Queen snakes are common snakes measuring 34 to 92.2 cm in total length. They are brownish or olive-colored on their backs, with a yellow band running down the sides. Younger snakes have horizontal black bands on the back. The stomach scales are bright yellow, with 4 brownish lengthwise stripes that converge towards the tail. Their scales are keeled. Queen snakes have rounded pupils. Unlike similar-looking garter snakes, queen snakes have a divided anal plate and lack a light dorsal stripe.
Queen snakes 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.
Queen snakes spend a lot of time in and around the water. They 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.
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)
Males use their tongues to "smell" for females that are ready to mate. Once they find a female that is ready, they crawl alongside each other and mate.
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)
Females supply their eggs with lots of nutrients and carries them in her body until they are born. Once the young are born, however, females do not provide care.
It is not known how long queen snakes live in the wild. A captive lived for over 19 years. (Harding, 1997)
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)
No information on home ranges is available.
Like other snakes, queen snakes use their sense of smell to find prey and mates. They use their vision as well and are likely to be sensitive to vibrations. Aside from mating, little is known about communication among queen snakes.
Queen snakes eat mainly crayfish. They prefer to eat freshly molted crayfish to avoid eating the hard exoskeletons. Occasionally they take small fish and tadpoles. Queen snakes search for prey by swimming and searching under rocks and other underwater objects where prey are hiding. They flick their tongues in and out of their mouths in the water to find prey through smell.
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.
Queen snakes prey on crayfish and are also prey for many small to medium-sized predators.
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.
Queen snakes are valuable members of the ecosystems they live in.
Queen snake populations are considered stable throughout most of their range. Populations in the Great Lakes region and the Delmarva peninsula of Maryland are declining, mainly as a result of habitat degradation such as development along streams, rivers, and lakes and pollution of aquatic systems.
Tanya Dewey (author), Animal Diversity Web.
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.