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Herp of the Day

August 26th, 2020: Seminatrix pygaea

A strange and reclusive reptile, the Black Swamp Snake is today’s featured herp. These snakes are incredibly reclusive and secretive, evading even the best herptologists, but are absolutely stunning.

These are a rather small snake, coming in at 22in/55cm, that are highly aquatic with shiny black scales and a striking red underbelly. Often confused with mudsnakes, you can tell them apart because the mudsnakes have checkerboard patterns on their bellies, unlike the solid red of the black swamp snake.

These animals are found in the Coastal Plain of the southeastern United States, from eastern North Carolina to southern Alabama and throughout the entirety of Florida. They are extremely aquatic by nature, and inhabit bays, roadside ditches, sphagnum bogs, sawgrass prairies, and heavily-vegetated ponds and lakes. According to the University of Georgia, species in South Carolina do best in heavily-vegetated wetlands that dry periodically and lack fish but have an abundance of amphibians.

Due to their aquatic nature, these snakes are rarely seen and little about their daily lives and seasonal shifts is known. In the water, Black Swamp Snakes are active both during the day and at night, and they hunt in the heavy vegetation for a variety of prey. Fish, tadpoles, small frogs are all main areas of their diet, however populations in South Carolina have been found to prey primarily on aquatic salamanders, such as mole salamanders, and leeches.

A very interesting observation made by the Savannah River Ecology Lab has shown that these snakes can actually survive multi-year droughs by aestivating within dried wetlands and that they fare better than other aquatic snakes during such events. They also recover rapidly from droughs by feeding during pregnancy and investing ingested energy directly into offspring.

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