Clonophis kirtlandii - (Kennicott, 1856)
Kirtland's Snake
Other English Common Names: Kirtland's snake
Synonym(s): Clonophis kirtlandi
Taxonomic Status: Accepted
Related ITIS Name(s): Clonophis kirtlandii (Kennicott, 1856) (TSN 174216)
Unique Identifier: ELEMENT_GLOBAL.2.105161
Element Code: ARADB06010
Informal Taxonomy: Animals, Vertebrates - Reptiles - Snakes
 
Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family Genus
Animalia Craniata Reptilia Squamata Colubridae Clonophis
Genus Size: A - Monotypic genus
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Concept Reference
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Concept Reference: Collins, J. T. 1990. Standard common and current scientific names for North American amphibians and reptiles. 3rd ed. Society for the Study of Amphibians and Reptiles. Herpetological Circular No. 19. 41 pp.
Concept Reference Code: B90COL01NAUS
Name Used in Concept Reference: Clonophis kirtlandii
Taxonomic Comments: This snake was referred to as Natrix kirtlandi in older literature.
Conservation Status
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NatureServe Status

Global Status: G2
Global Status Last Reviewed: 01Feb2018
Global Status Last Changed: 12Sep2001
Ranking Methodology Used: Ranked by calculator
Rounded Global Status: G2 - Imperiled
Reasons: Confined to the Midwestern United States, with the range centered in Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio; distribution and abundance have declined due to loss of prairie wetland habitat; rare and local throughout range; little suitable habitat remains, and most of this is subject to human alteration.
Nation: United States
National Status: N2 (05Oct1996)

U.S. & Canada State/Province Status
Due to latency between updates made in state, provincial or other NatureServe Network databases and when they appear on NatureServe Explorer, for state or provincial information you may wish to contact the data steward in your jurisdiction to obtain the most current data. Please refer to our Distribution Data Sources to find contact information for your jurisdiction.
United States Illinois (S2), Indiana (S2), Kentucky (S2), Michigan (S1), Missouri (S1), Ohio (S2), Pennsylvania (SH), Tennessee (S1)

Other Statuses

IUCN Red List Category: NT - Near threatened

NatureServe Global Conservation Status Factors

Range Extent: 200,000-2,500,000 square km (about 80,000-1,000,000 square miles)
Range Extent Comments: Current range is considered to be Michigan, Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, and Kentucky (Wilsmann and Sellers 1988, Bavetz 1993), with all populations being disjunct and widely separated. Since the 1980s, range has contracted and records for the Kirtland snake are limited to 10 counties in Illinois, 13 counties in Indiana, 3 counties in Kentucky, 8 counties from Ohio, and 5 counties in Michigan (Gibson and Kingsbury 2004).

Historically, the range of the Kirtland's snake included Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Michigan, Kentucky, and Pennsylvania, with disjunct populations in New Jersey and Pennsylvania (Conant 1943). Early accounts from West Virginia, Alabama, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, New Jersey, and Ontario are largely discounted.

Area of Occupancy: 126-500 4-km2 grid cells
Area of Occupancy Comments: Assuming that there are 100 extant occurrences (about twice as many as currently documented) and that occurrences average less than 4 square kilometers per occurrence, the area of occupancy may be less than 500 square kilometers.

Number of Occurrences: 6 - 20
Number of Occurrences Comments: No estimates are available. However, given individuals likely have a small home range, and grouping adjacent counties that have recent records of Kirtland's snake, and assuming intervening counties without records are not false-negatives, there are approximately 15 - 20 populations.

Population Size: 1000 - 100,000 individuals
Population Size Comments: Total adult population size is unknown but likely is at least a few thousand. No population ecology or viability studies of Kirtland?s snake are available (Gibson and Kingsbury 2004, USFWS 2017). There are a total of 415 Kirtland?s snake records, with 194 classified as ?extant? (USFWS 2017).

Number of Occurrences with Good Viability/Integrity: Unknown

Overall Threat Impact: High
Overall Threat Impact Comments: From USFWS (2017):

Habitat Loss and Modification: Habitat loss, modifications, and degradation is occurring throughout the Kirtland?s snake range, and it is the most common stressor, with urbanization (Bavetz 1994; Edgren 2000; Minton et al. 1982) and wetland modification (Wilsmann & Sellers 1988) most commonly reported. Habitat fragmentation can lead to population isolation, which is cited as a threat by some (Bavetz 1993; Gibson and Kingsbury 2004; Wilsmann and Sellers 1988). Disturbance of the soil when Kirtland?s snakes are underground may cause injury or mortality of individuals. It is unclear to what extent habitat modification may impact Kirtland?s snake because as noted, it can persist in seemingly degraded environments for decades, so long as certain key features (e.g., moist soils) are present.

