Regina septemvittataQueen Snake

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Geographic Range

Queen snakes, Regina septemvittata, range from the southern Great Lakes south to the Florida panhandle and east through the Carolinas and north to southeastern Pennsylvania, New York, and the Georgian Bay in Ontario. These snakes are generally restricted to east of the Mississippi River, although there is a disjunct population in south-central Arkansas and Missouri. A third, small population of queen snakes occurs on Bois Blanc Island in Lake Huron. (Florida Museum of Natural History, 2006; Harding, 1997)

Habitat

Queen snakes are semi-aquatic and are found near shallow, rocky rivers and streams, the edges of lakes, ponds, ditches, and canals, and in marshes. They are found in habitats with abundant crayfish. Preferred habitats are open or partly shaded. Queen snakes bask on rocks and logs along the water's edge or hang from tree limbs above the water. In the northern part of their range they hibernate in the burrows of crayfish or mammals. (Florida Museum of Natural History, 2006; Harding, 1997; International Union for the Conservation of Nature, 2007)

  • Aquatic Biomes
  • lakes and ponds
  • rivers and streams

Physical Description

Queen snakes are colubrid snakes measuring 34 to 92.2 cm in total length. The dorsal surface is typically brownish or olive-colored. The species is distinguishable by a yellow band running horizontally down the sides and onto the labial scales. Younger individuals exhibit horizontal black bands on the dorsum. The ventral scales are bright yellow, with 4 brownish lengthwise stripes that converge towards the tail. Their scales are keeled and there are 19 dorsal rows at the mid-body. Queen snakes have rounded pupils. Unlike similar-looking garter snakes, queen snakes have a divided anal plate and lack a light dorsal stripe. (Florida Museum of Natural History, 2006; Harding, 1997)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • sexes alike
  • Range length
    34 to 92.2 cm
    13.39 to 36.30 in

Development

The eggs of queen snakes develop within the bodies of females, where they hatch. Females then give birth to live young. (Florida Museum of Natural History, 2006)

Reproduction

Males find receptive females by using their tongues to sense chemical cues. If a female is ready to mate, the male aligns his body and vent with hers and copulation ensues. (Florida Museum of Natural History, 2006; Harding, 1997)

Queen snakes breed in the spring, typically in May. They are a live-bearing snake species and give birth to 5 to 31 (usually 10 to 12) from August to September. Males and females reach sexual maturity at 2 years old, but its likely that females don't breed for the first time until they are 3 years old. (Florida Museum of Natural History, 2006; Harding, 1997)

  • Breeding interval
    Queen snakes breed once yearly.
  • Breeding season
    Queen snakes breed in the spring, often in May.
  • Range number of offspring
    5 to 31
  • Average number of offspring
    11
  • Range gestation period
    90 to 120 days
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    2 years
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    2 years

Females expend significant energy in supplying their eggs with nutrients and gestating them. Once the young are born, however, females do not provide care. (Harding, 1997)

  • Parental Investment
  • no parental involvement
  • pre-fertilization
    • provisioning
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female

Lifespan/Longevity

It is not known how long queen snakes live in the wild. A captive lived for over 19 years. (Harding, 1997)

  • Range lifespan
    Status: captivity
    19 (high) years

Behavior

Queen snakes are solitary outside of the breeding season. They are active during the day and throughout the year in warm climates. In the northern part of their range they hibernate through cold weather. (Florida Museum of Natural History, 2006; Harding, 1997)

Home Range

No information on home ranges is available.

Communication and Perception

Like other snakes, queen snakes use their sense of chemical perception (smell) to find prey and mates. They use their vision as well and are likely to be sensitive to vibrations. Aside from mating interactions, little is known about communication among queen snakes. (Harding, 1997)

Food Habits

Queen snakes eat mainly crayfish. They prefer to eat freshly molted crayfish to avoid ingesting the hard exoskeletons. Occasionally they take small fish and tadpoles. Queen snakes search for prey by swimming and searching under rocks and other underwater debris where prey are hiding. They use their powerful sense of chemosensation to find prey. (Florida Museum of Natural History, 2006; Harding, 1997; International Union for the Conservation of Nature, 2007)

  • Primary Diet
  • carnivore
    • eats non-insect arthropods
  • Animal Foods
  • amphibians
  • fish
  • aquatic crustaceans

Predation

Queen snakes are preyed on by herons and raccoons. They may also be eaten by larger snakes, predatory fish, large frogs, hawks, otters, and mink. Small queen snakes may also be threatened by their crayfish prey if grabbed by their strong claws. Queen snakes are not aggressive but will bite if harassed and will smear their attacker with foul smelling secretions if grabbed.

  • Anti-predator Adaptations
  • cryptic

Ecosystem Roles

Queen snakes impact crayfish populations as specialist crayfish predators. They are also prey for many small to medium-sized predators.

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Queen snakes are valuable members of the ecosystems they live in.

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

There are no known negative effects of queen snakes on humans. Some fishermen kill queen snakes because they think they compete with them for fish. They misunderstand what crayfish eat.

Conservation Status

Queen snake populations are considered stable throughout most of their range. Populations in the Great Lakes region and the Delmarva peninsula of Maryland seem to be declining as a result of habitat degradation, such as development along streams, rivers, and lakes, draining of wetlands, and pollution and siltation of aquatic systems. (Florida Museum of Natural History, 2006; Harding, 1997; International Union for the Conservation of Nature, 2007)

Contributors

Tanya Dewey (author), Animal Diversity Web.

Glossary

Nearctic

living in the Nearctic biogeographic province, the northern part of the New World. This includes Greenland, the Canadian Arctic islands, and all of the North American as far south as the highlands of central Mexico.

World Map

acoustic

uses sound to communicate

carnivore

an animal that mainly eats meat

chemical

uses smells or other chemicals to communicate

cryptic

having markings, coloration, shapes, or other features that cause an animal to be camouflaged in its natural environment; being difficult to see or otherwise detect.

diurnal
  1. active during the day, 2. lasting for one day.
freshwater

mainly lives in water that is not salty.

heterothermic

having a body temperature that fluctuates with that of the immediate environment; having no mechanism or a poorly developed mechanism for regulating internal body temperature.

hibernation

the state that some animals enter during winter in which normal physiological processes are significantly reduced, thus lowering the animal's energy requirements. The act or condition of passing winter in a torpid or resting state, typically involving the abandonment of homoiothermy in mammals.

iteroparous

offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).

marsh

marshes are wetland areas often dominated by grasses and reeds.

natatorial

specialized for swimming

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.

oviparous

reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.

polygynous

having more than one female as a mate at one time

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season

sedentary

remains in the same area

solitary

lives alone

swamp

a wetland area that may be permanently or intermittently covered in water, often dominated by woody vegetation.

tactile

uses touch to communicate

temperate

that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).

vibrations

movements of a hard surface that are produced by animals as signals to others

visual

uses sight to communicate

References

Florida Museum of Natural History, 2006. "Regina septemvittata" (On-line). Florida Museum of Natural History. Accessed January 17, 2008 at http://www.flmnh.ufl.edu/herpetology/FL-GUIDE/Reginaseptemvittata.htm.

Harding, J. 1997. Amphibians and Reptiles of the Great Lakes Region. Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press.

International Union for the Conservation of Nature, 2007. "Regina septemvittata" (On-line). IUCN Redlist. Accessed January 17, 2008 at http://www.iucnredlist.org/search/details.php/63887/all.