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Seen these snakes? State asks for reports of sightings

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Published:   |   Updated: August 16, 2013 at 07:19 AM

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LITHIA — Back when much of Central Florida was sand hills and pine flatwoods, some slick characters were a lot more prevalent. Specifically, the large, hissing Florida pine snake, the more demur short-tailed snake and the harmless, but colorful southern hognose snake.

In the days since, two of the three have landed on the state's threatened species list. Now, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service has been petitioned by the Tucson-based Center for Biological Diversity to place them on the federal endangered species list.

State scientists working with the feds are seeking the public's help to determine how the snakes are doing in Florida.

All three snake species have managed to survive in Hillsborough County, despite an abundance of subdivisions and strip malls. Scientists believe they have sought refuge amid the strawberry fields and cow pastures of eastern Hillsborough County and possibly in the Balm-Boyette scrub and rural areas further south. But they need proof.

State herpetologists plan to do their own boots-on-the ground research, but they've also set up a website the public can use to report sightings of these snakes, dead or alive.

The state has until 2015 to complete its research and report back to U.S. Fish & Wildlife, said Misty Penton, the biological scientist acting as liaison between the state and federal agencies.

U.S. Fish & Wildlife has given the state money to study about 20 different animals being considered for listing, Penton said. The herpetologists working on the snakes opted to use some of their money to set up the website for public input, she said.

Anyone who has seen one of these snakes can report it by going to http://tbo.ly/1eNftrS. Photos can also be submitted.

“What we are trying to do is keep these species from getting closer to the endangered precipice,” Penton said. “They (U.S. Fish & Wildlife) are giving us the money to do a status assessment and in the end, that will help us to better manage the species that live in Florida,” she said. “We hope we can manage them so they never get on the endangered species list.”

Historically, all three of these snakes lived throughout the Tampa and Temple Terrace areas and in St. Petersburg, said state herpetologist Kevin Enge, who is leading the effort.

“There are records from the 1970s from the Temple Terrace Area. But residential and commercial development has run them out, restricting them to the less developed eastern Hillsborough area,” Enge said. “Potentially, they could be out in ... tracts of land that still have sand hill or scrub habitat.”

The short tail and southern hognose, populations can persist in subdivisions, especially if they are not heavily developed.

“They are still present in places you would not expect,” Enge said.

He said the state is in the process of preparing management plans for every species it has listed, since it is eliminating the use of the “species of special concern” category. Species will either be bumped from that category to “threatened,” or de-listed, he said. So, any information gathered to help the federal effort, he said, will help Florida scientists better manage here at home.

yhammett@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-7127

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