Disease and Predation: Fungal infections in reptiles are described as opportunistic pathogens, infecting animals with depressed immune systems (Wylie et al., 2014). Snake fungal disease (SFD) is an emerging disease found in certain populations of wild snakes in the eastern and Midwestern United States (Sleeman, 2013). There has been a substantial increase in the reported incidence of skin infections caused by the fungus Ophidiomyces ophiodiicola in wild snake populations in the past decade (Lorch et al., 2016). Ophidiomyces ophiodiicola has been detected in wild snakes from most states in the eastern U.S. and the pathogen is thought to be widely distributed in eastern North America (Lorch et al., 2016). In some cases the fungal infection may spread from the skin and epidermis to other areas, including the bones, eyes, and lungs, or snakes may develop secondary infections (Lorch et al., 2016). Complications of the fungal infection may lead to impairment of vision or sense of smell, and may impact a snake?s ability to feed (Lorch et al., 2016). Our understanding of SFD is still in its early stages. Some snakes that have tested positive have developed external symptoms and experienced high mortality, but conversely other snakes that have tested positive remained asymptomatic at some sites. Researchers are unsure if the primary vector is direct contact with an infected individual or contact with fungal spores in the soil (Wylie et al., 2014). Wylie et al. (2014) found that O. ophiodiicola can be transferred between mothers and neonates. Ophidiomyces ophiodiicola may also indirectly cause mortality through behavioral changes. When infected with a pathogen, many reptile species induce fever through basking (Burns, 1996) which is thought to increase their immune response. Increased basking time leads to an increase in the amount of time spent exposed to visual predators and thus increased mortality (Webb et al. 2005). In addition, increased overall basking time increases the snake?s metabolic rate resulting in faster utilization of resources but reducing the amount of time the individual can spend on foraging. Increased metabolic rate with less time spent
To date, samples from 7 Kirtland?s snakes have been provided for SFD testing. Four were clearly negative using quantitative polymerase chain reaction (qPCR) methods and three were positive; however, two had very low scores that should be re-analyzed (M. Allender, University of Illinois, pers. comm. 2017). Thus it appears that Kirtland?s snake is susceptible to SFD, but further investigation is needed to determine its potential impact on populations (Allender, pers. comm. 2017). At this time it is uncertain how the species will respond, how susceptible the species will be, or to what extent the disease may spread within the population.

Only a few accounts of predation have been documented, and include cats (HerpMapper, 2017; J. MacGregor in Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife, 2015), a goose (Wilsmann & Sellers, 1988) and a Black king snake (Minton, 2001).

Collection: Collection for the pet trade is cited as a potential threat in several papers and is of particular concern at urban sites where Kirtland?s snake populations may be dense and easily found (Harding, 1997; Wilsmann & Sellers, 1988). Anton (2016) recently documented an occasion where a visitor to a protected area was looking under cover boards and posting pictures of Kirtland?s snake on social media, which could lead to collection. Some state laws may limit collection (e.g., states where the species is listed as endangered), but illegal collection may still occur.

Road Mortality: Vehicles may pose a risk to some extant populations of Kirtland?s snake. There are multiple references in the literature documenting road-killed snakes (Bavetz, 1993, 1994; Gibson & Kingsbury, 2004; Minton, 2001; Wilsmann & Sellers, 1988). Most noteworthy are data we have for a site in Indiana. An Indiana resident engaged in citizen science annually reported to Indiana Division of Fish and Wildlife on live and road-killed Kirtland?s snakes incidentally found along approximately 2.5 miles of shoreline around a large lake in central Indiana from 1989-2014 (Indiana Division of Fish and Wildlife, unpublished data). These results were compiled by Indiana Division of Fish and Wildlife and provided for this analysis. Data indicate that 235 Kirtland?s snakes were found as road-kill out of a total of 255 observations from 2003-2014. Based on the sheer number of road-killed specimens documented each year, it is apparent that there is a large population of Kirtland?s snake that persists in this area. It is noteworthy that road mortality has been implicated in population declines of other wildlife, including snakes at some sites (Roe et al., 2006; Rudolph et al., 1999; Shepard et al., 2008), but because we have no data on the population size at this site, we are unable to determine to what extent road kill may be affecting this population.

Similarly, a long-term monitoring project at a natural site in Ohio has resulted in over 200 incidental captures of Kirtland?s snake between 1996 and 2015 (Wynn, unpublished data). On a single day in mid-October 2016, a visitor to this area reported nine dead Kirtland?s snakes on the road (K. Lott, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, pers. comm. 2016). It is uncertain to what extent road mortality may be affecting this population.

Management: Controlled burning and mowing are sometimes used as management tools to maintain open habitats and manage for early successional habitats such as prairie. During certain times of year and under certain conditions, Kirtland?s snake may be exposed to these activities and could be injured or killed. One Kirtland?s snake mortality was documented during a controlled burn at a site in Illinois (Anton & Mauger, 2007). One record from HerpMapper (2017) photo-documented a Kirtland?s snake killed by a mower.

Climate Change: The U. S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP, 2014) indicates that within the Midwest, average temperatures are expected to increase between 3.8 and 4.9ºF by 2065 and by 5.6-8.5ºF by 2100, compared to average temperatures from 1979-2000. Further, increases in winter and spring precipitation are expected particularly in the northern portion of the Midwest, while drier summers are predicted in the southern portion (USGCRP, 2014). More intense and frequent precipitation events are expected to occur region-wide (USGCRP, 2014).

