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Rainbow Snake Spotted in a Florida County for the First Time Since 1969

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A rainbow snake, a rare reptile spotted in a Florida county for the first time in more than 50 years, seen here on July 5, 2013. Kevin Enge / FWC Fish and Wildlife Research Institute / Flickr

A Florida hiker recently stumbled across a slithering surprise — a rare snake that hadn't been spotted in the area for more than 50 years.


Tracey Cauthen discovered the rainbow snake (Farancia erytrogramma) while hiking in the Ocala National Forest, north of Orlando, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission's Wildlife Research Institute announced in a Feb. 19 Facebook post.

"A Rare Sighting!" the institute enthused.

The Florida Museum of Natural History confirmed that Cauthen's was the first sighting of the elusive reptile in Florida's Marion County since 1969.

Rainbow snakes are "seldom seen, even by herpetologists, due to their cryptic habits," the Wildlife Research Institute explained.

Because rainbow snakes are aquatic, they spend most of their time hidden in vegetation on the water's edge. They also burrow near creeks, lakes, marshes and other wetlands.

Despite their underground habits, they earn their brilliant name. The Florida Museum of Natural History offers a full description:

Adults are large and thick bodied. The back is iridescent blue-black with a bright red stripe down the middle and an additional reddish-pink stripe on each side. The lower sides of the body are yellow or pink fading into the red belly. Black spots on each belly scale form three lines of dots down the belly. The chin and throat are yellow.

Biologists with the Wildlife Research Institute thought that this rainbow snake was seen in the forest because the recent lowering of water levels at the Rodman Reservoir had encouraged it to move. The snakes are also sometimes discovered under riverbank flotsam like Spanish moss or logs, according to the Florida Museum of Natural History. They have also been plowed up in fields or seen crossing the road at night, especially after it rains.

The snakes live throughout the Florida Panhandle, as well as on the northern peninsula and in the north-central part of the state. Another population has been reported around Tampa Bay. The species also lives along the Atlantic Coast Plain between eastern Louisiana and southern Maryland.

The snakes are entirely non-threatening to humans.

"If captured, it may press its pointed tail tip into one's hand," the museum wrote. "The tail is totally harmless and cannot sting or even break the skin."

The snakes mostly eat eels, hence their nickname "eel moccasin." They grow to be 3.3 to 4.5 feet. The snake Cauthen discovered was around four feet.

While they are rarely seen by humans, they are not endangered. They are a species of "least concern" according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List, and their population is stable.

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