NOCTURNAL ARBOREALITY IN SNAKES IN THE SWAMPLANDS OF THE ATCHAFALAYA BASIN OF SOUTH-CENTRAL LOUISIANA AND BIG THICKET NATIONAL PRESERVE OF SOUTHEAST TEXAS
The southeastern United States is home to a diverse assemblage of snakes, but only one species, the Rough Greensnake (Opheodrys aestivus), is considered specialized for a predominantly arboreal lifestyle. Other species, such as Ratsnakes (genus Pantherophis) and Ribbonsnakes/Gartersnakes (genus Thamnophis), are widely known to climb into vegetation and trees. Some explanations given for snake climbing behavior are foraging, thermoregulation, predator avoidance, and response to flood. Reports of arboreality in snake species typically not associated with life in the trees (such as terrestrial, aquatic, and even fossorial species) usually come from single observations, with no knowledge of prevalence of the behavior. Here, we report on arboreality of snake species detected during 8 years of night surveys in the Atchafalaya Basin of south-central Louisiana and 5+ years of night surveys in Big Thicket National Preserve in southeast Texas. We recorded a total of 1,088 detections of 19 snake species between the two study areas, with 348 detections above ground level (32%). The Rough Greensnake and Western Ribbonsnake (Thamnophis proximus) accounted for nearly 75% of total arboreal detections among the two study areas. However, with one exception, all snake species detected more than once between both study areas had at least one arboreal detection. These observations demonstrate that snakes with widely varying natural histories may be found in the trees at night, and for some species, this behavior may be more common than previously believed.