State wants reports of pine snakes

Harmless pine snakes are rare and elusive. The NCWRC is seeking information about sightings of the snakes to better judge the status of the species. (Courtesy Jeff Hall NCWRC)
Harmless pine snakes are rare, visually striking and elusive. The NCWRC is seeking information about sightings of the snakes to better judge the status of the species. (Courtesy Jeff Hall NCWRC)

Biologists with the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission are asking the public to help them learn more about the distribution of the northern pine snake in western North Carolina by reporting any sightings of snakes in the wild.

Recent reporting efforts have resulted in two new records of pine snakes in Cherokee County, the first in over 10 years in western North Carolina.

Northern pine snakes are large and heavy-bodied, typically reaching between 4four to five feet, but can be as long as seven and a half feet. They have a white, tan, or yellowish background color with dark brown or black markings that begin as heavy mottling on the head and gradually become distinct blotches toward the tail.  While their size should make them easy to spot in the wild, northern pine snakes spend most of their time underground and so seeing one is no easy task.

“The best chance of spotting one is during the day, in forest openings, as they forage and move from burrow to burrow,” said Gabrielle Graeter, a wildlife diversity biologist with the Commission. “Although the best time of the year to see one is in the spring and early summer, September and October are also good times since pine snakes are beginning to move to locations where they will spend the winter.”

People who see a pine snake in the wild are asked to email pinesnake@ncwildlife.org with the following information:

  • A photo (required)
  • Date and time the snake was observed
  • The location (GPS coordinates are best, but a detailed location description is acceptable)

Those who need help identifying snakes can visit the Herps of North Carolina website, which provides snake identification tips as well as photos on all 38 snake species native to the state. People who find other snake species are asked to submit their observations to Herpmapper, an organization that receives “catch and release” data from the general public, reptile and amphibian enthusiasts, other citizen scientists and professionals for research and conservation purposes. 

In western North Carolina, pine snakes are found in southwestern mountain counties, with Cherokee and Swain counties having the majority of verified sightings. Pine snakes also are found in the Sandhills and the southern Coastal Plain. They prefer open areas within pine-oak forests with well-drained and sandy soils.

To get a better understanding of pine snake populations in Cherokee and Swain counties, the Commission is working with the U.S. Forest Service and Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians to conduct surveys in areas where pine snakes have either been seen or in areas with potentially suitable habitat. The Commission has constructed camera traps, which can document snakes passing through the area.

Graeter cautions people to look but not touch any pine snakes they come across in the wild. While the pine snake is neither dangerous nor venomous, it is protected in North Carolina.

Biologists believe pine snakes are declining throughout much of their range and because of this, they are state listed as a threatened species and cannot be collected or taken from the wild without a permit issued by the Commission’s Executive Director.  

For more information on pine snakes in North Carolina, read the Commission’s Northern Pine Snake Wildlife Profile.

  • In addition to electronic calls, nighthunting, dogs and bait, hunters have another tool to use in hoghunting– technology. The N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission has unveiled a new online reporting tool for people to report any sightings of feral swine or damage to the agency. Feral swine, also called wild boar and feral hogs, are an invasive species that cause significant damage to plant communities and wildlife habitat, prey on native wildlife, compete with native species for limited food and clean water resources and potentially spread diseases that pose substantial risk to livestock, wildlife, humans and pets. Commission biologists, along with other members of the N.C. Feral Swine Task Force, are seeking information from the public to better understand the distribution and abundance of feral swine across the state, and to estimate type and extent of damages they are causing, including damage to agricultural crops, timber, wildlife habitats, landscaping and others. Reported sightings will help members of the task force determine priority areas where they can focus management efforts. Education and outreach events, technical assistance staff, loaner traps, and other control measures will be focused in areas of greatest need. “Reports we receive from the public will be extremely important for developing a baseline of information, which we will then use to track how feral swine move across the landscape,” said Falyn Owens, the Commission’s extension biologist. “Changes in the reports we receive over time will also provide a measure of effectiveness of feral swine control efforts across the state.” Feral swine are highly adaptable animals that can live in urban, suburban and rural areas from the mountains to the sea. In North Carolina, they are typically found in isolated pockets, and have been reported in most counties of the state. Commission biologists hope that citizen reports will help them better assess the extent that feral swine are impacting the states natural resources. In Columbus county, hogs have displaced deer in many areas around the Waccamaw River. Feral swine are also reportedly moving up the river toward the sensitive ecosystems around Lake Waccamaw State Park. They root cemeteries in Nakina, Old Dock and Crusoe, and destroy crops around Tabor and Clarendon. Rodney Register has become known as the “Hawg Eradicator” for his efforts to trap pigs across the county over the past two years. He expects to top the 300 mark this fall. Opportunistic feeders and omnivorous, feral swine will eat almost anything, include a wide range of vegetative matter. While foraging, feral swine root into and turn up the soil, causing extensive damage to landscaping, stream banks, lawns, and agricultural fields. On agricultural and developed lands, they cause an estimated $1.5 billion per year in damages to crops across the United States. While feral swine eat a wide range of vegetation, they also eat snakes, turtles, lizards, the eggs and young of ground nesting birds like quail and turkey, and white-tailed deer fawns. Feral swine have the potential to carry at least 30 diseases and nearly 40 different parasites that can affect humans, pets, livestock and other wildlife. Diseases like brucellosis, pseudorabies, foot and mouth disease, and African swine fever are just some of the concerns when feral swine and people or livestock interact. “Simply put, feral swine are invasive and undesirable as free-ranging animals on North Carolina’s landscape,” Owens said. “Unfortunately, illegal releases continue to supplement the growing population, making control of these destructive animals challenging. “In order to direct resources that will allow landowners and managers to better control feral swine populations and reduce the damages they cause to North Carolina citizens, the natural environment and our native wildlife, we need the public to report sightings to us.” The N.C. Feral Swine Task Force comprises state and federal agencies that are working collaboratively to learn more about and manage the impacts of feral swine in the state. In addition to the Commission, current members include USDA-Wildlife Services, N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Natural Resource Conservation Service, NCSU Cooperative Extension Service, USDA-Veterinary Services, N.C. Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts and N.C. Department of Health and Human Services. For more information on feral swine in North Carolina, visit the Commission’s feral swine web page.
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About Jefferson Weaver 264 Articles
Jefferson Weaver is the managing editor of columbuscountynews.com and news director for WTXY radio. He can be reached at 910.632.4965, or by email at jeffersonweaver@columbuscountynews.com.

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