Two reports modeled potential climate change impacts on Kirtland?s snake. One is a master?s thesis by Ray (2009), which was overseen by Dr. Richard King at Northern Illinois University. The second is a report by Dr. King and M. Niiro (2013) that evaluated the sensitivity of various Great Lakes region reptiles to climate change impacts. These reports used similar methods: a maximum entropy model to determine BIOCLIM variables that characterize the temperature and rainfall conditions within the species? current range based on a subset of occurrence records; similar number and distribution of Kirtland?s snake occurrence points; climate change impacts projected from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change from 2007 (both modeled A2A, a high emission prediction; King and Niiro also modeled B2a, a lower emission prediction); and mapping of the projected areas where the BIOCLIM variables that characterize the current range will occur in 2050 (King and Niiro also modeled 2080). However, the two reports had divergent findings. Ray (2009) found that the suitable climatic range of the Kirtland?s snake would not change significantly by 2050 under A2A emissions, while King and Niiro (2013) found a significant shift to the northeast under A2A emissions by 2050, and that potentially large portions of the current range would fall outside of current climate conditions.

Dr. King (pers. comm. 2017) described that the Ray (2009) analysis was a naïve (simplistic) application using default settings for the maximum entropy software used in ecological niche modeling. Methods used in King and Niiro (2013) applied a more refined approach to avoid overfitting the model. For example, they spatially filtered occurrence records to reduce the effects of sampling effort, regularized the response function, and looked at multiple thresholds of greater or lesser climatic suitability (King, pers. comm. 2017). These processes resulted in a selection of different BIOCLIM variables that predicted future climatic suitability for Kirtland?s snake, and overall led to a more robust analysis than Ray?s (2009) approach. Thus, we more carefully evaluated the King and Niiro (2013) model results.

Under the King and Niiro (2013) model, using the A2A high emissions scenario, in 2050, the worst-case threshold predicts that 14% of the known locations used in the model will be located in climatically similar areas, while the best-case threshold predicts that 72% remain. By 2080, in the worst-case threshold, only 3% of known locations used in the model will be located in climatically similar areas, while the best-case threshold predicts that 33% will remain (King & Niiro, 2013). Climatic suitability changes begin in the south and western portions of the range and spread north and east over time. The model also shows steadily declining areas of high climatic suitability, whether those areas are occupied or not. Remaining areas of climatic suitability within the current range occur along the edges of the Great Lakes, and in Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. Suitable climatic conditions are projected to expand into areas not currently occupied, including Ontario and New York.

Overall, the King and Niiro (2013) findings indicate that Kirtland?s snake will see greater declines in climatic suitability than other reptiles in the Great Lakes region. However, the predicted climatic suitability maps are only a portion of the analysis. We also must consider how Kirtland?s snake will respond to changes in temperature and precipitation patterns, but we do not have any information to inform this analysis. Further, we do not know if other factors beyond climate change, such as biotic or physical components of habitat, influence distribution and persistence of Kirtland?s snake, or if micro-habitat may ameliorate or exacerbate impacts from climate change (King, pers. comm. 2017). Finally, we do not know if Kirtland?s snake will be able to colonize new climatically suitable areas, as we know very little about its movement capabilities. Kirtland?s snake would not be likely to move hundreds of miles to inhabit climatically suitable areas distant from their current range (e.g., large portions of Ontario, Canada and western New York state are predicted to be climatically suitable in King and Niiro (2013), but these areas are well outside the current range), especially considering the species site fidelity and the degree of habitat fragmentation in these areas. There is no data available to indicate if they are able to expand their range locally (e.g., within a watershed) to take advantage of favorable microclimates or shift population distribution if a site became climatically unsuitable. Thus, the impact of climate change on this species is unknown.

Short-term Trend: Decline of 10-30%
Short-term Trend Comments: Trend over the past 10 years or 3 generations is uncertain. Although new occurrences have been documented, the species is rare and likely declining. Local populations can be dense (Harding 1997, Gibson and Kingsbury 2004), but because dispersal distances are likely short for this species, populations are localized and disparate.

Long-term Trend: Decline of 50-70%
Long-term Trend Comments: Based on an evaluation of historic records (USFWS 2017), 43% of the historical county records for the Kirtland?s snake have had records from the past 15 years. Of the 194 extant records, 40 are documented by a single individual snake in a single year (USFWS 2017).

Intrinsic Vulnerability: Moderately vulnerable

Environmental Specificity: Narrow. Specialist or community with key requirements common.

Other NatureServe Conservation Status Information

Inventory Needs: It is important to understand the limitations of detectability with a fossorial snake like Kirtland?s, so studies of the detectability and how that plays into estimates of distribution and abundance is important.

Protection Needs: Adequate conservation will require identification and protection of suitable sites (>20) throughout the range. This many apparently-natural sites have been identified (USFWS 2017), but the level of protection each site is afforded varies. State wildlife regulations need to strictly mandate and enforce collection of Kirtland?s snakes.

Distribution
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Global Range: (200,000-2,500,000 square km (about 80,000-1,000,000 square miles)) Current range is considered to be Michigan, Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, and Kentucky (Wilsmann and Sellers 1988, Bavetz 1993), with all populations being disjunct and widely separated. Since the 1980s, range has contracted and records for the Kirtland snake are limited to 10 counties in Illinois, 13 counties in Indiana, 3 counties in Kentucky, 8 counties from Ohio, and 5 counties in Michigan (Gibson and Kingsbury 2004).

Historically, the range of the Kirtland's snake included Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Michigan, Kentucky, and Pennsylvania, with disjunct populations in New Jersey and Pennsylvania (Conant 1943). Early accounts from West Virginia, Alabama, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, New Jersey, and Ontario are largely discounted.

