Overview

Distribution

Range Description

This species occurs widely in the east of the United States, and extends into southern Canada. Its range extends from the southern Great Lakes region (southeastern Wisconsin, Michigan, southern Ontario, and western New York) to the Gulf Coast of the Florida panhandle, and east to southeastern Pennsylvania, western New Jersey, and northern Delmarva Peninsula, and west disjunctly to Missouri (apparently extirpated, Johnson 2000) and Arkansas (Barbour 1971, Mount 1975, Mitchell 1994, Palmer and Braswell 1995, Harding 1997, Phillips et al. 1999, Hulse et al. 2001, Ernst 2002, White and White 2002, Ernst and Ernst 2003, Gibbons and Dorcas 2004, Trauth et al. 2004).
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Geographic Range

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.

Biogeographic Regions: nearctic (Native )

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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.

Biogeographic Regions: nearctic (Native )

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occurs (regularly, as a native taxon) in multiple nations

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National Distribution

Canada

Origin: Native

Regularity: Regularly occurring

Currently: Present

Confidence: Confident

Type of Residency: Year-round

United States

Origin: Native

Regularity: Regularly occurring

Currently: Present

Confidence: Confident

Type of Residency: Year-round

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Global Range: (200,000-2,500,000 square km (about 80,000-1,000,000 square miles)) The range extends from the southern Great Lakes region (southeastern Wisconsin, Michigan, southern Ontario, and western New York) to the Gulf Coast of the Florida panhandle, and east to southeastern Pennsylvania, western New Jersey, and northern Delmarva Peninsula, and west disjunctly to Missouri (extirpated, Johnson 2000) and Arkansas (Barbour 1971, Mount 1975, Mitchell 1994, Palmer and Braswell 1995, Harding 1997, Phillips et al. 1999, Hulse et al. 2001, Ernst 2002, White and White 2002, Ernst and Ernst 2003, Gibbons and Dorcas 2004, Trauth et al. 2004).

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Continent: North-America
Distribution: SE Canada (Ontario), USA (Arkansas, SE Wisconsin, NE Illinois, Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, W New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, West Virginia, Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, N/W Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, SW Missouri, NW Florida)  
Type locality: Pennsylvania
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Physical Description

Morphology

Physical Description

Queen snakes are Colubridae 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 Thamnophis, queen snakes have a divided anal plate and lack a light dorsal stripe.

Range length: 34 to 92.2 cm.

Other Physical Features: ectothermic ; heterothermic ; bilateral symmetry

Sexual Dimorphism: sexes alike

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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.

Range length: 34 to 92.2 cm.

Other Physical Features: ectothermic ; heterothermic ; bilateral symmetry

Sexual Dimorphism: sexes alike

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Size

Length: 93 cm

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Ecology

Habitat

Habitat and Ecology

Habitat and Ecology
This snake occurs only where crayfish are present and fairly abundant, generally in moderate to fast-flowing streams with ample cover, wooded or open conditions, and good exposure to sun. Habitat has been characterized as follows: streams with vegetation along the shoreline, and rocky (north) or sandy (south) bottoms (Gibbons and Dorcas 2004); clean streams or marshes of open areas or woodlands (Ernst and Ernst 2003); small clear creeks with rocky or dandy bottoms, stream impoundments (Alabama; Mount 1975); woodland streams and cypress domes (Florida; Tennant 1997); exposed rocky river shorelines (Arkansas; Trauth et al. 2004); shallow rocky streams in agricultural, urban, and forested areas (Virginia; Mitchell 1994); shallow streams and rivers with plenty of sun, rocks, and overhanging shrubs and small trees (North Carolina; Palmer and Braswell 1995); unpolluted rocky woodland streams (Illinois; Phillips et al. 1999); small rocky streams in wooded areas or open pastures, swampy woods (Kentucky; Barbour 1971); clear, spring-fed streams with moderate to fast currents and rocky bottoms, in lowland hardwood forests and shrub-carr communities (Wisconsin; Vogt 1981). In some areas the habitat may include slow-moving streams, ditches, canals, freshwater marshes, or the edges of ponds or lakes (Mitchell 1994, Harding 1997, Hulse et al. 2001, Gibbons and Dorcas 2004), but this species generally is uncommon or absent from these habitats (Palmer and Braswell 1995, Minton 2001). This snake basks on branches overhanging the water. Sometimes it travels on land away from water. Refuges include burrows, rocks, logs, and other cover.

