The brown snake or brownsnake (Storeria dekayi) sometimes known as Dekay's brown snake is a small non-venomous colubrid snake found in North and Central America.
There are 8 subspecies recognized and the species has a massive range. Which extends from southern Canada in the north through most of the eastern United States east of the Rocky Mountains and south into eastern and southern Mexico.
Their range reaches even further south although their distribution is more patchy some disjunct populations are found in Guatemala, Belize, and Honduras in Central America.
In Canada, it's native to New Brunswick, Southern Quebec, and Southern Ontario while in the USA is found from southern Maine, New York, Michigan, Minnesota, and northeastern South Dakota south to Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and southern Florida. The brown snake is probably also found in El Salvador.
In North America, brown snake refers to these small and shy non-venomous snakes. But in Australia and Papua New Guinea, brown snake is commonly used to identify the Eastern brown often considered the 2nd most venomous snake in the world.
The brown snake can be found in a variety of habitats, ranging from dense woods to open prairies, wetland margins, river floodplains, cypress swamp edges, ponds, bogs, and marshes. Their habitats further south going into Central America include tropical deciduous forest and cloud forest.
While they do prefer moist soils these snakes are also found in dryer areas such as rocky hillsides. Although the brown snake inhabits many moist environments these are not aquatic snakes like water snakes such as the brown water snake. The species is absent from the higher elevations in the mountains.
They are also very commonly found in urban and suburban areas and agricultural fields. That's why the brown snake is sometimes referred to as a “city snake” because of their tendency to thrive in urban areas.
The brown snake is normally found hiding among leaf litter, logs, loose stones or flat rocks, debris or other convenient covers. They are most active and more commonly seen in late March or April or sometimes in October to November while moving from or to their hibernation locations.
These are usually solitary snakes except during hibernation or the mating season. The brown snakes are most active at night, especially during the hotter months of the summer, but may be diurnal during mild weather.
Usually, these sites are underground like animal burrows, such as those of rodents, rock crevices, under logs, abandoned anthills or beneath buildings or other structures. They spend most of their life under the ground, except in the case of heavy rain then they will come out into the open.
They sometimes hibernate together with other snake species like the red-bellied snake, smooth green snake or garter snakes and generally return to the same spot year after year.
These are relatively small snakes with a total length ranging from 9 to 21 inches (23 to 53 cm) nevertheless, hardly ever do they reach more than 15 in (38 cm). The brown snake has a stout body and strongly keeled scales.
Both females and males look similar but females are slightly bigger and males usually have longer tails. They are usually tan, brown, reddish brown or grayish brown in color, usually with 2 rows of dark spots running parallel along their backs.
Some coastal populations of brown snakes lack these dark spots. Between the black dots runs a lighter colored streak and sometimes these dots may be connected by dark lines.
Their underside is usually beige, cream to whitish or even pinkish in color, with small darker spots found along the edges. The dark head is barely distinct from the neck and body with large eyes and a darker band found in the jawline.
Even though these harmless snakes are quite different in coloration and patterns they are often "mistaken" for the venomous copperhead (Agkistrodon contortrix) and killed on sight. Not much is known about their lifespan in the wild, but captive brown snakes have lived up to 7 years old.
They are preyed on by hawks, crows, weasels, shrews, blue jays, larger frogs and toads, domestic cats and other larger snake species. When feeling threatened the brown snake flattens it's body to appear larger and assumes an aggressive stance. They will also release a foul-smelling musk from their cloaca to discourage their attacker.
Subspecies / Taxonomy / Etymology
The brown snake binomial name is a double honorific, the specific name dekayi honors the American zoologist James Ellsworth DeKay and the generic name is in honor of the zoologist David Humphreys Storer.
It's the only North American snake species with this particularity. There are 8 subspecies currently recognized for the Brown snake.
Northern brown snake (Storeria dekayi dekayi - Holbrook, 1836) - Found from southern Canada into the US including North Carolina, West Virginia, Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey, Rhode Island,New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and south Maine.
Florida brown snake (Storeria dekayi victa - O.P. Hay, 1892) - This subspecies is found in peninsular Florida but it is sometimes regarded as a full species by some authors. It's one of 44 non-venomous Florida snake species.
Marsh brown snake (Storeria dekayi limnetes - Anderson, 1961) - Found in south Arkansas, southeastern Texas, Louisiana, and Florida.
Texas brown snake (Storeria dekayi texana - Trapido, 1944) - Found in Texas like its name implies but also in Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana, north to Minnesota and Wisconsin.
Midland brown snake (Storeria dekayi wrightorum - Trapido, 1944) - Found in Florida, eastern Wisconsin, Michigan, eastern Louisiana, Missouri, Tennessee and the Carolinas.
Tropical brown snake (Storeria dekayi tropica - Cope, 1885) - Found only in Guatemala.
Storeria dekayi anomala - Dugès, 1888 - Found in Veracruz, Mexico.
Storeria dekayi temporalineata - Trapido, 1944 - Found only in the Mexican states of Veracruz and Tamaulipas.
Diet / Feeding
Brown snakes feed almost exclusively on a variety of invertebrates including snails, slugs, and earthworms. They will sometimes eat beetles, millipedes, sow bugs, soft-bodied grubs, mites, frogs, small fishes and even small salamanders.
They hunt mostly at night and probably use almost exclusively their sense of smell to find prey, using their forked tongues to collect chemicals found in the air. Their teeth and jaws are especially designed to enable them to pull snails out of their shell so the snake can eat them.
The mating season usually occurs soon after they emerge from brumation (a kind of hibernation) in late March to early April. But sometimes mating also occurs from October to November in autumn just before they go into hibernation.
The brown snake breeds only once a year and males follow pheromone trails left by females to find potential mates. The brown snake like other natricine species such as the northern watersnake (Nerodia sipedon) is an ovoviviparous species.
Females don't lay eggs, they give birth to live young, which in turn develop in eggs inside the female's body. The females will give birth in late summer from late July to early August, with the litters ranging from anywhere from 3 to 41 neonates but usually averaging around 10 to 14.
The young brown snakes receive no parental care, although sometimes the young snakes remain close to their mothers. Younglings usually have a light white or grayish colored ring around the neck and sometimes they are confused with Ring-necked snakes. Their dorsal pattern is also less obvious than in adult snakes.
The young brown snakes measure from 2,75 to 4,7 inches (7 to 12 cm) in length. The species probably reaches sexual maturity at an age of 2 to 3 years, when it has double its size from birth.
Conservation / Threats
The brown snake is listed as a "Least Concern" species in the IUCN red list due to its wide distribution and presumed large population, represented by hundreds of occurrences and the number of known subpopulations.
The population is most likely relatively stable and although the species population size is unknown it certainly exceeds 100,000 individuals. Although no major threats are known this species like others faces some threats like habitat pollution and destruction.
They do tolerate various types of habitats, even those with higher levels of disturbance. Even so on the Florida Panhandle, their numbers have been declining at least in some areas. Brown snakes are seldom found in the exotic pet trade. They aren't listed on CITES.
Did You Know?
Found in South America green anacondas are considered the largest snakes in the world.