Monday, December 14, 2009

Continued Pine Snake Protection Recommended



In another clash of man and wildlife, the Endangered and Non-game Species Advisory Committee has recommended that NJ maintain the threatened status for the pine snake.

The New Jersey Builders Association had filed a petition contending that the pine snake is actually abundant. The species causes problems for builders, particularly in South Jersey, where their protection can limit construction.

Data from state biologists is still being compiled for the NJ Department of Environmental Protection who will decide whether the snake gets continued protection. A final decision has not been made yet, but is expected this month.

The Northern pine snake (Pituophis melanoleucus) likes flat, dry, sandy areas. It is one of the few snakes that burrow in open sandy fields. Most adults are 4-6 in length. It is most likely to be seen in June and July in the afternoon. It feeds on rabbits, rodents, birds, and their eggs.

This snake uses constriction to overpower its prey. When approached it will loudly hiss and vibrate its tail causing most people to think it is a rattlesnake. Though this may work to its advantage is scaring humans, it also causes some people to think it is poisonous and they will try to kill it. A constrictor squeezes its prey and will not strike - in fact, it is fangless.

They are found in Atlantic, Burlington, Camden, Cape May, Cumberland, Gloucester, Monmouth, and Ocean counties.

New Jersey may have the largest single population of northern pine snakes.

It is a rather secretive species that spends most of its time underground, particularly in the sandy soils of South Jersey. The species is found exclusively within the southern half of the state in the Pine Barrens of the outer coastal plain.

Because they eat rodents, in some areas the removal of snakes from an area can cause an increase in the population of mice which in turn may increase Lyme disease. (Mice are the common carriers during the tick's first larvae stage with deer being the frequent carrier in the adult stage.)

Threats to the pine snake include an increase in natural predators, which includes coyotes and raptors. Of course, many of these raptors are themselves threatened or endangered, so this increase is actually a good thing overall.

Pine snakes are also threatened by increased vehicle traffic on the roads through the Pinelands National Reserve which encompasses 1.1 million acres of pine snake habitat. Reptiles need to move into the sun for warmth and will often use roadways which leave them open to traffic and raptors.

The petition by the builders to delist the snake is the first "formal" to question the protected status of a NJ species in the 35 years since the state passed endangered species legislation.

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