U.S. States and Canadian Provinces

Due to latency between updates made in state, provincial or other NatureServe Network databases and when they appear on NatureServe Explorer, for state or provincial information you may wish to contact the data steward in your jurisdiction to obtain the most current data. Please refer to our Distribution Data Sources to find contact information for your jurisdiction.
Color legend for Distribution Map
Endemism: endemic to a single nation

U.S. & Canada State/Province Distribution
United States IL, IN, KY, MI, MO, OH, PA, TN

Range Map
Note: Range depicted for New World only. The scale of the maps may cause narrow coastal ranges or ranges on small islands not to appear. Not all vagrant or small disjunct occurrences are depicted. For migratory birds, some individuals occur outside of the passage migrant range depicted.

Range Map Compilers: NatureServe, 2005


U.S. Distribution by County Help
State County Name (FIPS Code)
IL Christian (17021), Clinton (17027)*, Coles (17029)*, Cook (17031), De Witt (17039), DeKalb (17037)*, Douglas (17041), DuPage (17043)*, Effingham (17049)*, Fayette (17051), Ford (17053), Lake (17097)*, Mclean (17113), Piatt (17147), Sangamon (17167), Schuyler (17169), Shelby (17173)*, Will (17197)
IN Adams (18001)*, Allen (18003), Bartholomew (18005), Blackford (18009)*, Brown (18013), Carroll (18015), Clark (18019), Clay (18021), Decatur (18031), Delaware (18035)*, Elkhart (18039)*, Floyd (18043), Fulton (18049)*, Grant (18053)*, Harrison (18061)*, Henry (18065), Howard (18067)*, Jackson (18071), Jay (18075)*, Jefferson (18077), Jennings (18079), Johnson (18081)*, Kosciusko (18085), La Porte (18091), Lake (18089), Marion (18097), Marshall (18099)*, Monroe (18105), Montgomery (18107)*, Morgan (18109), Orange (18117)*, Parke (18121)*, Porter (18127)*, Pulaski (18131)*, Randolph (18135), Ripley (18137), Rush (18139)*, Scott (18143), St. Joseph (18141), Starke (18149)*, Steuben (18151), Vigo (18167)*, Washington (18175), Wayne (18177), Wells (18179)*
KY Bullitt (21029), Campbell (21037)*, Graves (21083), Hardin (21093), Jefferson (21111), Kenton (21117)*, McLean (21149), Pendleton (21191)*
MI Berrien (26021), Cass (26027), Kalamazoo (26077), Lenawee (26091)*, Muskegon (26121), Ottawa (26139)*, Van Buren (26159)*, Washtenaw (26161)
MO Clark (29045), Marion (29127), Ralls (29173)
OH Butler (39017), Champaign (39021), Clark (39023), Clermont (39025), Erie (39043), Greene (39057), Hamilton (39061), Hancock (39063)*, Henry (39069), Hocking (39073), Jackson (39079), Lucas (39095), Montgomery (39113), Paulding (39125), Preble (39135)*, Warren (39165), Wayne (39169)*, Wyandot (39175)
PA Allegheny (42003)*, Butler (42019)*, Clarion (42031)*, Forest (42053)*, Jefferson (42065)*, Westmoreland (42129)*
* Extirpated/possibly extirpated
U.S. Distribution by Watershed Help
Watershed Region Help Watershed Name (Watershed Code)
04 Little Calumet-Galien (04040001)+*, Pike-Root (04040002)+*, St. Joseph (04050001)+, Black-Macatawa (04050002)+*, Kalamazoo (04050003)+, Pere Marquette-White (04060101)+, Muskegon (04060102)+, Huron (04090005)+, Ottawa-Stony (04100001)+*, Raisin (04100002)+*, St. Marys (04100004)+, Upper Maumee (04100005)+, Blanchard (04100008)+*, Lower Maumee (04100009)+, Cedar-Portage (04100010)+, Sandusky (04100011)+
05 Clarion (05010005)+*, Conemaugh (05010007)+*, Lower Allegheny (05010009)+*, Lower Monongahela (05020005)+*, Upper Ohio (05030101)+*, Connoquenessing (05030105)+*, Hocking (05030204)+, Tuscarawas (05040001)+*, Lower Scioto (05060002)+, Upper Great Miami (05080001)+, Lower Great Miami (05080002)+, Whitewater (05080003)+, Ohio Brush-Whiteoak (05090201)+, Little Miami (05090202)+, Middle Ohio-Laughery (05090203)+, Licking (05100101)+*, Lower Green (05110005)+, Pond (05110006)+, Upper Wabash (05120101)+*, Mississinewa (05120103)+*, Middle Wabash-Deer (05120105)+, Tippecanoe (05120106)+, Middle Wabash-Little Vermilion (05120108)+*, Sugar (05120110)+*, Middle Wabash-Busseron (05120111)+*, Embarras (05120112)+, Little Wabash (05120114)+*, Upper White (05120201)+, Lower White (05120202)+, Eel (05120203)+, Driftwood (05120204)+, Flatrock-Haw (05120205)+, Upper East Fork White (05120206)+, Muscatatuck (05120207)+, Lower East Fork White (05120208)+, Patoka (05120209)+*, Silver-Little Kentucky (05140101)+, Salt (05140102)+, Blue-Sinking (05140104)+
07 Bear-Wyaconda (07110001)+, North Fabius (07110002)+*, The Sny (07110004)+, Kankakee (07120001)+, Chicago (07120003)+, Des Plaines (07120004)+, Lower Fox (07120007)+*, Lower Illinois-Lake Chautauqua (07130003)+, Upper Sangamon (07130006)+, South Fork Sangamon (07130007)+, Salt (07130009)+, Upper Kaskaskia (07140201)+, Middle Kaskaskia (07140202)+*
08 Obion (08010202)+
+ Natural heritage record(s) exist for this watershed
* Extirpated/possibly extirpated
Ecology & Life History
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Basic Description: A small (adults usually about 26-46 cm), nonpoisonous snake.
General Description: This snake has the following combination of characteristics: two rows of large dark spots (sometimes inconspicuous, especially the two central rows) along each side of the body; belly pink or red, with a row of dark spots on each side; sometimes appears to have a reddish-brown middorsal stripe; chin and throat yellowish; scales keeled; anal scale divided; eyes and head small, with a rounded narrow snout (Rossman and Powell 1985); adult total length is usually 36-46 cm (to 62 cm); young are dark, essentially unicolored, belly a deeper shade of red (Minton 1972), about 11-17 cm at birth (Holman et al. 1989, Conant and Collins 1991). A population with white ventral coloring has been documented by the Illinois Natural History Survey (Wilsmann and Sellers 1988).
Diagnostic Characteristics: Kirtland's snake differs from the red-bellied snake (Storeria occipitomaculata) in having conspicuous dark spots on the belly (and on the dorsum). Brown snakes (Storeria dekayi) lack the rich reddish belly color and conspicuous dark spots on the belly scales found on Kirtland's snake. Queen snakes (Regina septemvittata) have a uniformly brown dorsum, with a light stripe along each side of the body. Copper-bellied watersnakes (Nerodia erythrogaster neglecta) lack large dark spots on the dorsum and also lack the single row of round black spots that border the belly scales of Kirtland's snake. Gartesnakes (Thamnophis species) generally have pale lateral stripes and lack a reddish belly.

