Pituophis ruthveni (female)
Digital Image By Patrick Houston Briggs 2014
Below is a Pituophis ruthveni male from Bien Parish, Louisiana parent stock.
Digital Photo by Patrick Houston Briggs, May 2, 2016
Scanned Slide Image by Patrick Briggs male individual from Texas, Courtesy Dick Dunn
LOUISIANA PINE SNAKE (Stull, 1929)
By Patrick Houston Briggs
The Louisiana pine snake is considered to be the rarest snake in North America. It was discovered in 1929 and is indigenous to western central Louisiana and eastern Texas. From that time period, only a few individuals had been found before the mid-90s. Some of the difficulty finding them is due to the fact that they spend a lot of time in a subterranean ecosystem, but also their unique type of habitat had been altered because of the logging industry especially when enormous amounts of timber were cleared in the early 1920s. Although many more individuals have been found since that time, it is still a rare jewel and it survives in just a few small parcels of pine forest. The United States Forestry Service (USFS), the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and the Memphis Zoo have become partners in identifying and restoring altered tracts of longleaf pine forest in Louisiana and Texas in those areas where the pine snake populations have or still do exist. Cooperating zoos participating in the AZA Species Survival Plan for the Louisiana pine snake breed this form for release to be monitored and studied.
Regarding its systematics, pine snakes are members of the genus Pituophis and a part of the family Colubridae. The Louisiana pine snake is a non-venomous constrictor and the only pine snake within the U.S. not classfied under the melanoleucus species. This taxon has been given full species status as "ruthveni" or Pituophis ruthveni. Its scientific name, ruthveni comes from the late herpetologist of the University of Michigan Museum of Zoology, Alexander G. Ruthven. Somewhat recent DNA studies seem to indicate that some bull snake individuals of Pituophis catenifer sayi are more closely related to some Lousiana pine snake Pituophis ruthveni individuals than other bull snake individuals!
See the article:( Molecular Systematics of New World Gopher, Bull, and Pinesnakes (Pituophis:Colubridae), a Transcontinental Species Complex Javier A. Rodrıguez-Robles*,1 and Jose M. De Jesus-Escobar† Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution Vol. 14, No. 1, January, pp. 35–50, 2000 )"We used mitochondrial gene sequences from the two middle American species, P. deppei and P. lineaticollis, and from 13 subspecies from most of the range of the melanoleucus complex to test various phylogenetic hypotheses for Pituophis. Maximum parsimony and maximum likelihood methods identified the same major clades within Pituophis and indicated that two segments of the melanoleucus complex, the lodingi-melanoleucus-mugitus eastern pinesnake clade and the affinis-annectens-bimaris-catenifer-deserticola-sayi-ruthveni-vertebralis clade from central and western United States and northern Mexico, represent divergent allopatric lineages with no known intergradation zone. We recognize each of these two groupings as a different species. Our data also indicate that some ruthveni are more closely related to sayi than to other ruthveni. Nonetheless, ruthveni is an allopatric taxon diagnosable from its closest relatives by a combination of morphometric characters, and because it is likely that at least some of these traits are independent and genetically inherited, we interpret this as evidence that ruthveni has attained the status of independent evolutionary lineage, despite the fact that it retains strong genetic affinities with sayi."
This snake generally is 48-56 inches (122-142 cm) in length, but the largest recorded specimen by 1998 was 701/4 inches (178 cm). Although it is rarely seen in the wild, a few captive animals are being regularly produced from the breeding stock available in zoos, in private collections and the Forest Service. In the past, greedy breeders in the pet trade have interbred with other pine snake forms and deceitfully called them RUTHVENI to pass them off as pure Louisiana pine snakes and collect more cash.
Breeders producing hatchlings from true parents have noticed that although the clutch of (3-5) eggs is relatively small, the size of the eggs of the oviparous Louisiana pine snake is enormous compared to any other pine snake eggs and possibly the eggs of any other U.S. snake. They can be 5 inches long (13 cm) and 2 inches wide (5.1 cm), and the hatchlings are also born much larger (18-22 inches long and about 107 grams in weight). The neonates mature in about 3 years at about 4 feet in length.
