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Reptiles and Amphibians

Eastern Indigo Snake (Drymarchon corais couperi)
Federal Status: Threatened

Eastern Indigo Snake Photo Credit Michael D. Kern/naturepl.com Source: arkive.org

Description: The indigo snake is a large glossy blue-black non-poisonous snake reaching lengths of up to 9 feet. It is a solid color with the exception of an occasional orange, pink white or reddish area under the chin, which may extend to the throat and cheeks. It is sometimes confused with the similar black racer or the black pine snake, but is much stockier than the slender racer, which has a white chin patch and the black pine snake, which has no chin pat ch and keeled rather than smooth scales. Indigos are active during the day during much of the year and prey on small mammals, lizards. birds, frogs, toads, and other snakes. They are immune to the venom of all North American poisonous snakes and readily eat them. Indigos use a variety of habitats during the year, but are almost always associated with gopher tortoises and the sandy ridges they inhabit. Indigos often share the gopher’s den during hot or cold weather. Indigos are relatively docile and slow moving, probably contributing to their decline.

Map of Alabama with highlited counties for the habitat of the Easter Indigo Snake. Counties in which indigo snakes were historically known to occur include Baldwin, Bullock, Conecuh, Covington, Escambia, Geneva, Mobile, and Washington.Forestry Considerations: Forestry operations are not likely to directly affect indigo snakes, unless woods workers are tempted to kill such a large, slow-moving snake. Unless habitat modification is severe, such as woodland being converted to another use, most forestry operations should not harm indigo snakes. Loss of gopher tortoise habitat and, subsequently, gopher tortoises would likely negatively impact indigo snakes. Sighting of indigo snakes would be of great interest to scientists studying the species.

Distribution by County: There are no recent records of occurrence for the indigo snake in Alabama. However, biologists believe that a few remnant populations of this snake may still exist within its historical range in the state. Counties in which indigo snakes were historically known to occur include Baldwin, Bullock, Conecuh, Covington, Escambia, Geneva, Mobile, and Washington.

Gopher Tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus)
Federal Status: Threatened over parts of its range

Golpher Tortise (Gopherus polyphemus) photo Citation Dan Clark, USDI National Park Service, Bugwood.org.Description: A dry land turtle,the gopher tortoise has a high, domed shell with shell lengths of up to 15 inches. They have stubby, elephant-like hind feet and flattened front feet with large toe nails for digging. Gopher tortoises favor dry, sandy ridges with open stands of longleaf pine, turkey oak and other scrub oaks. They also frequent open areas around road shoulders, food plots, and rights-of-way which have well drained sandy soil. Gophers dig long sloping burrows up to 30 feet long and extending up to 9 feet below the surface. The burrows almost always have a characteristic mousehole shape, with a flat bottom and a rounded arched top and sides, much like the gopher itself. These dens are used as shelter by gophers as well as by a variety of other sandhill residents, including the indigo snake and the diamondback rattlesnake. Gophers feed on grasses and other plant material near the ground. Feeding trails are often visible leading from the den’s sandy apron to foraging areas. Eggs are laid in or near the den apron in May, June, and July and hatch in about 80-100 days. Young tortoises are about the size of silver dollars and they and nest are very vulnerable to predation by crows, raccoons, opossums, foxes, skunks, and other animals.

Map of Alabama with the counties highlighted that are the habitat for the Gopher Tortoise. Counties in which they are federally protected include Choctaw, Washington, and Mobile. Other counties in which they occur are Baldwin, Barbour, Bullock. Butler, Clarke, Crenshaw, Coffee, Conecuh, Covington, Dale, Escambia, Geneva, , Henry, Houston, Monroe, Montgomery, Pike, Sumter, and Wilcox. Forestry Considerations: Care should be taken with heavy equipment around gopher dens to avoid collapsing the den and particularly to avoid crushing eggs and young gophers, which dig very shallow dens. Fire and/or herbicides may be necessary to maintain gopher tortoise habitat quality when scrub oaks shade out ground cover the gopher tortoise feeds on. Gophers forced to move to road shoulders and opening edges are vulnerable to predation by animals and humans. Frequent fires and thinnings allow sunlight to reach the forest floor and create good habitat for nesting and feeding.

Distribution by County: Gopher tortoises are protected by federal law in the Alabama counties west of the Mobile and Tombigbee Rivers and in Mississippi and Louisiana. They are also protected by state law in the rest of the state as a game animal with no open season. Counties in which they are federally protected include Choctaw, Washington, and Mobile. Other counties in which they occur are Baldwin, Barbour, Bullock. Butler, Clarke, Crenshaw, Coffee, Conecuh, Covington, Dale, Escambia, Geneva, , Henry, Houston, Monroe, Montgomery, Pike, Sumter, and Wilcox.

Visit the Gopher Tortoise Council webiste

Sea Turtle's
Federal Status: Threatened over parts of its range
Atlantic Green Sea Turtle
(Chelonia mydas) Richard hermann/gettimages.com Source arkive.org
Atlantic Green Sea Turtle
(Chelonia mydas)
Kemp's Ridley Sea Turtle
(Lepidochelys kempii) Michael Patrick O'Neill/www.nhpa.co.uk Source arkive.org
Kemp's Ridley Sea Turtle
(Lepidochelys kempii)
Loggerhead Sea Turtle
(Caretta caretta) Howard Hall/gettyimages.com Source arkive.org
Loggerhead Sea Turtle
(Caretta caretta)
Map of Alabama with Mobile and Baldwin Counties highlighted because it is the home to Alabama's sea turtles.Description: Large marine turtles up to 5 feet long and 500 pounds (Ridley about half that size) that come ashore May — August to lay eggs that will hatch July — October.

