Last week while setting up storm shutters I found a recently hatched corn snake (Pantherophis (Elaphe) guttata) under my house near Cherokee Sound. Corn snakes are not native to The Bahamas, or any of the Caribbean Islands. It seems records of corn snakes in The Bahamas were first published in the mid-90’s with little new information arising since. As of now, it seems that their reported distribution includes Grand Bahama and New Providence. No observations have been reported for Abaco and this may be the first sighting of a corn snake here. The individual found was a recently hatched juvenile suggesting that there could be a reproducing population on the island. Future sightings should be reported so that a firmer understanding of the range and status of this species can be better understood.
Basic Biology: The corn snake (Pantherophis (Elaphe) guttata) is a medium-sized snake (up to 4 feet) native to the eastern US. Coloration is variable but typically includes reddish-orange saddle-shaped blotches along the back with lighter tan or grey background color. The belly has a distinct checkerboard pattern. Like all snakes found in The Bahamas, they are non-venomous and are typically rather docile although will bite if provoked. The corn snake is a dietary and habitat generalist. They eat reptiles, birds, eggs, and small mammals. In their native range they can be found in pine forests, humid deciduous forests, swamps, and grasslands from New Jersey to the Florida Keys. But throughout their range corn snakes frequently inhabit human structures such as barns. As with many other snakes they are nocturnal during warmer months and become less active during the winter or during extended dry periods.
Origin: Like many of the world’s introductions, there are likely to be multiple routes by which a corn snake might have found it’s way to Abaco. Corn snakes can frequently be found in and around human buildings in the US and it is possible that they could get introduced inside shipping containers or in landscaping plants. Another likely vector is via the pet trade. Corn snakes are among the most popular pet snakes in the world. But, as often happens, released or escaped pets can start new populations underscoring the importance of responsible animal keeping.
Implications: As for the potential impacts of an introduced population of these snakes, one can only guess at this point. However, the broad diet and variety of habitats used by corn snakes in their native range suggests that they may be able to spread throughout the island. Like many introduced carnivores such as cats, raccoons, and lionfish, corn snakes have the potential to negatively affect native species and disrupt local ecosystems. I will be looking into this more and will update if there is any new information.
Some recent web references for corn snakes.