The Queen snake or Queensnake (Regina septemvittata) is a non-venomous semi-aquatic snake species, endemic to North America. Their range extends throughout the eastern United States, east of the Mississippi River from western New York state east to Wisconsin and south through the Carolinas to Alabama and northern Florida.
They are thought to be extirpated from New Jersey, which was at the edge of its range. The species is also found in the southwestern region of Ontario in Canada. There are also other small disjunct populations in south-central Arkansas and Missouri and on Bois Blanc Island in Lake Huron.
Queen snakes are a semi-aquatic species and are most often found in or near water, in any place with abundant crayfish, their favorite prey. Their preferred habitats include shallow streams and rivers with rocky or gravel bottoms and an abundance of places to hide.
But this type of snakes is also found in other aquatic habitats such as lakes or ponds, ditches, canals, and even in marshes. The water temperature also plays an important role in their habitat preferences, since it must be minimum 50°F during their active months.
The queen snake is a diurnal species, meaning it's most active during the daytime, but during hot weather, they may also move around at night. They may be seen basking in the sun on logs or rocks along the edge of the water, or hanging in shrubs or tree limbs above the water, into which they will quickly drop if disturbed. They are often seen basking alongside northern watersnakes (Nerodia sipedon).
These colubrid snakes have a somewhat slender body and measure from 13 to 36 inches (34 to 92 cm) in total length with an average size of 24 inches (61 cm). Females are usually larger than the males, but males have longer tails than those of the females.
Queen snake dorsal coloration is typically olive green, brownish or even grayish, with a whitish or yellowish band running on each side of the body up to the labial scales. While their belly is cream or yellowish in color, with 4 brownish stripes running the entire length of the belly and converging towards the tail.
Sometimes they will have 3 more or less faint darker stripes running down the length of the body, more visible in young and juvenile snakes as these stripes tend to fade away as they mature.
Their appearance is quite similar to that of garter snakes (genus Thamnophis), such as the Eastern Garter snake (Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis) and often confused with them. But unlike the look-alike garter snakes, the queen snake has a divided anal plate and also lacks the lighter colored dorsal stripe.
Their scales are keeled with 19 dorsal rows at the mid-body and feel rough to the touch. They have a narrow head covered with 9 plate-like scales while their chin is covered with thick scales. Unlike most venomous snakes the Queen snake has round pupils.
In the northern part of their range, the queen snake will enter brumation during the winter months. They will often brumate in groups, sometimes with other snakes, amphibians and even their prey, crayfish.
Their hibernation dens are always close to the water in any suitable site, such as the burrows mammals or crayfish, dams, old bridge abutments, crevices in bedrock or cracks in walls. Brumation is a kind of hibernation, the snakes become very lethargic during this time.
So much so that their main prey, crayfishes, may even become a predator to them and start eating young queen snakes during this period. Adult snakes are also are preyed on by herons and hawks, raccoons, mink, otters and large snakes. Smaller snakes may also be eaten by large fish and frogs.
Their lifespan in the wild is unknown, but one captive specimen has been known to live up to 19 years. Unlike more aggressive snake species, Queen snakes are very docile, and although not prone to biting they will bite if harassed and will also smear their attacker with a foul-smelling secretion if grabbed.
These snakes are known by many other common names such as brown queen snake, olive water snake, moon snake, North American seven-banded snake, pale snake, queen water snake, striped water snake, seven-striped water snake, three-striped water snake, yellow-bellied snake and willow snake.
Queen snakes are also known as banded water snake or diamondback water snake but they aren't related to the "real" banded water snake (Nerodia fasciata) or the diamondback water snake (Nerodia rhombifer).
Subspecies / Etymology / Taxonomy
There are no subspecies currently recognized for the Queen snake by scientists.
Their Genus name, Regina is derived from the Latin word "regius" meaning "queen". While the species specific name, "septemvittata" derives from two Latin words, septem meaning "seven" and vitta which means "stripe".
This is a reference to the number of light and dark stripes found on many individuals of this species. Young snakes have a total of 7 visible stripes, 3 on the back and 4 on their belly, which tend to fade as they grow.
Diet / Feeding
The Queen snake feeds primarily on freshwater crayfish, studies indicate that crayfish make up over 90% of their diet. But unlike their relatives, the crayfish snakes, they prefer to eat freshly molted crayfish, avoiding the hard-shelled crayfish.
Doing this these snakes avoid eating the hard exoskeleton and the crayfish are also mostly defenseless and unable to attack and hurt them with their pincers. Occasionally Queen snakes will take other food sources such as small fish, tadpoles, minnows, newts, frogs, snails, and shrimps.
The Queen snake actively searches for prey by swimming around and searching under rocks or other underwater debris. Instead of sight or even heat detection like that of pit vipers, these snakes use their powerful sense of chemosensation to find prey.
They use their forked tongue to carry the prey's scent to receptors located inside the snake's mouth this allows them to find its prey, even under water.
The queen snakes is a solitary animal, only coming together during the breeding season usually occurs in the spring, typically during May. But mating may also take place in the autumn months, in this case, females will delay the birth until spring, storing energy through the winter months during brumation.
Females will spend quite a lot of energy to supply the eggs with all the nutrients they need during the 90 to 120 days gestation period. Males find females much like they find prey, by using their tongues to sense chemical cues left by receptive females.
When they find a female ready to mate the copulation takes place. Unlike oviparous snakes that lay eggs or viviparous snakes that give birth to live young, queen snake females carry eggs within their bodies and then give birth to live young.
Females give birth to 5 to 31 baby snakes but on average around 10 to 12 young snakes are usually from August to September. Since females do not provide any parental care, the little snakes must fend for themselves just after birth and are capable of moving about and to swim.
At birth, the newborn snakes are approximately 6 inches (15 cm) long and weigh about 0.1 ounces (2.8 g), but they will grow very quickly and may shed their skin twice during the first week of their lives. During this period they will live on the nutrient rich yolk stores they preserve.
During their first year of life, their length increases by as much as 50% to 80%, after which the growth rate drops considerably. Both males and females reach sexual maturity around 2 years of age, however, females will only breed for the first time when they are 3 years old.
Conservation / Threats
The Queen snake is listed as "Least Concern species" by the IUCN and has no special status in CITES. Their population is considered stable throughout most of their range, presumably exceeding 100,000 individuals.
They are found only where crayfish is also present and abundant, usually in moderate or fast flowing streams so every threat to the crayfish will also affect these snakes.
Did You Know?
In one bite of the australian inland taipan there's enough venom to kill up to 100 full grown men.