Florida Crowned Snake

Scientific Name
Tantilla relicta
Also Known As
Florida Crowned Snake
Central and Northern Florida
Soft Insects, Centipedes, Earthworms, Ants
Life Expectancy
3 - 5 Years
The Florida Crowned Snake

Photo 254842443 © Tommy Hamrick, CC BY-NC

Florida Crowned Snake conservation status - Not Threatened

Quick Links

This Snake is Not Venomous

The Florida Crowned Snake in Central Florida

The Florida crowned snake (Tantilla relicta) is a small, nonvenomous colubrid species endemic to peninsular Florida. Often overlooked due to its cryptic habits, the Florida crowned snake plays an important role as a predator of invertebrates and as prey for other wildlife.

This article provides identification tips, biology facts, and information on ideal habitat and diet to better understand this native snake in Central Florida ecosystems.

Subspecies of Florida Crowned Snakes in the Area

Central Florida Crowned Snake

The Central Florida Crowned Snake (relicta neilli) is a unique subspecies in central Florida. Genetic evidence shows they evolved separately. They are tiny, only reaching 8-10 inches long. Their small size is an adaptation to hunting ants and termites in sandy soils. They also have distinct head blotches between the eyes versus other subspecies. Loss of scrub habitat reduces their limited range around Florida’s central Atlantic coast.

Calling them a distinct subspecies highlights the need for habitat protection. Preserving remaining scrub is critical for this tiny snake’s survival. Recognizing their subspecies status brings attention to their decline from habitat loss.

Coastal Dunes Crowned Snake

The Coastal Dunes Crowned Snake (relicta pamlica) is a subspecies living in coastal habitats. Genetic isolation has led to unique traits. They stay under 12 inches long, likely an adaptation for burrowing in loose sand. Their coloration is also lighter than other subspecies to blend into the beach environment. The coastal subspecies is specialized for hunting prey in sparsely vegetated dunes.

Beach development has destroyed much of their shoreline habitat. Recognizing them as a distinct subspecies emphasizes the need for habitat protection. Preserving remaining coastal dunes is essential for this tiny snake’s survival.

Peninsula Crowned Snake

Photo 6056911 © Michiko, CC BY-NC

Peninsula Crowned Snake

The Peninsula Crowned Snake is a unique subspecies in Florida’s southern peninsula. Genetic isolation has led to distinct traits. They are small, reaching just 10-12 inches long, likely an adaptation for hunting in leaf litter. Their scales are also weakly keeled compared to other subspecies. Living in pine flatwoods and scrub forests, the peninsula subspecies is specialized for its habitat.

Loss of these habitats has greatly reduced their limited range. Calling them a distinct subspecies stresses the importance of habitat protection. Preserving remaining scrub is critical for this tiny snake’s survival. Recognizing their status draws attention to their decline from habitat destruction. Protecting scrub allows the rare peninsula crowned snake to persist within its small Florida range.

Appearance and Identification

The Florida crowned snake can be identified by the following physical characteristics

Adult Florida Crowned Snake

Photo 283560697 © nickolascook, CC BY-NC

Adult Florida Crowned Snake

  • Size: Adults average 4 to 8 feet (1.2 to 2.4 m) long. The record length is over 8 feet.
  • Color: Adults lose most of the juvenile striping and become solid tan, grayish, reddish-brown or black dorsally. The chin and throat are whitish or yellow.
  • Body: A long, cylindrical body with smooth iridescent scales. The tail is around 1/3 of the total body length.
  • Head: The pointed head has a distinctive upturned snout with large eyes and round pupils.
Juvenile Florida Crowned Snake

Juvenile Florida Crowned Snake

  • Size: Hatchlings measure around 5-6 inches (12-15 cm) long.
  • Scales: Smooth, glossy scales in 15 rows at midbody.
  • Color: Tan, brown or grayish background color with darker flecks forming indistinct saddles on the back.
  • Belly: Cream or yellowish undertone.
  • Head: Small head with a rounded snout tip. Tiny eyes with round pupils

The smooth dorsal scales, tiny size, and crown-like head pattern distinguishes the crowned snake from the superficially similar southeastern crowned snake (Tantilla coronata).