Ernst and Ernst (2003) includes an identification key.

Reproduction Comments: Courtship or mating have been noted in the field in February, March, May, August, and September (Minton 1972, 2001; Martin 1986; Brown 1987; Anton et al. 2003). Multiple males may attend one female (Anton et al. 2003). Gravid females can be found as early as May (Wilsmann and Sellers 1988). In Indiana, Minton (2001) found 6 gravid females in mid-June. The life cycle does not include a shelled egg stage; females give birth in summer or early autumn. Gravid females often share favorable gestation sites. Individuals reach maturity probably in their second year of growth (Ernst and Ernst 2003). Typical longevity is unknown.

The following information is from captive studies by Conant (1943), Minton (1972), Tucker (1976), Mierzwa (1985), Martin (1986) Brown (1987), and Anton and Mauger (2004). Parturition generally occurs in summer, recorded dates range from late July (Minton 2001) through late September (Conant 1943). Brood sizes range from 4 to 15 (Conant 1943, Tucker 1976; record of 22 young apparently is erroneous, Wilsman and Sellers 1988).

Ecology Comments: Potential predators include other snakes, birds, carnivorous mammals, and fish (Wilsmann and Sellers 1988).

Kirtland's snake occurs in association with many wetland, grassland, and forest edge reptiles including Butler's garter snake, brown snakes, eastern massassauga, water snakes, queen snakes, eastern fox snakes, spotted turtles, and the five-lined skinks. Too little is known of the ecology of most of these species to conclude that resource competition is occurring, except perhaps with Butler's garter snakes in Michigan and Indiana (Wilsmann and Sellers 1988).

Habitat Type: Freshwater
Non-Migrant: Y
Locally Migrant: N
Long Distance Migrant: N
Mobility and Migration Comments: This snake does not exhibit significant migrations. Home range size and other movement characteristics are poorly known, but most evidence suggests that movements are not very extensive.
Riverine Habitat(s): CREEK, Low gradient
Palustrine Habitat(s): Bog/fen, HERBACEOUS WETLAND, Riparian, SCRUB-SHRUB WETLAND
Terrestrial Habitat(s): Grassland/herbaceous, Old field, Suburban/orchard
Special Habitat Factors: Burrowing in or using soil, Fallen log/debris
Habitat Comments: Kirtland's snake occurs in relict Prairie Peninsula habitats: prairie fens, wet meadows, lakeplain wet prairies and associated open and wooded wetlands, seasonal marshes, open swamps, sparsely wooded hillsides, and the vicinity of ponds and sluggish creeks.

In the more recently glaciated parts of the range, occurrences are on gently sloping pitted outwash, till plains, and former glacial lake plains; in the more highly dissected, recently unglaciated areas, the species occupied larger river valley drainages (Wilsmann and Sellers 1988). In Illinois and west-central Indiana, it is most often found on mollisols, soils that develop under grasslands and have excellent water retaining abilities (Wilsmann and Sellers 1988).

The current distribution of this snake is centered in metropolitan areas, often in vacant lots associated with streams or wetlands; these are remnants of much larger populations that have been reduced by urbanization and may now be rapidly dying out (Minton et al. 1983). However, this species can be locally abundant in inner city situations (Minton 2001). There are few records of this species from relatively undisturbed habitats (Minton 2001).