Forestry Considerations: Baby sea turtles are disoriented by light when hatching but should not be effected by forestry activities.

Distribution by County: Baldwin and Mobile beaches.

Alabama Red-bellied Turtle (Pseudemys alabamensis)
Federal Status: Endangered

Map of Alabama with Mobile and Baldwin Counties highlighted, at Dauphin Island, in Weeks Bay and the lower Fish River in Baldwin County, and in the Little River is where the Alabama Red-bellied Turtle can be found.Description: Also known as the red-belly. A large freshwater turtle that grows up to about 13 inches in length. Top of the shell is usually olive, greenish, brown, or black with cream, yellow , orange, or red markings. The bottom is usually cream, yellow, red, or orange with dark markings. The head and legs are dark with yellow striping. The front toenails are long and sharp.

Forestry Considerations: Declines in water quality that threaten the beds of submerged vegetation they feed on are the only threats forestry activities might have on these turtles. Adherence to Alabama’s Best Management Practices for Forestry and herbicide labels should protect them from those impacts. Predation on nests and the turtles themselves by humans, alligators, coons, crows, and fire ants add to the woes of this species.

Distribution by County: The red-bellied turtle is endemic to the lower Mobile-Tensaw River Delta in Alabama and has been found in Mobile and Baldwin Counties, at Dauphin Island, in Weeks Bay and the lower Fish River in Baldwin County, and in the Little River

Flattened Musk Turtle (Sternotherus depressus)
Federal Status: Threatened

Flattened Musk Turtle (Sternotherus depressus) James H. Harding Source arkive.org

Map of Alabama with the counties highlighted for the habitat of the Flattened Musk Turtle.Description: A small freshwater turtle less than 5 inches in total length with a flattened top shell. The top of the shell is brown and the bottom either pink or yellow. The head is greenish with a network of dark markings. The flattened musk turtle feeds on invertebrates such as snails and mussels in undammed small to medium sized clear shallow streams. It can also be found upstream and downstream of impoundments.

Forestry Considerations: These animals are sensitive to changes in streambed and water quality, especially siltation. Adherence to Alabama’s Best Management Practices for Forestry should prevent them from being impacted by forestry activities.

Distribution by County: Currently found only in the Black Warrior watershed above the Bankhead Dam. The ten Alabama counties included in its range are Blount, Cullman, Etowah, Jefferson, Marshall, Tuscaloosa, Walker, and Winston.

Flatwoods Salamander (Ambystoma cingulatum)
Federal Status: Threatened

Flatwoods Salamander (Ambystoma cigulatum) Dante B Fenolio Source arkive.orgMap of Alabama with the counties highlighted with the Description: A small black to brown salamander about 5 inches long. They are most often found in open pine areas maintained by fires.

Forestry Considerations: Forest management is compatible with flatwoods salamander habitat maintenance when activities mimic natural conditions in pine flatwoods. Fire is an essential tool in maintaining flatwoods salamander habitat, particularlry fire in the lightning or growing season when salamanders are not breeding or dispersing. Harvests scheduled outside the October to April period would also minimize potential for impact on salamander populations. Mechanical site preparation can potentially result in habitat degradation for this species, particularly roller chopping, disking, root-raking, and bedding. Herbicides and fertilizers should be kept away from breeding ponds and key habitat areas when salamanders are suspected to occur on the site.

Distribution by County: Flatwoods salamanders are suspected but not documented in Baldwin, Covington, Houston, and Mobile Counties.

Red Hills Salamander (Phaeognathus hubrichti)
Federal Status: Threatened

Female Red Hills Salamander (Phaeognathus hubrichti) Jim Godwin Source arkive.orgMap of Alabama with the counties highlighted for the habitat of the Red Hills Salamander. Portions of Butler, Crenshaw, Conecuh, Covington and Monroe counties contain this entire 55,000 acres. Description: The red hills salamander has few easily recognized distinguishing characteristics. It is best found by recognizing potential habitat and searching for burrows rather than salamanders.. It is a relatively large salamander, growing up to 10 inches in length with a dark brown tail and body. It spends almost all its time in its burrow on shady steep bluff sites, coming to the mouth on warm, humid nights to feed on invertebrate prey. The shady, moist conditions on the bluffs where the salamander lives are critical to its survival. Loss of shade and cover leads to drying by sunlight and wind and negatively impacts both the salamander and its food.

Forestry Considerations:

Obviously, mechanical damage from logging and other operations which lead to either erosion, mechanical damage to the site, or loss of canopy cover are harmful to the salamander. Removal of too many trees in the canopy on and immediately above the slopes on which these animals occur can also expose the site to excessive drying. Removal of trees just above the slope can lead to windthrow on the slope, again creating gaps in the canopy which can lead to drying of the site. It is recommended that areas known or suspected to contain red hills salamanders be investigated by knowledgeable biologists before forestry operations begin. If red hills salamanders are found on a site, limited logging or other forestry activity is still possible, but consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service may be necessary to guide future management. Habitat conservation plans have been formulated for some private lands in Alabama that permit some operations while affording protection for the salamander.

Distribution by County: The red hills salamander is found only in a narrow belt of Alabama associated with two siltstone formations called the Tallahatta and the Hatchetigbee. The salamander’s range is bounded on the east by the Conecuh River and on the west by the Alabama River. There are estimated to be less than 55,000 acres of red hills salamander habitat left in the world, all in Alabama. Portions of Butler, Crenshaw, Conecuh, Covington and Monroe contain this entire 55,000 acres.