Effects of Handling, Marking and Recapturing Pine Snakes (Pituophis m. melanoleucus)
JOANNA BURGER1 and ROBERT ZAPPALORTI2
1Division of Biological Sciences, 604 Allison Road, Rutgers University, Piscataway, New Jersey 08854.
2Herpetological Associates, Inc, 575 Toms River Road, Jackson, New Jersey 08527
Many bioindicators are developed without attention to the effects on the animals themselves. We examined whether the disruption, handling, and recapturing of northern pine snakes (Pituophis m. melanoleucus), New Jersey Pine Barrens, 1976 to 2008) negatively impacted their behavior and survival, information that is critical to the usefulness of snakes as bioindicators. We found: 1) There was no difference in the rate of re-sighting of pine snakes as a function of whether they were branded or fitted with passive integrated transponder devices (PIT tags) and/or radio-transmitters, 2) Marked females continued to use the same nest site in successive years (65 %), 3) The number of nests that hatched successfully did not differ markedly as a function of remaining intact (72 %) or being opened (62 %), 4) Hatching rate of eggs in the laboratory was higher than for those in the field, 5) Excavated hibernacula that we studied were only abandoned due to predators, land development, and habitat management, 6) Nearly half of the snakes handled while hibernating were found once or more in successive years in the reconstructed hibernacula, and 7) The three snakes that were captured the most in hibernacula were found in 13, 17, and 18 different years. Thus, northern pine snakes can be useful bioindicators because the researchers themselves are not impacting their behavior or survival, and they can be used to indicate overall health of the food chains of which they are part