This species is most readily found in habitats with abundant debris on the ground surface; open grassy habitats may harbor populations that are relatively difficult to detect and document.

Individuals are secretive and usually are found under debris, but in general these snakes are likely most often below ground (Harding 1993, pers. comm.). Kirtland's snake commonly uses crayfish burrows as cover and underground passageways (Wilsmann and Sellers 1988, Bavetz 1994, Anton et al. 2003); the burrows provide moisture, less severe temperature extremes, and food resources (Wilsmann and Sellers 1988). Fossorial habits allow survival of grassland fire. Hibernation occurs apparently underground, possibly in crayfish burrows, in or near the wetlands that are inhabited the remainder of the year.

Mating has only been observed on the ground surface under cover in the spring (Sellers, pers. comm., 1993).

Adult Food Habits: Invertivore
Immature Food Habits: Invertivore
Food Comments: The diet includes mostly earthworms; also slugs and leeches (Conant 1943, Tucker 1977, Minton 2001, Wilsmann and Sellers 1988); sometimes insects (Thurow 1993) and crayfish (Bavetz 1993). Reports of amphibians and minnows in the diet (Minton 1972, Barbour 1971) have been discounted by other authors. Tucker (1977) stated that Kirtland's snake eats native slugs but not the introduced European slug (Limax maximus).
Adult Phenology: Hibernates/aestivates
Immature Phenology: Hibernates/aestivates
Phenology Comments: This snake is inactive during cold periods, but live individuals have been found on the surface in every month (Sellers, pers. comm., 1993; see also Gibson and Kingsbury 2004), with basking occurring on warm winter days. Annual emergence from hibernation is usually in early spring; activity peaks in April-May and October (Conant 1943, Minton 1972);
Length: 46 centimeters
Economic Attributes
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Economic Comments: Kirtland's snake has been collected for the pet trade in some areas (Wilsmann and Sellers 1988).
Management Summary
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Stewardship Overview: From Gibson and Kingsbury 2004: While management activity does occur at some areas of the Kirtland?s snake?s range, these activities are very general, and targeted habitat improvement activities or specific management for the Kirtland?s snake currently do not exist. While research on Kirtland?s snake populations is sorely needed to assist in management recommendations, some management activities can be suggested based largely on research conducted on other snake species that share similar habitats to the Kirtland?s snake such as the eastern massasauga (Sistrurus catenatus catenatus) and the plains garter snake (Thamnophis radix radix). Studies conducted on these species have highlighted their susceptibility to road and mower mortality (Dalrymple and Reichenbach 1984, Seigel 1986), as well as to mortality during controlled burning events (Erwin and Stasiak 1979, Seigel 1986). However, these studies also found that by monitoring the daily and seasonal activities patterns of these species, management strategies could be implemented to minimize snake mortality.

Road mortality has been found to vary seasonally, and is related to traffic volume and snake activity (Seigel 1986). Studies have found that by monitoring traffic volume, and snake activity patterns it is possible to identify when mortality is likely to be highest. By identifying periods of heightened sensitivity for snakes, management techniques can be adjusted, and even additionally implemented to alleviate mortality. Several management techniques have been suggested to help mitigate snake mortality on roads. These include erecting signs warning of the presence of snakes on roads, and asking drivers to show caution, erecting speed bumps to slow traffic, and enforcing seasonal road closures, particularly for stretches of road that see high snake mortality (Dalrymple and Reichenbach 1984, Seigel 1986).

Mowing operations are also responsible for snake mortality (Dalrymple and Reichenbach 1984, Seigel 1986). However, similarly to road mortality, mowing mortality may also be minimized by monitoring the daily seasonal activities of snakes, and consequently identifying those times when snake activity at the surface is minimal (Dalrymple and Reichenbach 1984, Seigel 1986). Based on studies conducted on snake species that share habitats similar to the Kirtland?s snake, mortality may be mitigated by mowing during early morning hours when temperatures are likely to inhibit snake activity (Dalrymple and Reichenbach 1984, Seigel 1986). However, it is important to note that daily, seasonal activity does vary between snake species, geographic location, and is influenced by local weather conditions (for example, Kirtland?s snakes may be active during early morning hours, especially after rain). As such, recommendations specifically aimed at the Kirtland?s snake should be made from data collected on the species at the local level.

Controlled burns may also be responsible for snake mortality, particularly if they are conducted during those times when snakes are active on the surface. Burning would thus be best scheduled during those times when surface activity is minimal. By monitoring Kirtland?s snake daily and seasonal activity patterns at the local level, the best times to burn may be elucidated. Winter burns are least likely to impact Kirtland?s snakes (because they are hibernating), however burning during this season is often impractical. Early spring or late fall burns are likely to mitigate mortality, but only if conducted before spring rains, and after migration to overwintering sites (in fall). Slow area burns are preferred, and it is best if habitat is burnt in patches, leaving a mosaic of burned and unburned areas (thus providing refuge areas to escape the burn) (Kingsbury et al., 2002).
Management plans should also consider the apparent importance of cover items to the Kirtland?s snake. If unnatural ground debris is removed, it should be replaced with ?natural? debris such as branches, bark, straw, etc. (Wilsmann and Sellers 1988).

