Finding the Southern Hognose Snake

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Finding the Southern Hognose Snake

How ARC celebrated Hogtober

If you saw ARC Project Manager Ben Morrison strolling down the road wearing a backpack leaf blower in October, you may have thought he was dressed as a Ghostbuster for Halloween. Actually, he was prepping the roads to find southern hognose snakes! To improve survey efficiency, Ben blows debris and twigs that look like snakes off the roads in prime sandhill habitats. Surveying is an important undertaking during October (also known as Hogtober), one of the three peak months for finding southern hognose snakes.

The quest to find southern hognose snakes is not simply for the joy of seeing this elusive species in person, but also to perform essential conservation tasks. ARC is collaborating closely with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other partners to learn more about the species by collecting and analyzing critical data and marking snakes for recapture.

ARC is collecting GPS location data, which allows us to gradually determine the location of the most productive sandhill habitat. This data informs and guides our habitat management recommendations to land managers. We also keep track of our survey effort (mileage totals, route covered, and time elapsed), which may help when analyzing our data in the future. Models of our southern hognose snake data combined with survey effort information could help estimate population size.

Additionally, our team takes scale clippings from the snakes to analyze in a lab. DNA from these scales gives us insight into the genetic diversity of a population, allowing us to take action if there is any indication of genetic issues. We also record morphometric data (mass, snout-vent length, and sex) from every snake encountered.

Southern hognose snake (Photo courtesy of Parker Gibbons)

To support ongoing conservation efforts, ARC uses two methods to mark southern hognose snakes for recapture. Adults receive a passive infrared transmitter (PIT) tag, exactly like a microchip used in a cat or dog. PIT tags are inserted beneath the skin near the rear of the snakes’ bodies, where there are no vital organs, making the placement safe and relatively harmless. These tags provide readable information for the duration of the snakes’ lives, allowing for recapture and identification.

Juvenile snakes are too small for PIT tags and instead are marked with an identification code. The codes are placed under their tails with nail polish. While these markings only last for one or two sheds, they give us recapture evidence for the same year and sometimes the subsequent year.

Southern hognose snake (Photo courtesy of Parker Gibbons)

Searching for southern hognose snakes during the peak detectability month of October gives us the best chance at collecting crucial data to ensure healthy populations. We are just as excited as every field herper to recognize and celebrate Hogtober – and we are happy to share this adventure with you each year!

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