The Lousiana pine snake seems to thrive best in sandy, well-drained soils with open pine forest. Usually these are the longleaf pine savannah regions with few to a moderate amount of smaller trees and bushes, and thick ground cover dominated by grass. The species seems to prefer the banks of elevated areas of sand or wide ridges with sand and numerous gopher mounds. In these areas it frequents tunnel systems created by rodents such as the Baird's pocket gopher Geomys breviceps, a creature also sympatric to them, and for which they also have developed specialized behaviors to feed on the rodents that create these underground systems.
The Louisiana pine snake is a rare form of pine snake only indigenous to western central Louisiana and eastern Texas. There is another form of pine snake that has also been found in Lousiana in the extreme southeast, in the Washington Parish region, but it is a different species known as the Black pine snake Pituophis melanoleucus lodingi. Although biologist report it as currently extirpated, some private specialists that breed and work with pine snakes have found them somewhat recently and have been breeding them.
The U.S Fish and Wildlife Service reports the ruthveni species distribution originally to have occurred in at least 9 parishes (Louisiana is divided into parishes rather than counties) and 14 counties in Texas coinciding with a disjunct part of the longleaf pine ecosystem west of the Mississippi River. It now reports the snakes distribution to include only 4 Louisiana parishes and 5 Texas counties.
In Texas, recorded confirmations of their occurance only in the south part of the Sabine National Forest (Sabine County) and private land that is adjacent (Newton County), as well as the southern portion of the Angelina National Forest (Angelina, Jasper, and Tyler counties). Most current records reflect the presence of Pituophis ruthveni from two separate areas, both measuring less than 4 miles in radius each, and a third site, (Scrappin Valley) managed by Temple-Inland Corporation in north Newton County.
In Louisiana, most of the records originate in Bienville Parish, a privately owned forestland. A second population reportedly occurs on Federal lands in Vernon Parish (Fort Polk, U.S. Army, and the Kisatchie National Forest). The third population of this species occurs near the juncture of Vernon, Sabine, and Natchitoches parishes.
Louisiana pine snakes as adults are muscular powerful constrictors about 4 to 5 feet in length. They have enlarged rostal or snout scales. When they are not upset and widening the head as a defense gesture, the widest part of the jaws of the head is only slightly wider than the neck. The ground color may be buff or a color similar to the yellowish tone of a lion, but many times, it is ashy grey. Just behind the dappled or smudgy upper neck are 28-42 dark brown vertebral blotches or spots that are similar in color, but with the markings or pattern visibly different from one end to another. The neck region is less distinct, because the dark color suffuses and blends to obscure the lighter coloration. Towards the mid-body, the dark markings become more and more distinct and contrasting or separated, and sometimes, are reddish toward the tail yet reduced in marking thickness. Also, nearest the tail region, the ground color may become more yellow. Futhermore, the snout generally comes to an extreme point, and the snout scale (rostral) is elevated or re-enforced above the surrounding scales for added strength for pushing sand and other materials when burrrowing. Its head is only slightly marked with some small dots and a faded bar in front and between the orbitals above and a faint bar sometimes runs from behind each eye angling down toward the rear upper labials. The upper labials and some of the lower labial scale sutures may also be outlined with brown or black. The ventrals never appear to be immaculate, but are intermediately blotched with brown or black and where the sides meet the belly, so there usually is no true checkered belly pattern. Degrees of black or the intensity of pigmentation varies throughout the species and different individuals within its geographical range. Even so, Louisiana pine snakes from Louisiana tend to be much darker than those of Texas.
The first Louisiana pine snake described (Type locality) was from Longleaf, Rapides County, Louisiana. Holotype, USNM 76278, a 1520 mm male (W. D. Harris, 24 March 1927
Regarding scuttelation or scale arrangement, like most Pituophis, there are usually 4 prefrontal scales and azygous scales may sometimes bring up the count, or fused wider scales may bring down the prefrontal count. The rostral scale is exceptionally large and raised above adjacent scales, and there are usually 8 or 9 supralabials and from about 10-15 (generally 14) infralabials. The anal scale is single or undivided. There are 27-33 rough and heavily keeled scales dorsally becoming smoother to no keels toward the belly. (In males, there may be 210-230 ventrals, and females, 213-229) and males may possess 51-64 caudal scales, while females will have a lesser amount of about 49-55. Ruthveni also have one preocular and from 3-4 postoculars which are sometimes fused with each other or other scales.
In the state of Louisiana, it is classified as imperiled-to-vulnerable, and in the state of Texas, it is listed as "threatened" and therefore, protected from direct harm and unauthorized collection. Also Texas Parks and Wildlife Department has also listed it as endangered.
