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last changes: Sunday, January 06, 2008

Louisiana Pine Snake

Pituophis ruthveni

Pituophis ruthveni of the Vernon Parish/Lou


The Louisiana pine snake lives in the western Louisiana and in the borderd eastern Texas in smaller insular populations. This species lives isolated from other Pituophis.


This powerful snake has a brown, whitish or yellow ground color with 28-38 dark brown to black body saddles and 7-10 spots on the tail. The first saddles in the neck are strongly connected to each other, towards the tail they become more clearly divided. On the side it has a row of black spots between the saddles. Below this is a second row of dark spots, wich are sometimes connected to the upper row in form of a barren. The belly is yellowish with black spots. On the side of the head is a black stripe from the angle of the jaw to the eye, on the head are often dark little spots.

Total lenght: to max. 1.8 m, but longer than 1.5 m is seldom. The scales are keeled. Midbody are 27-33 scale rows, regulary it are 30. Speciality in head scalation: 4 scales in front of the eyes (präfrontalia). The snout scale (rostrale) is higher than broad. (Rostrale - Nasale 1:1.5). Natural color mutants were not found til today. In the terraristik there are some crossings with other subspecies of Pituophis (because there were no adäquat ruthveni partner to find). Depending on this in the terraristik occure today color forms of ruthveni, wich were produced with those crossings.


The Louisiana pine snake inhabits mainly dry pine forests with sandy groundsoil (longleaf and shortleaf-pine communities), further pine plantations and clear-cuts. Founds in other area are very seldom. This snakes lives in rodent tunnels and sometimes in gopher totoise burrows, too. It occures in altitude levels of 30-170 m. This species had become very seldom because of the destroing of it habitats and is maybe the most seldom snake in America. In the 20'th years of the last century the clear-cut lumbering of it‘s habitat begins. Nowadays in clear-cut they remove, too, the rest of the trees in the ground in preparation for planting needle wood monocultures. Then of the old flora and fauna nearly nothing can survive. A further point is the expanding of urban buildings and streets. Newer researches showed, that the street traffic can kill in f.e. 450 m distance half of the population of the greater snakes (Rudolph). Too, the busches and underwood shield the sunlight, so the ground temperatur become lower and the food plants of the rodents (gophers) dont’t grow enough. In former times it was more a fire climax community.The low reproduction rate of this snake makes it very difficult to expand or refill ranges.In the beginning of the second half of the 20. Century nearly no Louisiana pine snake were found. Only 12 ruthveni were known to the sientist till then. In the last 20-30 years, after long time observations and trapping some few animals were sighted. In 1987 then there were 46 sientific known ruthveni. With those (who don’t swim in alcohol ;-) ) a small breeding strain were build in terraria. In actual researches there were made in some areas population counts, f.e. in Angelina National Forest in east-Texas.Too, in Lousiana there were works, where some individuals were found. Most of the recent pine snake records are based on captures (19) made during extensive trapping (20,000 trap-days) by the USFS SRS for radio-telemetry studies (Rudolph and Burgdorf 1997, Rudolph et al. 1999).

Way of life

Only a few authors wrote something to this fact. Here is someting from the „CANDIDATE CONSERVATION AGREEMENT for the Louisiana pine snake Pituophis ruthveni“ of 2003: „Baird’s pocket gophers (Geomys breviceps) appear to be an essential component of Louisiana pine snake habitat. They create the burrow systems in which Louisiana pine snakes are most frequently found, and serve as a major source of food for the species (Rudolph and Burgdorf 1997; Rudolph and Conner 1996; Rudolph et al. 1998b; Rudolph et al. 2002). Up to 90% of radio-tagged snake relocations have been underground in pocket gopher burrow systems, and movement patterns are typically from one pocket gopher burrow system to another. In Louisiana, habitat selection by Louisiana pine snakes seemed to be determined by the abundance and distribution of pocket gophers and their burrow systems (Himes 1998). Although active snakes did utilize debris and logs as temporary shelters, they were most often found adjacent to pocket gopher burrows. Snakes disturbed on the surface retreated to nearby burrows, and hibernation sites were always within burrows. In Texas the snake were classified as threatendet and a species of special concern an unauthoriesd caughts are prohibited.This species is not protected in Lousianna -> Background is, that in works in the beginning of the 1980'th in a 2-years fieldwork (Jennigs & Fritts, 1983) no ruthveni at all in Lousiana were found. Because of this the official reason were: „What not occure, we must not protect".Since 2003, as a candidate for CONSERVATION AGREEMENT, the Louisiana pine snake receives no formal Federal protection under the Endangered Species Act. It is State listed as threatened in Texas and protected from direct harm and unauthorized collection. It is classified as imperiled to vulnerable in Louisiana.


Baird’s pocket gophers (Geomys breviceps) appear to be an essential component of the diet ot these snakes. But, too, some other rodents were eaten.


Too, in Louisianna and Texas the temperatures sink in winter to the freezingpoint. The snakes make a hibernation of some month in the tunnels of the gophers, av. from october to february/march. In the terrarium a 3-month hibernation from the beginning of november to the beginning of march were sucsessful (Klarsfeld, 2003).


About the reproduction in habitat not many is written. But some matings and egglaying in the terrarium were decribed in the internet and in books (f.e. Werler, John E., Dixon, James R., 2000). The mating time is mostly in march, in april or may 3-5 very great eggs were laid, The lenght of the eggs is 10-14 cm. After 58-66 days (without details for temperatures) they begin with hatching. The juvenils then have a size of 45-61 cm and are the greatest hatchlings in Pituophis. They look similar to the adults. In newer works (Klarsfeld, 2003) it is written, that in the terrarium very big females have clutches up to 8 eggs. The long and dark hibernation should be an important fact for the breeding of this snake. The ilumination periode is an other important fact for breeding.

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