Relatively open habitats, in close proximity to a water source, that are prone to seasonal flooding, appear to provide important habitat for the Kirtland?s snake, particularly within the core of the species? range. Management activities on the Hoosier and Huron-Manistee National Forests should concentrate on identifying areas of suitable habitat, and protecting them. A buffer of upland habitat around these areas should also be preserved. While it is unknown to what extent Kirtland?s snakes rely on upland habitat, activities within at least 100 m of presumed suitable habitat should be maintained until more data is available on Kirtland?s snake ecology. Roe et al. (2003) found that an upland buffer of 125m would protect the majority of habitat used by Nerodia erythrogaster neglecta. Semlitsch and Bodie (2003) determined core habitat requirements from the edge of an aquatic site based on data compiled from five species of snake, and mean minimum and maximum distances included 168m and 304m respectively.

Whatever management activities take place in an area that may hold Kirtland?s snakes, risk of soil compaction should be considered. In those areas where Kirtland?s snakes are suspected to occur, activities which cause compaction should be avoided, or conducted only when the ground is frozen.
Human activities, especially housing development and habitat alteration, are the major threats. Most of the former habitat has been lost to agriculture (Wilsmann and Sellers 1988). Grassy habitats are subject to succession when surrounding land use patterns change. Conversion of native prairie to agricultural uses is a threat. Many remnant populations inhabit small areas in urban or suburban areas where they are highly vulnerable to extirpation by development; colonies near housing developments may thrive for a time but eventually decline, according to Minton. Activities that negatively impact crayfishes and their burrows are detrimental. Other potential threats to this species include pesticide use, road kills (reviewed by Gibson and Kingsbury 2004), mowing operations, long-term climatic changes, and collecting for the pet trade. Collecting for the pet trade is a threat particularly in urban populations (Harding 1997) where large amounts of litter and debris increase the chances of finding these snakes (Wilsmann and Sellers 1988). Disease has not been identified as a significant threat (Gibson and Kingbury 2004).
Effective management requires consideration of mowing schedules, foot and car traffic, potential environmental contaminants, hydrology, and ground cover (Wilsmann and Sellers 1988). One management concern is the modification of wetlands by flooding or draining. These practices may enhance habitat for other species but can make unsuitable habitat for this snake (Wilsmann and Sellers 1988), which requires unsaturated soil with a high subsurface water table (Sellers, pers. comm., 1993). 

At many managed sites, controlled burns are used for maintenance of prairie species. The fossorial habits of Kirtland's snake and the typical cool burn near the ground in wetlands allows the snake to survive grassland fires. 

A study of Killdeer Plains Wildlife Area in Ohio, which is a state-owned remnant of prairie managed for Canada geese, reported snake mortality from mowing and vehicle traffic. During the fall hunting season when both factors were heavy, snake mortality was high. The study recommended rescheduling mowing operations to coincide with the snakes' periods of inactivity, and rerouting traffic, placing speed bumps and signs to caution motorists to avoid hitting snakes. See Gibson and Kingsbury (2004) for further discussion of mortality from mowing and vehicle traffic.

If urban litter must be removed it should be replaced with litter from natural materials such as tree bark and limbs, leaves, cut brush, or hay and straw (Wilsmann and Sellers 1988).

Species Impacts: Kirtland's snake is not known to significantly impact other species that may be of conservation concern.
Restoration Potential: Restoration potential depends upon the degree of habitat alteration. Permanent alterations such as pavement prevent restoration. Remaining wet prairie habitats that have not been altered can be used for restoration.
Preserve Selection & Design Considerations: Preserves that will benefit this species should include natural open areas, streams or ditchs, and upland hillsides with underground refuges. Adjacent managed open areas such as yards or parks need to be considered in overall management of the preserve, as the snakes may frequent these areas (Sellers, pers. comm., 1993).
Management Requirements: Effective management requires consideration of mowing schedules, foot and car traffic, potential environmental contaminants, hydrology, and ground cover (Wilsmann and Sellers 1988). One management concern is the modification of wetlands by flooding or draining. These practices may enhance habitat for other species but can make unsuitable habitat for this snake (Wilsmann and Sellers 1988), which requires unsaturated soil with a high subsurface water table (Sellers, pers. comm., 1993). 

At many managed sites, controlled burns are used for maintenance of prairie species. The fossorial habits of Kirtland's snake and the typical cool burn near the ground in wetlands allows the snake to survive grassland fires. 

A study of Killdeer Plains Wildlife Area in Ohio, which is a state-owned remnant of prairie managed for Canada geese, reported snake mortality from mowing and vehicle traffic. During the fall hunting season when both factors were heavy, snake mortality was high. The study recommended rescheduling mowing operations to coincide with the snakes' periods of inactivity, and rerouting traffic, placing speed bumps and signs to caution motorists to avoid hitting snakes. See Gibson and Kingsbury (2004) for further discussion of mortality from mowing and vehicle traffic.

If urban litter must be removed it should be replaced with litter from natural materials such as tree bark and limbs, leaves, cut brush, or hay and straw (Wilsmann and Sellers 1988).

Monitoring Requirements: Monitoring should be conducted during the prime seasonal, diel, and weather-related activity periods, with repeated visits to each site (Wilsmann and Sellers 1988). Natural areas may be difficult to survey because of the lack of cover under which snakes may be easily found. Open damp grassy areas may harbor populations, but these populations are relatively difficult to detect and document.

