia), Chapman's oak (Q. chapmanii), and myrtle oak (Q. myrtifolia). Other communities include longleaf pine-turkey oak (Q. laevis), slash pine (Pinus elliottii)-scrub oak, pine flatwoods, and pine-mesic hardwoods.[11]

Cover requirements

Because the cover requirements of eastern indigo snakes change seasonally, maintaining corridors that link the different habitats used is important. From the spring through fall snakes must be able to travel from sandhill communities and upland pine-hardwood communities to creek bottoms and agricultural fields.[13] In winter, indigo snakes den in gopher tortoise burrows, which are usually found in open pine forests with dense herbaceous understories.[12] Burrows need to be in areas where there is no flooding. Eastern indigo snakes heavily use debris piles left from site-preparation operations on tree plantations.[12] These piles are often destroyed for cosmetic reasons but should be left intact because they provide important hiding cover for both the snake and its prey. Summer home ranges for the indigo snake can be as large as 273 acres (229 ha).[13]

Food habits and behavior

The eastern indigo snake is carnivorous, like all snakes, and will eat any other small animal it can overpower. It has been known to kill its prey by wildly beating it against nearby objects. Captive specimen are frequently fed dead prey to prevent injury to the snake from this violent method of subduing its prey. Its diet has been known to include other snakes (ophiophagy), including venomous ones, as it is immune to the venom of the North American rattlesnakes. Eastern indigo snakes eat turtles, lizards, frogs, toads, a variety of small birds and mammals, and eggs.[8][12]

As defensive behavior the eastern indigo snake vertically flattens its neck, hisses, and vibrates its tail. If picked up, it seldom bites.[14]

It often will cohabit with gopher tortoises in their underground burrows, although it will settle for armadillo holes, hollow logs, and debris piles when gopher tortoise burrows can't be found. Hunters, hoping to flush out rattlesnakes, often wind up accidentally killing indigo snakes when they illegally pour gasoline into the burrows of gopher tortoises (a practice referred to as "gassing"), even though the tortoises themselves are endangered and protected.


Humans represent the biggest threat to indigo snakes. Highway fatalities, wanton killings, and overcollection for the pet trade adversely affect indigo snake populations. Snakes are taken illegally from the wild for the pet trade. Eastern indigo snakes are sometimes "gassed" in their burrows by rattlesnake hunters.[11]


Eastern indigo snakes are oviparous.[15] The eggs are 75–100 mm (3–4 in.) long by 27–32 mm (1-1¼ in.) wide. Only 5–6 eggs are laid. The hatchlings are 600–700 mm (23½–27½ in.) long.[16]

Captivity and care

Due to its generally docile nature and attractive appearance, some people find it a desirable pet, although its protected status can make owning one, depending on location, illegal without a permit. Only a few states require permits to own an eastern indigo snake, but a federal permit is required to buy one from out of state anywhere in the US. The permit costs $100; information about obtaining one can be found by doing a web search. Most states allow unrestricted in-state sales. To thrive in captivity, this snake requires a larger enclosure than most species do, preferably with something to climb on.


 This article incorporates public domain material from the United States Department of Agriculture document "Drymarchon corais".

  1. ^ a b Hammerson, G.A (2007). "Drymarchon couperi".  
  2. ^ The Reptile Database.
  3. ^ Eastern Indigo Snake. The Orianne Society. Retrieved on 2012-11-30.
  4. ^ Hyslop, N. L., Cooper, R. J., & Meyers, J. M. (2009). Seasonal shifts in shelter and microhabitat use of Drymarchon couperi (eastern indigo snake) in Georgia. Journal Information, 2009(3).
  5. ^ James C. Godwin. Eastern Indigo Snake Fact Sheet.
  6. ^ Wood, Gerald (1983). The Guinness Book of Animal Facts and Feats.  
  7. ^ Beolens B, Watkins M, Grayson M. 2011. The Eponym Dictionary of Reptiles. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. xiii + 296 pp. ISBN 978-1-4214-0135-5. (Drymarchon couperi, p. 60).
  8. ^ a b c Conant, Roger; Collins, Joseph T. 1991. A Field Guide to Reptiles and Amphibians: Eastern and Central North America. Third Edition. Peterson Field Guide Series No. 12. Houghton Mifflin Company. Boston.
  9. ^ Andrew M. Grosse, University of Georgia – edited by J.D. Willson )Drymarchon couperiEastern Indigo Snake (
  10. ^ "Snakes in Alabama". Outdoor Alabama. Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. Retrieved June 6, 2012. 
  11. ^ a b c Diemer, Joan E.; Speake, Dan W. 1983. The distribution of the Eastern Indigo Snake, Drymarchon corais couperi, in Georgia. Journal of Herpetology. 17(3): 256–264
  12. ^ a b c d Landers, J. Larry; Speake, Dan W. 1980. Management needs of sandhill reptiles in southern Georgia. Proceedings, Annual Conference of Southeast Association Fish & Wildlife Agencies. 34: 515–529
  13. ^ a b c Speake, Dan W.; McGlincy, Joe A.; Colvin, Thagard R. 1978. Ecology and management of the Eastern Indigo Snake in Georgia: a progress report. In: Odum, R. R.; Landers, L., eds. Proceedings, Rare and endangered wildlife symposium. Tech. Bull. WL4. Atlanta, GA: Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Game and Fish Division: 64–73
  14. ^ Conant, Roger. 1975. A Field Guide to Reptiles and Amphibians of Eastern and Central North America. Second Edition. Houghton Mifflin. Boston. 429 pp. (Drymarchon corais couperi, pp. 186–187, Plate 27, Map 144.)
  15. ^ Schmidt, K.P., and D.D. Davis. 1941. Field Book of Snakes of the United States and Canada. G.P. Putnam's Sons. New York. 365 pp. (Drymarchon corais couperi, pp. 133–135, Figure 32, Plate 14.)
  16. ^ Wright, A.H., and A.A. Wright. 1957. Handbook of Snakes of the United States and Canada. Comstock. Ithaca and London. 1,105 pp. (2 volumes). (Drymarchon corais couperi, pp. 200–203, Figures 20 & 64, Map 21.)

Further reading

  • Holbrook, J.E. 1842. North American Herpetology; or, A Description of the Reptiles Inhabiting the United States. Vol. III. J.Dobson. Philadelphia. 122 pp. (Coluber couperi, pp. 75–77 & Plate 16).

External links

  • Conservation Management Institute: Eastern Indigo Snake
  • Encyclopædia Britannica Online: Indigo Snake
  • Indigo Snakes at Life is Short, but Snakes are Long
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