KIDS FOR CONSERVATION Spectacular Snakes! By Kathleen Johnson, MetaZoo Educator If you come to the Louisville Zoo often, you may have spent some time in our MetaZoo Discovery Center looking at our eastern indigo snake, Bindi. An animal ambassador at the Metazoo since 2005, Bindi is shiny and sleek, and her scales have an iridescent sheen in the light. Bindi is like a beautiful jewel, and she helps us to educate people about wildlife. It’s no wonder that people love to see her up close. But what does the word “indigo” mean? Maybe you’ve heard this word when people talk about the colors of the rainbow. Indigo is a color between blue and violet, and these snakes tend to be a deep blue-black color. The sides of their faces and chins are often an orange-red color that contrasts vibrantly with their dark bodies. The eastern indigo snake’s scientific name is Drymarchon couperi. Drymarchon can be roughly translated from Greek origins to mean “forest ruler.” These snakes certainly live up to the title since they are so big; they are the largest type of nonvenomous snake in North America. The males may grow to be about 8 feet long, and the females about 6 feet. Wow! They are also top predators where they live. Bindi can be super fast when she is moving in her exhibit. It’s easy to see how these snakes are excellent hunters in their habitat. So, what is on an eastern indigo snake’s menu? Think variety! They will eat lots of differ- ent things including small mammals, birds, bird eggs, frogs, small water turtles, lizards, fish and even small tortoises. They also eat other snakes. They hunt and eat venomous snakes that are native to their range, like diamondback rattlesnakes! They are powerful hunters, grabbing prey with their strong jaws, pinning it or pressing it to overcome it, and then swallowing it whole. Where do they live? Eastern indigo snakes are found mainly in the extreme southeastern United States. (They are not found in Kentucky, but there are some snakes in Kentucky that may look similar.) They do very well living and hunting in different habitats within their range, such as longleaf pine sandhills, oak and pine scrub and wetlands areas. Gopher tortoise burrows are very important places for these snakes as well. You might wonder why. Well, in northern Florida and southern Georgia, eastern indigo snakes borrow these tortoise burrows for dens during the winter and as places where they can hunt. Some of the snakes return to the same area each winter to use these burrows for shelter. It would be wonderful to be able to see these gorgeous reptiles thriving in nature! Their numbers are dropping, however. Habitat loss is the main problem facing these snakes today. Many people also like to collect Kathleen Johnson and Bindi Close up of Bindi's scales these snakes or sell them as pets. Luckily, there are laws that help this species. Eastern indigo snakes are part of a Species Survival Plan (SSP) which safeguards many animals facing extinction in the wild. These highly coordinated partnerships between AZA-accredited zoos are designed to facilitate a healthy and genetically-diverse population of animals in managed care. What can YOU do to be help- ful to snakes in general? Learning about animals is a great first step that helps you grow to respect and appreciate them. If you find a snake outside, remember that snakes are important because of what they do in nature: they keep down the numbers of rats and mice and they are also a food source for some other animals. So, be sure to be kind to snakes — and if you come across one in the wild, just look and let it go on its way!