Eastern Mud Snake

NON-VENOMOUS

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Scientific name: Farancia abacura abacura (HOLBROOK 1836)
* Currently accepted name

Synonym:
* scientific names used through time

  • Helicops abacurus – HOLBROOK 1836
  • Farancia drummondii – GRAY 1842
  • Farancia abacurus – BAIRD & GIRARD 1853
  • Calopisma abacurum – DUMÉRIL, BIBRON & DUMÉRIL 1854
  • Homolopsis crassa – BLYTH 1854 (fide BAUER & DAS 1999)
  • Farancia abacura – SMITH 1938
  • Farancia abacura abacura – CONANT 1958

Average adult size is 40 inches (101 cm), record is 81.5 inches (207 cm). Adults are large, thick bodied, and quite beautiful. The body is mostly glossy black (iridescent blue in the sunlight) with the ends of 53 or more red to pink bars from the belly extending onto its sides. The belly is a black and red checkerboard pattern. The neck is thick and indistinct. The tail tip ends in a pointed, horny scale. The scales are mostly smooth, yet there are some keeled scales above the cloaca. There are 19 dorsal scale rows at midbody. The iris is red and the pupil is round. Juveniles are similar in appearance to adults, but the red to pink bars from the belly extend higher onto their sides.

In some localities in northern central Florida, the checkerboard on the bellies of 20-30% of the population is white rather than the usual red.

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A. Front (face) view of head
B. Side view of head
C. Top view of the head
D. Smooth scales

Range: It is found throughout Florida, except the Florida Keys. In the extreme western panhandle this snake intergrades (interbreeds) with the Western Mud Snake (Farancia abacura reinwardtii). Outside of Florida, this species ranges from central Alabama and Georgia north along the Atlantic coastal plain to southern Virginia.

Habitat: It commonly occurs in almost any freshwater habitat, including cypress swamps, drainage ditches, marshes, rivers, and lakes. It is especially fond of waters choked with aquatic vegetation and muddy bottoms and banks, where it finds its favorite prey, the Amphiuma (Amphiumaspp.).

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Comments: HARMLESS (Non-Venomous). The Eastern Mud Snake is harmless and does not bite when handled. However, if you pick it up, it may press its pointed tail tip against your hand in an attempt to get you to turn it loose. This behavior gave rise to the marvelous myth of the "hoop snake" with its poisonous tail. According to the tale, the snake grabs its tail in its mouth and, like a hoop or a bicycle tire, rolls downhill toward its unlucky victim. At the last second, the snake releases its grip on its tail and straightens out like a javelin to hurl tail first into its victim. It is said that the only way a person can avoid this deadly skewering is to dodge behind a tree, into which the snake will drive its tail. So venomous is the tail that the tree promptly dies from the poison. This marvelous piece of cultural fiction is not well-known in Florida, possibly because Florida has very few hills that a hoop snake could roll down, but more likely because anyone familiar with the Mud Snake recognizes that it is probably the most docile large snake in the state.

Eastern Mudsnakes feed almost exclusively on Amphiumas. Their strongly curved teeth help hold onto the slippery salamanders. Juveniles may eat other salamanders, frogs, tadpoles, and fishes.

It lays eggs, usually in moist areas such as bankside cavities, where females have been known to remain coiled around their clutch throughout incubation. They have been known to have huge clutch sizes, the largest known to be 104 eggs.

Comparison with other species: Rainbow Snakes (Farancia erytrogramma) and Swamp Snakes (Seminatrix pygaea) lack the mud snake's reddish pink lateral trianglular pattern as well as its checkerboard belly pattern. Southern Water Snakes (Nerodia fasciata) have complete (and not reddish pink) dorsal crossbands and a distinct stripe on the sides of their faces.