Brown Snakes are fairly small snakes, with a total body length of from 23 to 52.7 cm, though few Brown Snakes grow larger than 38 cm in length. They have stout bodies with large eyes and heavily keeled scales(with raised ridges along their length). Brown Snakes are brown, grayish brown,or tan in color, with two parallel rows of spots along the length of their backs. Between these two rows of spots the background color is typically lighter than on the rest of the body. This coloration makes them very difficult to see. Their belly is cream to pinkish in color, with small dark spots along the edges. They have small, dark heads with a darkish band at the jawline. Typically there are 17 scale rows at midbody and the anal plate is divided. Males and females generally look the same, but males tend to have longer tails and females are slightly larger. Young Brown Snakes are small, from 7 to 11.7 cm in length. A distinguishing characteristic of the young is a light grayish-white colored ring found around the neck. At this age they are sometimes confused with Ring-necked Snakes. They are distinguished from Ring-necked Snakes by their keeled scales, Ring-necked Snakes have smooth scales.
Brown Snakes are widely distributed. They are found in southern Canada, in the United States east of the Rocky Mountains, and in the northern portions of Mexico.
Brown snakes are found in a variety of habitats, from dense woods to open prairies and marshes. They prefer moist soils but are also found in dry areas. These wide habitat tolerances mean that brown snakes are also found in urban, suburban, and agricultural areas. Brown snakes are typically found hiding among loose stones, flat rocks, or other forms of cover. These snakes will spend most of their life under the ground, but during heavy rains they will sometimes emerge into the open. They are sometimes seen in October to November and during late March or April, when they are moving to or from hibernation spots. Hibernation spots may be shared with other snakes, such as garter snakes, red-bellied Snakes, and smooth green snakes.
Brown Snakes give birth to from 3 to 41, but more often 10 to 14, live young in late summer, from July to August. Brown snakes reach sexual maturity by the end of their second summer, usually by this time they have doubled in length.
The young are nourished within their mother's body while they develop. Once the young are born there is no further parental care, but sometimes young Brown Snakes will stay near their mother.
Little is known of Brown Snake lifespans in the wild, but a captive individual lived to be 7 years old. Wild Brown Snakes may approach this lifespan in the wild, though many young die before becoming mature.
Brown Snakes are harmless, nonvenemous snakes. They are shy and secretive and spend most of their lives underground or under cover. They hibernate in the burrows of other animals, such as those of rodents, in abandoned anthills, under logs, in rock crevices, or buildings. They share hibernation sites with other species of snakes and typically return year after year to the same hibernation spot. Brown Snakes are most active at night, particularly during the summer, and are mainly solitary animals, except when they congregate at hibernation sites.
Brown Snakes communicate with each other primarily through touch and smell. They use their forked tongues to collect chemicals from the air and insert these forks into a special organ in the roof of their mouth, which interprets these chemical signals. Because Brown Snakes hunt mostly underground and at night, they probably use almost exclusively their sense of smell to find prey. Snakes are also sensitive to vibrations and have reasonably good vision.
Brown snakes feed largely on earthworms, snails, and slugs, but will also eat small salamanders, soft-bodied grubs, and beetles. They have specialized teeth and jaws that allow them to pull snails out of their shells and eat them.
Brown snakes are eaten by large frogs and toads, larger snakes, American crows, hawks, shrews, weasels, blue jays, and domestic cats. When these snakes feel threatened they flatten their bodies to appear larger and place their bodies in an aggressive posture. They will also smear their attacker with a foul-smelling musk that they exude from their cloaca.
Brown Snakes help to control populations of snails, slugs, and earthworms. They also serve as a valuable food supply for their predators.
These little snakes benefit humans by controlling slug and snail damage in gardens.
Brown Snakes are widespread and relatively common but they are adversely affected by development and contamination of the areas that they occupy.
Leslie Seaholm (author), Michigan State University, James Harding (editor), Michigan State University.
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.
an animal that mainly eats meat
mid-altitude coastal areas with mild, rainy winters and long, dry summers. Dominant plant types are dense, evergreen shrubs.
parental care is carried out by females
union of egg and spermatozoan
forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.
animals that have little or no ability to regulate their body temperature, body temperatures fluctuate with the temperature of their environment, often referred to as 'cold-blooded'.
fertilization takes place within the female's body
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).
marshes are wetland areas often dominated by grasses and reeds.
eats mollusks, members of Phylum Mollusca
having the capacity to move from one place to another.
the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.
active during the night
reproduction in which eggs develop within the maternal body without additional nourishment from the parent and hatch within the parent or immediately after laying.
having more than one female as a mate at one time
scrub forests develop in areas that experience dry seasons.
breeding is confined to a particular season
reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female
living in residential areas on the outskirts of large cities or towns.
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).
Living on the ground.
living in cities and large towns, landscapes dominated by human structures and activity.
young are relatively well-developed when born
Collins, J. 1987. Snakes Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company.
Ditmars, R. 1936. The Reptiles of North America. New York: Doubleday, Doran and Company, Inc..
Harding, J. 1997. Amphibians and Reptiles of the Great Lakes Region. Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press.
Simon, H. 1979. Easy Classification Guide to North American Snakes. New York: Dodd, Mead, and Company.