What is an Indigo Snake?

J.M. Densing

The indigo snake is a long, bluish black reptile that is found in some southern areas of North America. There are actually two types, known as the Eastern Indigo Snake and the Texas Indigo Snake; both have many characteristics in common and belong to the genus Drymarchon. They are carnivorous but not venomous, and are generally thought to pose no danger to humans. They prefer a habitat close to water with plentiful available cover, often nesting in underground burrows. Due to the destruction of their natural habitat, these snakes are considered to be endangered.

Indigo snakes prefer living in wetland areas.
Indigo snakes prefer living in wetland areas.

The indigo snake has a bluish black color with glossy scales. Individual snakes may have some reddish orange coloring near the face and chin, but not all of them have this variation. It has a rounded head with black eyes, extremely powerful jaws, and a black, split tongue. The Eastern Indigo is the longest snake native to the U.S., reaching lengths of up to 8.5 feet (2.6 m). It's a rounded thick bodied snake, and moves relatively slowly.

The indigo snake is currently known to live in southern Georgia, Florida, Alabama, and Texas.
The indigo snake is currently known to live in southern Georgia, Florida, Alabama, and Texas.

Although it formerly was found in a much larger area of the southeastern U.S., the indigo snake is currently known to live in southern Georgia, Florida, Alabama and Texas, as well as parts of Mexico. Preferred habitats include wetlands, bogs, marshes and swamps, but they will also live in wooded areas with plenty of brush. They use burrows as a resting place, and for nesting and are often found living near gopher tortoise and using burrows dug by them.

The indigo snake is carnivorous and will eat any prey it can catch. Common food sources include birds, turtles, frogs, rodents, and other snakes. It has been known to eat rattlesnakes and other venomous snakes as well; reptiles are its preferred food source when available. It catches prey in its strong jaws and holds on, using its body weight and size to overpower the smaller creature and swallowing it live.

Nesting in underground burrows, the female indigo snake will attract numerous males when she is ready to breed. Breeding usually occurs in the winter months, and the eggs are laid in the burrow in the spring. Eggs hatch after a period of 70 to 120 days depending on conditions, and the young snakes are able to live independently right away, feeding on small reptiles and toads. Adult indigo snakes make poor parents, and in fact adult snakes have been known to eat young ones.

Because they are slow moving and docile towards humans, indigo snakes were prized by collectors and kept as pets. This fact, coupled with the gradual destruction of their habitat by human development, has led to them being placed on lists of threatened or endangered species in the areas of the U.S. where they are still found. It is illegal to harm them, sell them, or keep them as pets because of their protected status.

An indigo snake may eat frogs.
An indigo snake may eat frogs.

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