We know that demise of this species is partly due to urban development, agricultural practices, roads, and industrial development, and even suppression of natural fires all which contribute to habitat loss and fragmentation of this and many other species. There are many other factors that have impacted populations. However, the loss of the native longleaf and shortleaf pine ecosystem seems to be the most significant impact to populations of the Louisiana pine snake. Its low fucundity doesn't help the situation any better. Perhaps, responsible captive breeding can help bring up the numbers as the states make efforts to restore these habitat areas in the future.
On May 1, 2012 USDA Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, the Memphis Zoo, and other partners released seven young Louisiana pine snakes on a restored longleaf pine stand in the Kisatchie National Forest in Louisiana. See the article below.
According to a report from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service: " In March of 2004, a Candidate Conservation Agreement was developed and approved in order to identify and establish management protection for the pine snake on Federal land by protecting known populations and habitat reducing threats to its survival, maintaining its ecosystem and restoring degraded habitat. This agreement was intended to establish a framework for cooperation and participation in the pine snake=s protection, conservation, and management within the boundaries of the Angelina and Sabine National Forests of Texas, Kisatchie National Forest in Louisiana, and Fort Polk Military Reservation in Louisiana. This agreement was implemented by the U.S.D.A. Forest Service; Fort Polk, U.S. Army, Department of Defense(Fort Polk); Region 2 and Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. Restoration measures will include prescribed burning, thinning, and replanting of long-leaf pine forest."
See this Online Article by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service: http://www.fws.gov/southwest/clearlakees/pdf/pinesnake.pdf
The Lousiana pine snake needs fire to survive: http://www.srs.fs.usda.gov/news/66
"Pocket gophers create extensive burrow systems that provide shelter for dozens of species, from frogs to tortoises to salamanders to insects. The gophers eat roots and tubers, and, when necessary, try to escape from what Rudolph found was their most formidable predator, the Louisiana pine snake. The snakes play an important ecological role. They occasionally eat moles, turtle eggs and other small rodents, and as the subterranean-living reptiles slither underground, they keep abandoned gopher burrows open, which in turn provide habitat for other creatures."
Here's a female baby Louisiana Pine Snake of mine from legally obtained wild parents of Bienville, Parish Louisiana.
Digital Photo Image By Patrick Houston Briggs
Below is another image of a baby Louisiana Pine Snake, a female neonate
also from wild parents obtained legally from Bienville, Parish Lousiana.
Digital Photo Image by Patrick Houston Briggs, October 15, 2014
Below is a belly or ventral view of a neonate male Louisiana Pine Snake of Bien Parish, Louisiana parent origen.
This species of snake has been called the rarest snake in the United States, but programs to renew its original
natural habitat within some of its range, and organized captive breeding and release programs are changing this.
Digital Image Below By Patrick Houston Briggs 2014
Close up study of the left side of the head of a male hatchling Pituophis ruthveni.
Notice also the epiglottal keel in the mouth behind the tongue base.
Digital Image by Pat Briggs October 15, 2014
A nice close up view looking down at the head of a neonate male Lousiana Pine Snake from Bien Parish, Louisiana parents.
Photo by Patrick Briggs on October 15, 2014
Pituophis ruthveni Below is the same head of the snake above about 2 years later.
Digital image by Pat Briggs
Below is a ventral study of a young male Louisiana Pine Snake from Bien Parish Louisiana parents.
Digital Image By Patrick Houston Briggs October 2014
Below is a male neonate "ruthveni" closup study of the left side of the head.
Digital Photo By Pat Briggs
Pituophis ruthveni Below is the same snake as that above, but about 2 years later.
Digital image by Patrick Briggs
Here's a video of a wild adult Louisiana pine snake in a forest in east Texas!
Live zoo specimens http://www.louisianaherps.com/louisiana-pinesnake-pituoph.html
Photo slide by Patrick Houston Briggs Courtesy Dick Dunn ( A wild Texas collected adult Ruthveni below)
Javier A. Rodriguez-Robles and Jose M. De Jesus-Escobar of the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology and Department of Integrative Biology at the University of California in Berkeley, California have worked with most species of Pituophis at the molecular level. Their findings indicate that some ruthveni are more closely related to sayi than other ruthveni. This is very interesting. Even so, they report "Nonetheless, ruthveni is an allopatric taxon diagnosable from its closest relatives by a combination of morphometric characters, and because it is likely that at least some of these traits are independent and genetically-inherited, we interpret this as evidence that ruthveni has attained the status of independent evolutionary lineage, despite the fact that it retains strong genetic affinities with sayi "
One of my young female Pituophis ruthveni from LEGAL wild parents viewed up close from above.
