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1 December 2017 Ecology of the Eastern Kingsnake (Lampropeltis getula) at Rainey Slough, Florida: A Vanished Eden
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Abstract

Eastern Kingsnakes (Lampropeltis getula) are an important component and predator in herpetofaunal communities, but many Eastern Kingsnake populations have declined precipitously in the last few decades, particularly in the southeastern United States. Here, we describe an intensive capture–mark–recapture study of L. getula conducted during 1974–1978 in a canal bank–Water Hyacinth (Eichhornia crassipes) community at Rainey Slough in southern Florida, where annual capture probabilities of adults ranged from 0.662–0.787. Population size and structure, seasonal activity, movements, microhabitat use, behavior, thermal ecology, and predator–prey relationships are described. At this site kingsnakes were susceptible to capture mostly in winter and spring, were diurnal, used rodent (Sigmodon hispidus) burrows on canal banks as nocturnal retreats, and emerged from burrows on 13–26% of the sampling days. Overlap of burrow use by both sexes was extensive with no evidence of territoriality. Kingsnakes readily entered the Water Hyacinths to bask, pursue mates, and forage. At Rainey Slough only snakes were detected in the diet of kingsnakes. Concurrent sampling of potential snake prey in the hyacinths and on canal banks revealed 10 species that varied in use of the two sampled habitats and in body size. A range-wide analysis confirmed that in descending order snakes, reptile eggs, and lizards dominate the diet of L. getula in Florida (94.8%) and remain important prey types elsewhere (80.2%). At Rainey Slough the density of six species of semiaquatic snakes in Water Hyacinths averaged 3534 individuals/ha with a mean annual biomass of 135.8 kg/ha, and kingsnake biomass was only 2.2–3.9% of prey snake biomass. We estimated that the kingsnake population consumed 36.82–63.58 kg/yr, or about 10.0–17.2% of the standing crop of snakes in the Water Hyacinth community. Adult male L. getula lost on average 39.3% of their body mass associated with the spring reproductive season, whereas females lost only 3.4% in the same period. Body condition indices for both sexes improved substantially thereafter. In follow-up surveys at Rainey Slough during 2006–2010 no kingsnakes were found. Semiaquatic snake densities in the Water Hyacinths were 77.2% lower (807.4/ha) than in the 1970s and consisted of only three species. Compared to the enigmatic declines and extirpation of L. getula populations elsewhere, at Rainey Slough the primary cause likely was unsustainable mortality from road reconstruction and paving in the winter–spring of 1979 and subsequent roadkill. Other potentially causative agents of extirpation of L. getula in this system are discussed.

© 2017 by The Herpetologists' League, Inc.
J. Steve Godley, Brian J. Halstead, and Roy W. McDiarmid "Ecology of the Eastern Kingsnake (Lampropeltis getula) at Rainey Slough, Florida: A Vanished Eden," Herpetological Monographs 31(1), 47-68, (1 December 2017). https://doi.org/10.1655/HERPMONOGRAPHS-D-16-00006.1
Accepted: 1 December 2016; Published: 1 December 2017
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