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Columbia County Observer

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Reward Offered for Sighting of South Florida Rainbow Snake: Feds May Have Prematurely Declared Species Extinct

TAMPA, Fla.— The Center for Biological Diversity and the Center for Snake Conservation announced today that they are offering a $500 reward for the first person to document the existence of the South Florida rainbow snake. Both conservation organizations believe that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service last month prematurely declared the species extinct without conducting targeted surveys and despite several unconfirmed sightings.

See related article: Two Florida species may be extinct

“Declaring the South Florida rainbow snake extinct without adequate search effort is scientifically irresponsible,” said Cameron Young, executive director of the Center for Snake Conservation. “We hope that by offering a reward, we can rediscover this amazing reptile and implement conservation measures to ensure its survival into the future.”

The South Florida rainbow snake is a harmless aquatic snake that feeds exclusively on the American eel. It is known from just three specimens, the last of which was collected in 1952 near Fisheating Creek in Glades County, Fla. In early October, the Service declared the snake extinct, thereby denying it protections under the Endangered Species Act. The Service made its determination without conducting any focused surveys for the reclusive reptile and despite anecdotal evidence of snakes eating eels in the Fisheating Creek area.

“It’s heart-wrenching to think the South Florida rainbow snake could be lost forever,” said Collette Adkins Giese, a Center for Biological Diversity attorney focused on the protection of imperiled reptiles and amphibians. “But if we can find these snakes, they’d be very likely to get protection under the Endangered Species Act — the most powerful tool in the country for saving plants and animals from extinction.”

The Service announced the extinction of the South Florida rainbow snake in response to a petition filed by the Center for Biological Diversity seeking Endangered Species Act protection for the snake and more than 400 other aquatic species in the southeastern United States. If rediscovered, the rainbow snake would receive an in-depth scientific review along with 374 species from the petition (including 114 in Florida), which the Service found may warrant protection under Act.

Background

The South Florida rainbow snake (Farancia erytrogramma seminola) is a subspecies of rainbow snake known only from a single population in Fisheating Creek, which flows into the western side of Lake Okeechobee. Fisheating Creek remains relatively pristine and could still support the snakes. But potential habitat in other parts of Florida has been severely degraded by channelization and pollution, especially agricultural runoff. The snake is believed to be nearly entirely aquatic and active only at night, making detection difficult without extensive and specialized survey effort, although there were multiple unconfirmed sightings of the snake in the late 1980s. It’s a beautiful animal, with three red stripes along its iridescent bluish-black back and a belly that is yellow and red with black spots on each scale. Adult snakes can be over four feet long.

Snakes and other reptiles are among the most imperiled vertebrate species on the planet. Globally, nearly one-quarter of all evaluated reptile species are endangered or vulnerable to extinction, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s 2011 Red List. Also, scientists currently lack sufficient information to assess the status of nearly 20 percent of the world’s reptiles. Many species are disappearing faster than scientists can study them.

This work by the Columbia County Observer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 United States License.

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