SREL Reprint #1989





Confirmation of a Range Extension for the Pine Woods Snake (Rhadinaea flavilata)


Savannah River Ecology Laboratory, Drawer E, Aiken, South Carolina 29802

The range of Rhadinaea flavilata, the pine woods snake, is restricted primarily to disjunct areas along the coasts of North Carolina to eastern Louisiana, including most of Florida (Conant and Collins 1991; Myers 1967). One anomaly in this distribution, from Aiken County, South Carolina, extended the range 150 km from the coastline and 145 km from the closest previous record (Young 1988, as shown in Conant and Collins 1991). This observation was based on a single specimen collected in 1987. Here we confirm that range extension with the addition of nine new individuals of Rhadinaea flavilata captured between 1987-1994.
Specimens of Rhadinaea flavilata were captured during routine surveys on the Department of Energy's Savannah River Site (SRS) by researchers from the Savannah River Ecology Laboratory (SREL). All snakes were captured by lifting woody debris and cover boards or checking pitfall traps (Gibbons and Semlitsch 1991); individuals were then returned to the laboratory for measurement (SVL, tail length, and in most cases, mass). All individuals were released because of the rarity of this species and the ongoing monitoring of SRS herpetofaunal diversity by SREL researchers.
All nine Rhadinaea flavilata captured since Young (1988) were found on the SRS in Aiken County, South Carolina; pertinent data are presented in Table 1. Capture sites form two distinct areas: Bay I I and Big Squirrel Bay are located within several hundred meters of each other, and both are separated from Dry Bay by 5km. Two other R. flavilata have been captured on the SRS but were not measured. Both were collected at the Dry Bay locality.
These captures suggest that at least two populations of Rhadinaea.flavilata exist on the SRS and confirm the initial range extension of this species by Young (1988). Based on the available data, we propose that the actual range of R. flavilata extends between the SRS and the coastline, at least along the Savannah River and probably in some discontinuous way throughout South Carolina and Georgia. Our logic is based on several aspects of the biology of this species. The primary habitat of R. flavilata, wet pine flatwoods (Conant and Collins 1991), is common between the SRS and the coastline in both South Carolina (Bennett and Poland 1989) and Georgia (Wharton 1978). In addition, the secretive nature of this species (Conant and Collins 1991; Martof et al. 1980) makes it unlikely that individuals would be easily found. Even with the intensive sampling on the SRS, that began in 1966 (Duever 1967) and has yielded more than 6000 snake captures (Gibbons et al., unpubl. ms.), no R. flavilata was captured during the first 22 years. We predict that drift fences with pitfall traps or cover board arrays, set in typical R. flavilata habitat, would reveal other non-coastal populations of this clandestine species in South Carolina and Georgia, as well as additional populations on the SRS.


SREL Reprint #1989

Whiteman, H.H., T.M. Mills, D.E. Scott, and J.W. Gibbons. 1995. Confirmation of range extension for the pine woods snake, Rhadinaea flavilata. Herpetological Review 26:158. 

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