The Northern Pine Snake (Pituophis melanoleucus) in New Jersey: Its Life History, Behavior and Conservation pp. 1-56
Authors: (Joanna Burger, Robert T. Zappalorti, Division of Life Sciences, Rutgers University, Piscataway, New Jersey, USA, and others)
Abstract: At the northern limit of their range, the Pine Snake (Pituophis melanoleucus) is listed as a threatened species by the state of New Jersey. They occur in the southern portion of the state in an area known as the Pine Barrens, where they are isolated from other conspecifics much farther south in Tennessee, Virginia, Kentucky and the Carolinas. The major threat that Pine Snakes face throughout their range is habitat loss. Pine Snakes excavate long nest tunnels and lay their eggs underground. In the fall they dig or modify abandoned mammal burrows or stump-holes as hibernation sites where they survive the winter. Because they are at the northern limit of their range, females select open sandy areas in the forest with complete sun penetration to the underground nest. Shaded areas with trees or shrubs could cause eggs to incubate at lower temperature limits in the nest and cause hatchlings to be behaviorally impaired. Their nesting behavior in open fields renders them vulnerable not only to predators, but to human poachers and off-road vehicles that can run over females within nesting tunnels, destroy the nests, or crush and kill eggs or hatchlings. Poaching of eggs and adults during the nesting season, or at other times of the summer, is a severe threat to Pine Snakes. Other threats include loss of nesting and hibernation sites, fragmentation of important foraging habitat, enhanced predation from human commensals (dogs and cats), and natural predators whose populations have increased due to the presence of humans (Coyote [Canus latrans], Fox [Vulpes fulva], Raccoon [Procyon lotor] and Skunk [Mephitis mephitis]). Properly planned research and intensive long-term studies have proven not to cause disruptions to Pine Snake ecology or behavior. Because New Jersey Pine Snakes have a distinct black and white pattern not found in this species from elsewhere in their range, they are highly prized by collectors. Measures to protect Pine Snakes are discussed, particularly habitat protection, enhancement of known nesting areas, construction of hibernacula, and protection of nesting and hibernation habitats from off-road vehicles. An extensive conservation and educational campaign is needed to raise public awareness about the harmless Pine Snake, the important role they play in the food chain in the Pine Barrens ecosystem, and to develop ways to protect and enhance their population and habitat.
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