Digital Image by Pat Briggs Oct. 2014
Rostral enlarged, raised and modified for a burrowing lifestyle
Prefrontals (usually 4) 2-5 azygos are sometimes present
Parietals relatively small
Midbody Count (usually 33) 27-33 rough and heavily keeled dorsally each row along each side becoming smoother toward the belly borders.
Anal single or undivided
*DORSAL SCALES ARE KEELED BECOMING SMOOTHER ON THE ROWS CLOSEST TO THE BELLY.
Another source site at: http://www.srs.fs.usda.gov/news/66
See this image of the Louisiana Pine Snake:
Info on this pine snake species: http://www.jstor.org/discover/10.2307/27669678?uid=3739560&uid=2134&uid=2&uid=70&uid=4&uid=3739256&sid=21102046130751
A zoo helping to regain habitat for Louisiana pine snake: http://www.commercialappeal.com/news/2010/aug/07/species-re-emerges/
More scientific info on ruthveni: http://www.jstor.org/discover/10.2307/3878124?uid=3739560&uid=2134&uid=2&uid=70&uid=4&uid=3739256&sid=21102046130751
See Olive Griffith Stull, Bulletin 175, p. 22, U.S. NATL. MUSM. TABLE 1.---Synopsis of the forms of the genus Pituophis
Pituophis ruthveni skin
Observe the paired apical pits that are visible on some scales.
Photo by Patrick Houston Briggs
Photo by Patrick Houston Briggs (Collected in Texas) Courtesy Dick Dunn
Photo by Patrick Houston Briggs ("Northern x Louisiana intergrade (hybrid) below")
(Courtesy, Prominent Pituophis Collector and Researcher, John Ginter)
Photo by Chris Youmans (This animal was passed down through parents originating from true Louisiana Zoo stock)
Louisiana Pine Snake
From Bien Parish, Louisiana stock
The male below is a two year old.
Photo by Patrick H. Briggs 2016
Pituophis ruthveni (specimen from Louisiana Zoo stock)
Photo by Chris Youmans
Louisiana pine snake
U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service
U.S. Forest Service
Texas Parks and Wildlife Department
Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries September 2003
female Ruthveni from pure wild Bienville Parish, Louisiana Parents
Digital Image By Patrick H. Briggs 2015
Male Ruthveni below from wild parents of Bienville Parish, Louisiana
Digital Image By Patrick H. Briggs 2015
See this link for some breeder images of ruthveni. http://pituophisdaveb.blogspot.com/
Some but not all of the information below was taken from a report posted simply by Kb Thursday, October 13, 2005
"Most captive Louisiana pine snakes may possibly trace their heritage back to Terry Vandeventer and Don Young" mention some of the veteran pituophis breeders. They had collected a few back in the 1980s from Bienville Parish, Louisiana. There were also some of these snakes that originated from Memphis Zoo stock coming from Steve Reichling who had a captive breeding program for them during this time period. Vandeventer collected and provided some of the snakes for that program. Others have been known to have come from Rapides, Parish, Louisiana, but little is know what has happened to them. Recently, WC stock was obtained by Mike Monlezun, Louis Porras, Theron Magers, and KJ Lodrigue. John Ginter has also obtained WC Louisiana pine snakes from Bienville, Parish. Although John is among the most respected pituophis researchers and collectors, before and around the beginning of 2000, he was breeding and selling what he was told by a trusted associate to be pure Louisiana pine snakes. They turned out to be bogus hybrids, Northern pine snakes and bull snakes with some, possibly bred with Louisiana pine snakes. He reportedly found out when the hybrid on this site was featured in Reptiles Magazine and he received many calls and emails. Many others have been pulled into the fakes. John is very careful now about the integrity, locality, legality, other details regarding all his reptile adquisitions. Craig Trumbower, a long time PIT breeder was also deceived by greedy liars. Another report says that Jim Kane so fed up with the deceptions and legitimacy of pure ruthveni, sold his breeders that may have actually been valid and pure, and he focused his efforts on other breeding choices.
BY PATRICK H. BRIGGS 2016