Research Team Records Unusual Snake Specimen Sighting

Biologists with Palm Beach Atlantic University have discovered specimens of the mangrove saltmarsh snake Nerodia clarkii compressicauda in Martin County. The specimens are believed to be the first record of this species in the county.

Mangrove saltmarsh snake

Mangrove saltmarsh snakes are non-venomous and are the only snake in the contiguous United States to live exclusively in coastal areas. They are also the only U.S. snake that can live in a purely saltwater environment.

Dr. Tom Chesnes, associate professor of biology at PBA, and Joshua Holbrook, a 2009 PBA alumnus, along with a student researcher found several specimens of the saltmarsh snake in the months of August and September of this year. The team sent voucher specimens to the state’s natural history museum, Chesnes said.

By their nature, the snakes are a cryptic species, Chesnes said. “Even people who spend a lot of time in the mangroves fishing or kayaking might not be aware that the snakes are present,” he said.

Mangrove saltmarsh snakeSaltmarsh snakes are native to Texas and eastward to Florida, though none have ever been documented in Broward, Palm Beach, or until recently, Martin counties. They are highly variable in color and pattern: often orange, red or greyish black. PBA is soliciting photographs of any of these snakes seen in lakes, retention ponds or any coastal areas of Martin, Palm Beach or Broward counties to assist with the research on this species.

Pictures and reported sightings can be sent to thomas_chesnes@pba.edu or jdholbrook@gmail.com. This project is funded by the Palm Beach Atlantic University Quality Initiative grant program.

“Although they've probably been in Martin County for longer than man has, they’re a secretive snake and not many scientists have tried to find them on the Treasure Coast,” Holbrook said. “Still, it’s encouraging to find a species in a new place nowadays with so many species disappearing from parts of their historic range.”