Maturation Rate

Florida crowned snakes develop rapidly after hatching. Hatchlings already possess fully-formed scales, venom glands, and fangs (although nonvenomous). They shed their skin frequently as juveniles to accommodate fast growth.

Within their first year, the snakes reach adult size of 8-14 inches long and sexual maturity. Their short lifespan offsets their small clutch sizes to enable adequate reproduction within their specialized niche.

Habits and Behavior

The Florida crowned snake is a secretive, fossorial species that spends much of its time buried underground or sheltered under debris. They are most active above ground during the summer rainy season. When active, they move slowly over damp soil and leaf litter, flicking out their tongues to sense chemicals.

Florida crowned snakes are docile, nonvenomous snakes that rarely bite when handled. Due to their tiny size and cryptic nature, they are rarely encountered by people. The snakes rely on camouflage to avoid larger predators. Main threats include birds, mammals, larger snakes, and introduced species like fire ants.

Reproduction and Lifespan

Relatively little is known about Florida crowned snake reproduction. Mating likely occurs in spring soon after emergence. Females probably lay 1-4 eggs in early summer in moist, hidden sites in the soil or under cover objects. The eggs likely hatch in late summer.

Newly hatched snakes are about 5-6 inches long and sexually mature within their first year, breeding from their second spring onward. Typical longevity in the wild is estimated around 3-5 years.

Ideal Habitat and Range

The Florida crowned snake inhabits xeric and mesic flatwoods, sandhills, scrub habitat, and transitional zones between uplands and wetlands throughout peninsular Florida.

Central Florida’s mosaic of pine flatwoods, scrub, dry prairie, hammocks, and swamps offer excellent habitat. Average annual rainfall ranges 50-65 inches, with 65% falling June-September. Average summer temperatures are around 90°F while winter lows average 55°F.

The Florida crowned snake occupies the moist, loose soils amid dense ground litter in these ecosystems. Habitats with open canopies and patches of bare ground allow sunlight to penetrate and provide warmer, drier microclimates. The snakes utilize burrows of small mammals and self-excavated tunnels for shelter. Ideal habitat provides ample prey like insects and soil invertebrates.

Diet and Feeding

Florida crowned snakes feed primarily on soft-bodied invertebrates captured on or under the ground surface. Known prey items include:

  • Centipedes
  • Earthworms
  • Slugs and snails (Gastropoda)
  • Insect larvae
  • Termites
  • Ants
  • Small spiders

The small, rear-hinged fangs and mild Duvernoy’s secretions allow Florida crowned snakes to grasp and swallow their prey. Foraging occurs during moist periods under debris, rotten logs, and leaf litter. The snakes lift their heads and scan surroundings with their tongues to detect prey odors.

A Florida Crowned Snake

Photo 31477432 © petekleinhenz, CC BY-ND

Health Risk Associated from Nuisance Animals

Common Health Risks

Florida crowned snakes pose virtually no risk to human health or safety. Their minuscule size, timid nature, and lack of functional venom make them harmless if encountered. Their small, rear-facing fangs cannot easily bite or envenomate people.

No zoonotic diseases are known to be associated with the Florida crowned snake. Their underground habits also limit contact with humans. Proper hygiene is still advised when handling any reptiles to prevent transmission of salmonella bacteria.

Preventing Florida Crowned Snake Infestations

Florida crowned snakes are nonthreatening native wildlife that play an important ecological role. Discouraging their presence is neither practical nor ecologically responsible. Simple preventative measures include:

  • Keeping yards free of heavy debris and covered piles that provide snake shelter.
  • Sealing visible holes or crevices around building foundations.
  • Moving slowly and watching your step in natural areas.
  • Educating children and others to recognize crowned snakes are harmless if seen.

Exclusion methods like wire mesh barriers have limited effectiveness for these small, burrowing snakes. Direct control using traps or pesticides is also not warranted.

Florida Crowned Snakes in Central Florida – Conclusion

In summary, the Florida crowned snake is an innocuous, diminutive member of Central Florida’s native fauna. They help regulate invertebrate populations and provide prey for larger wildlife. Their tiny size, nonvenomous nature, and cryptic habits make them harmless to humans. While encounters are unlikely due to the snake’s burrowing habits, proper identification and education about this species can prevent needless concern. Conserving natural xeric and mesic ecosystems will ensure continued survival of the Florida crowned snake locally.