MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - Memphis Zoo is showcasing a continuous live feed of the births of its rare Louisiana pine snakes, which will hatch intermittently over the next two weeks.
The eggs were laid in May by five females, and have a 60-day incubation period on average. The 28 eggs are housed in tubs filled with vermiculite, a heat-treated mica mineral, which is commonly used in gardening.
To tune in to watch the eggs hatch live by clicking here, or watch below:
"Incubators" are kept at approximately 82 degrees with 70-80 percent humidity to ensure the eggs stay hydrated.
"Hatching in snakes is a protracted event," said Dr. Steve Reichling, Central Zone curator at the Memphis Zoo. "First they slit the leathery eggshell with a sharp tooth that grows on the tip of their snout. Then, they rest for up to a day while they absorb any remaining yolk into their body. Their egg tooth falls off, before finally slipping out of the egg."
Known for its large eggs and small clutch sizes of three to five, the Louisiana pine snake is a species of nonvenomous constrictors.
It is the rarest snake in North America, and fewer than 250 specimens have been found in the wild. The species once existed in nine parishes in Louisiana and 14 counties in Texas.
However, as a result of habitat loss, they currently exist in only a few Louisiana parishes and have been eliminated from Texas entirely.
"We are thrilled to welcome these rare snakes here at the Memphis Zoo," said Matt Thompson, director of Animal Programs at Memphis Zoo. "Considering only one-in-three reproductive male Louisiana pine snakes produce hatchlings each year, having 28 eggs is astonishing. It's so exciting to see our conservation efforts come to fruition."
Louisiana pine snake conservation is part of a joint effort by several AZA-accredited zoological institutions, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the U.S. Forest Service Catahoula District, which is funding the sites at all four zoos as part of its localized conservation efforts. Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas, has also contributed to the project.
The hatchings come as a result of the Zoo being selected as one of four conservation centers in the country to increase the Louisiana pine snake breeding population in captivity.
Since 2010, the Memphis Zoo has produced 10 to 20 snakes per year that have then been released in restored habitat in the Catahoula District of Kisatchie National Forest in Grant Parish, Louisiana.
The Memphis Zoo partners with seven other zoos to produce snakes for release, including the Audubon Zoo in New Orleans; Fort Worth Zoo in Fort Worth, Texas; Jacksonville Zoo in Jacksonville, Florida; Zoo Atlanta in Atlanta; Zoo Knoxville in Knoxville, Tennessee; Phoenix Zoo in Phoenix, Arizona; and Ellen Trout Zoo in Lufkin, Texas.
Six of the snakes hatched at the Memphis Zoo will be released this fall and next spring, while the rest will be raised in captivity to increase the size of the breeding population. To properly breed the snakes, a research facility funded by the U.S. Forest Service Catahoula District and Texas A&M University was built on Zoo property near the giraffe barn and opened in September 2016.