A super snazzy rainbow snake is a rare sight in Florida. So rare, in fact, that one hasn’t been spotted in Marion County since 1969. That is, until now. An elusive rainbow was recently photographed in the Ocala National Forest, according to the FWC Fish and Wildlife Research Institute, where the species has been hiding from human eyes for 50 years.
Tracey Cauthen was hiking in the forest when she stumbled upon what looked like a 1.2-meter-long (4-foot) slithering rainbow. The snake, a member of the species Farancia erytrogramma, is particularly tricky to spot as it has a highly aquatic lifestyle, spending most of its time hidden amongst aquatic vegetation. It’s believed that this particular snake had emerged and embarked on a journey as the nearby Rodman Reservoir had recently been drained.
“The Florida Museum of Natural History confirms this is the first record of this species in Marion County since 1969!” the Fish and Wildlife Research Institute wrote on Facebook. “[They are] seldom seen, even by herpetologists, due to their cryptic habits. Burrowing near creeks, lakes, marshes, and tidal mudflats, rainbow snakes specialize in eating eels, earning the nickname ‘eel moccasin’.”
Although their striking red stripes might seem like a warning sign, these snakes are not venomous. They’re known to be pretty docile, and don’t tend to bite when handled. Still, that doesn’t mean they’re free from predators. They are hunted by raccoons, opossums, birds of prey, and larger snakes.
Rainbow snakes can be found along the Coastal Plain of the southern United States, from Virginia down to Louisiana. They can reach over 1.5 meters (5 feet) in length, and are easily identifiable from their distinctive coloration. Their bodies are an iridescent bluish-black, with three eye-catching red lines running the entire length of their bodies. Their bellies are red or pink with black spots and they have a yellow tint to their head and sides.
Despite their flashy attire, rainbow snakes are shy and secretive, meaning we still don’t know a huge amount about them. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, they could number well over 10,000 individuals, and their population is likely stable or declining slowly. However, their conservation status has not been updated since 2007. According to the FWC Fish and Wildlife Research Institute, the reptiles are a Species of Greatest Conservation Need in the state, likely due to a decline in the eels they rely on for food.
If your thirst for jazzy rainbow reptilians has not been quenched by the new photos, check out this awesome image of a rainbow snake captured underwater in Cypress Springs, northwest Florida, a few years ago.