What type of snake found in Florida has a black body and a red tongue?

Introduction: Florida’s black snakes with red tongues

Florida is home to a diverse array of snakes, but one characteristic that often stands out is the presence of a black body and a red tongue. While this combination may seem distinctive, several species of snakes fit this description. Some are common and widespread, while others are rare and threatened. Whether venomous or non-venomous, these black snakes with red tongues play an important role in Florida’s ecosystems.

The black racer: a common snake in Florida

The black racer (Coluber constrictor) is one of the most frequently encountered snakes in Florida, and its black body and red tongue make it easy to identify. These snakes can reach lengths of up to six feet and are known for their speed and agility. Despite their name, black racers are not constrictors and do not kill their prey by suffocation. Instead, they use their sharp teeth to grab and swallow their prey whole, which can include rodents, lizards, and birds. While black racers are non-venomous and generally harmless to humans, they may become defensive if threatened and can bite if cornered.

The eastern indigo snake: a threatened species

The eastern indigo snake (Drymarchon couperi) is one of the largest and rarest snakes found in Florida. These sleek and shiny black snakes can grow up to eight feet long and are easily recognized by their red tongues. Eastern indigo snakes are protected under the Endangered Species Act, and their populations have been greatly reduced by habitat loss and fragmentation. These snakes are apex predators, meaning they have few natural enemies, but they are vulnerable to human activities such as development, road construction, and hunting. Efforts are underway to protect and restore habitat for these iconic snakes, which play an important role in maintaining healthy ecosystems by controlling the populations of small mammals and reptiles.

The Florida pine snake: a rare, non-venomous snake

The Florida pine snake (Pituophis melanoleucus mugitus) is a large and impressive snake that is found primarily in the sandy habitats of the Florida panhandle. These snakes have a glossy black body with white or yellowish markings and a red tongue. Like other members of the gopher snake family, Florida pine snakes are non-venomous and rely on their strength and size to overpower their prey, which can include small mammals and reptiles. Florida pine snakes are considered a threatened species in Florida due to habitat loss and fragmentation, and efforts are underway to protect and restore their habitat.

The black swamp snake: a small, secretive snake

The black swamp snake (Seminatrix pygaea) is a small and elusive snake found in the wetlands of Florida and other southeastern states. These snakes have a shiny black body and a bright red tongue, which they use to sense their surroundings and communicate with other snakes. Despite their name, black swamp snakes are not limited to swampy habitats and can be found in a variety of wetland types. These snakes are non-venomous and feed primarily on aquatic invertebrates. While they are not considered a threatened species, black swamp snakes are difficult to study and are not well understood.

The eastern hognose snake: a snake with a unique defense mechanism

The eastern hognose snake (Heterodon platirhinos) is a small and harmless snake found throughout Florida and other eastern states. These snakes have a distinctive upturned snout that they use to burrow in the soil and search for prey. When threatened, eastern hognose snakes will puff up their bodies, hiss loudly, and sometimes even play dead, rolling onto their backs and sticking out their tongues. The red tongue of the eastern hognose snake is a key part of this defense mechanism, as it helps to convince predators that the snake is venomous and dangerous. In reality, eastern hognose snakes are completely harmless to humans and feed primarily on frogs, toads, and other small prey.

The cottonmouth: a venomous snake found in Florida

The cottonmouth (Agkistrodon piscivorus) is a venomous snake found primarily in the wetlands and waterways of Florida. These snakes have a dark, almost black body and a white mouth that they use to display when threatened. Cottonmouths, also known as water moccasins, are venomous and can deliver a painful and potentially dangerous bite. These snakes are not aggressive towards humans, but they may become defensive if cornered or disturbed. Cottonmouths are opportunistic predators that feed on a variety of prey, including fish, frogs, and small mammals.

The coral snake: another venomous snake found in Florida

The coral snake (Micrurus fulvius) is a venomous snake found throughout Florida and other southeastern states. These snakes have a distinctive pattern of red, yellow, and black bands that can be used to distinguish them from non-venomous mimic species. Coral snakes are not aggressive towards humans, but they do have a potent neurotoxic venom that can cause respiratory failure and death in some cases. Due to their secretive nature and relatively small size, coral snakes are rarely encountered by humans and are not considered a major threat.

The dusky pygmy rattlesnake: a small but venomous snake

The dusky pygmy rattlesnake (Sistrurus miliarius barbouri) is a small and venomous snake found in the forests and swamps of Florida’s panhandle. These snakes have a dark body with a reddish-brown stripe down the back and a small rattle at the end of their tail. Despite their small size, dusky pygmy rattlesnakes can deliver a painful and potentially dangerous bite. These snakes are primarily ambush predators that feed on small mammals and reptiles.

The timber rattlesnake: a large, venomous snake found in northern Florida

The timber rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus) is a large and venomous snake found in the forests of northern Florida. These snakes have a dark body with distinctive black and white bands and a rattle at the end of their tail. Timber rattlesnakes are venomous and can deliver a painful and potentially dangerous bite, but they are not aggressive towards humans and will usually try to avoid confrontation if possible. These snakes are apex predators that feed primarily on small mammals such as mice and squirrels.

Conclusion: identifying Florida’s black snakes with red tongues

Florida is home to a wide variety of snakes, but those with a black body and a red tongue are particularly distinctive. From the common black racer to the rare eastern indigo snake, these snakes play important roles in Florida’s ecosystems as predators, prey, and indicators of habitat health. While some are venomous and potentially dangerous, most are harmless to humans and are valuable members of their respective ecosystems.

References: sources for further reading on Florida snakes

  • Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. (n.d.). Snakes of Florida. Retrieved from https://myfwc.com/wildlifehabitats/profiles/reptiles/snakes/
  • University of Florida. (n.d.). Florida snakes. Retrieved from https://ufwildlife.ifas.ufl.edu/snakes/florida.shtml
  • Bartlett, R. D., & Bartlett, P. (2016). Florida’s snakes: a guide to their identification and habits. University Press of Florida.
  • Gibbons, J. W., & Dorcas, M. E. (2005). Snakes of the Southeast. University of Georgia Press.
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Dr. Chyrle Bonk

Dr. Chyrle Bonk, a dedicated veterinarian, combines her love for animals with a decade of experience in mixed animal care. Alongside her contributions to veterinary publications, she manages her own cattle herd. When not working, she enjoys Idaho's serene landscapes, exploring nature with her husband and two children. Dr. Bonk earned her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) from Oregon State University in 2010 and shares her expertise by writing for veterinary websites and magazines.

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