Some monitoring techniques include overturning of natural and artificial covers, shining with flashlights, seining in streams, drift-fencing, and searching roadways for dead and injured snakes (Wilsmann and Sellers 1988). Drift-fencing may be more successful earlier in the spring or fall when the snakes are moving to and from their hibernacula.

See Gibson and Kingsbury (2004) for further brief discussion of monitoring this species.

Management Research Needs: Information on response to fire and other management techniques is needed. Effective survey/monitoring techniques need to be developed.
Biological Research Needs: Because of the Kirtland's snake's secretive behavior and habitat use, much about its natural history, ecology, and population dynamics is unknown. It is important to understand the number and distribution of extant populations and the health of these populations. Additionally, population estimates, home range estimates, age at first reproduction, age-specific survival, hibernation needs, minimum patch size to support a population, connectivity needed among sites necessary for genetic exchange, viability of urban populations, and stressors on populations (e.g., road mortality) are vital information gaps. Additional genetic studies to further elucidate any significant genetic diversity among distinct populations and variation of potentially adaptive traits would be helpful. An understanding of Kirtland's snake's susceptibility and response to SFD would elucidate the degree to which this disease threatens populations.
Population/Occurrence Delineation
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Group Name: Medium And Large Colubrid Snakes

Use Class: Not applicable
Minimum Criteria for an Occurrence: Occurrences are based on evidence of historical presence, or current and likely recurring presence, at a given location. Such evidence minimally includes collection or reliable observation and documentation of one or more individuals (including eggs) in or near appropriate habitat where the species is presumed to be established and breeding.
Separation Barriers: Busy highway or highway with obstructions such that snakes rarely if ever cross successfully; major river, lake, pond, or deep marsh (this barrier pertains only to upland species and does not apply to aquatic or wetland snakes); densely urbanized area dominated by buildings and pavement.
Separation Distance for Unsuitable Habitat: 1 km
Separation Distance for Suitable Habitat: 10 km
Separation Justification: Available information on movements of colubrid snakes is limited to a small minority of species. These data indicate that nearly all species have home ranges smaller or much smaller than 25 ha (e.g., less than 3 ha, Pituophis catenifer in California, Rodriguez-Robles 2003), with some up to about 75 ha (Heterodon platirhinos, average 50 ha, Plummer and Mills 2000), and the largest up to 225 ha in the biggest colubrids (Drymarchon, summer mean 50-100 ha, USFWS 1998).

Radiotelemetry data for Pantherophis indicate that residents of hibernacula that are 1-2 km apart (with suitable intervening habitat) probably interbreed (Prior et al. 1997, Blouin-Demers and Weatherhead 2002). However, "evidence of genetic structure even over short distances (e.g., 2-20 km) implies that gene flow among rat snake populations can be easily disrupted" (Prior et al. 1997). Loughheed et al. (1999) found evidence of substantial genetic exchange among local hibernacula (< 6 km apart), but gene flow over distances of 10s of km appears to be substantially less. Based on extensive radio-tracking data, Blouin-Demers and Weatherhead (2002) found that home range size of Pantherophis averaged 18.5 ha and ranged up to 93 ha; based on the most mobile individuals, Pantherophis from hibernacula up to 8 km apart can come together for mating. Pantherophis and probably other colubrids exhibit high fidelity to hibernacula and shift even to nearby sites only rarely (Prior et al. 2001).

Many of the several studies that report small home ranges for colubrids did not employ methods (e.g., radio telemetry) suitable for detecting full annual or multi-annual home range size, dispersal, or other long-distance movements, so these may have yielded underestimates of home ranges or activity areas.

At least some colubrids, including medium-sized species such as garter snakes, not uncommonly move between areas up to a few kilometers apart, and several species make extensive movements of up to several kilometers, so separation distances of 1-2 km for suitable habitat are too small for medium-sized and large colubrids.

A separation distance of 10 km for suitable habitat was selected as most appropriate for snakes assigned to this Specs Group because it seems generally unlikely that two locations separated by less than 10 km of suitable habitat would represent distinct occurrences.

For the purposes of these occurrence specifications, upland habitat is regarded as unsuitable habitat for aquatic and wetland snakes. For upland snakes, shallow or patchy wetlands are treated as unsuitable habitat whereas large deepwater habitats (subjective determination) are barriers.

Inferred Minimum Extent of Habitat Use (when actual extent is unknown): .5 km
Date: 12Feb2013
Author: Hammerson, G.
Notes: Separation distance for suitable habitat was changed from 5 km to 10 km based on comments from Dale Jackson (12 Feb 2013).
Population/Occurrence Viability
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U.S. Invasive Species Impact Rank (I-Rank) Not yet assessed
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Authors/Contributors
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NatureServe Conservation Status Factors Edition Date: 01Feb2018
NatureServe Conservation Status Factors Author: Soule, J. D., B. Van Dam, and G. Hammerson (2011); Schorr, R. A. (2018)
Management Information Edition Date: 25Jan2018
Management Information Edition Author: Van Dam, B. (1993), Schorr, R. A. (2018)
Element Ecology & Life History Edition Date: 11Jul2011
Element Ecology & Life History Author(s): Van Dam, B., and G. Hammerson

Zoological data developed by NatureServe and its network of natural heritage programs (see Local Programs) and other contributors and cooperators (see Sources).

References
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