I stood motionless in front of the large tortoise burrow apron, my front teeth working my lower lip, pondering the very fresh shed skin of an indigo snake. Stretched its full length, a good couple of meters, the shed seemed to be glued to the ground.
Then, under a tight clump of sand live oaks behind the burrow, I spotted what appeared to be a purple tire. The tire moved, shifting slowly—as the indigo lifted its massive head above its body coil… It was reminiscent of the scene in Jaws, the one where Chief Brody’s eyes widen and he says, ”We’re gonna’ need a bigger boat” (except in this case substitute “pillowcase” [i.e., snake-bag] for “boat”).
Methodically slinking toward the tortoise burrow entrance, the enormous male indigo took his sweet time. Needing to hold the animal briefly for processing, I captured him using my gentlest touch. But, he wasn’t having it…Soon, I found my torso and arms smeared with musk, the rattling tail of a 7 foot plus indigo intermittently probing my ear, the open-mouthed owner of same all of one foot in front of my face. The snakes’ body, as thick as my upper arm, necklaced my body.
The PIT tag reader chirped. “He’s a recapture”, I sang! (When first captured, the magnificent indigo was named “Momma’s Boy”). Ah, that explains a lot, I thought. He was also huge, and in possession of a truculent demeanor, when I met him 1 year ago to the day at a tortoise burrow located three-quarters of a mile to the west. At close to 7.5 feet long, well, they seldom come bigger; his mass today is just under 4 kilos (ca. 8.5lbs.).
I look him in the eye just prior to release. Occasionally, we notice cataract-like spots clouding the vision of older snakes, but he’s normal. But, I do find two small but real lacerations, slices that parallel each other, just behind the head (and they are recent, still open wounds). Textbook scars from a male/male combat bout. I would hate to see the other guy!
I now examine the shed on the ground, expecting it to the rival male. The anterior part of the shed resembles a large scaly sock, bunched up and turned inside out. I don my reading glasses, hold it up to the sun, and pull the shed back through the length of its “body” so that it’s no longer inside-out. There’s no doubt here, folks, the shed lacks keels on mid-dorsal scales (always present on male snakes, function unknown); the shed is from a female.
And one very large female at that…purportedly, female indigos are receptive to the mating advances of males soon after they shed their skins. I am betting that she now rests in the bottom of the sandy cavern (i.e., tortoise burrow) off just off my left, the 63rd of 87 tortoise burrows that I will survey today, and the only one at which I locate any indigos or snake sign. Last year, in fact, Momma’s Boy was found lying next to an unusually large (ca. 6.5 feet) female snake—“Big Girl”.
The giant male slides easily across the sand back to “Tortoise Lodge”. I am impressed with how nonplussed he is by my presence. Most likely among the oldest and largest indigo snakes on this ridge, his current priority is courting females. And fighting any males who block his path.