Systems
  • Freshwater
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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.

Habitat Regions: temperate ; freshwater

Aquatic Biomes: lakes and ponds; rivers and streams

Wetlands: marsh ; swamp

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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.

Habitat Regions: temperate ; freshwater

Aquatic Biomes: lakes and ponds; rivers and streams

Wetlands: marsh ; swamp

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Comments: This snake occurs only where crayfish are present and fairly abundant, generally in moderate to fast-flowing streams with ample cover, wooded or open conditions, and good exposure to sun. Habitat has been characterized as follows: streams with vegetation along the shoreline, and rocky (north) or sandy (south) bottoms (Gibbons and Dorcas 2004); clean streams or marshes of open areas or woodlands (Ernst and Ernst 2003); small clear creeks with rocky or dandy bottoms, stream impoundments (Alabama; Mount 1975); woodland streams and cypress domes (Florida; Tennant 1997); exposed rocky river shorelines (Arkansas; Trauth et al. 2004); shallow rocky streams in agricultural, urban, and forested areas (Virginia; Mitchell 1994); shallow streams and rivers with plenty of sun, rocks, and overhanging shrubs and small trees (North Carolina; Palmer and Braswell 1995); unpolluted rocky woodland streams (Illinois; Phillips et al. 1999); small rocky streams in wooded areas or open pastures, swampy woods (Kentucky; Barbour 1971); clear, spring-fed streams with moderate to fast currents and rocky bottoms, in lowland hardwood forests and shrub-carr communities (Wisconsin; Vogt 1981). In some areas the habitat may include slow-moving streams, ditches, canals, freshwater marshes, or the edges of ponds or lakes (Mitchell 1994, Harding 1997, Hulse et al. 2001, Gibbons and Dorcas 2004), but this species generally is uncommon or absent from these habitats (Palmer and Braswell 1995, Minton 2001). This snake basks on branches overhanging the water. Sometimes it travels on land away from water. Refuges include burrows, rocks, logs, and other cover.

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Migration

Non-Migrant: No. All populations of this species make significant seasonal migrations.

Locally Migrant: No. No populations of this species make local extended movements (generally less than 200 km) at particular times of the year (e.g., to breeding or wintering grounds, to hibernation sites).

Locally Migrant: No. No populations of this species make annual migrations of over 200 km.

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Trophic Strategy

Food Habits

Queen snakes eat mainly Astacoidea. They prefer to eat freshly molted crayfish to avoid eating the hard exoskeletons. Occasionally they take small Actinopterygii and Anura. 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.

Animal Foods: amphibians; fish; aquatic crustaceans

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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.

Animal Foods: amphibians; fish; aquatic crustaceans

Primary Diet: carnivore (Eats non-insect arthropods)

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Comments: Eats almost exclusively crayfish; occasionally also small fishes, amphibian larvae, or other small animals (Branson and Baker 1974; Lee et al., 2004, Herpetological Review 35:72).

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Associations

Ecosystem Roles

Queen snakes prey on crayfish and are also prey for many small to medium-sized predators.

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Predation

Queen snakes are preyed on by Ardeidae and Procyon lotor. 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.

Known Predators:

  • herons (Ardeidae)
  • raccoons (Procyon_lotor)
  • northern river otters (Lontra_canadensis)
  • American mink (Neovison_vison)
  • larger snakes (Serpentes)
  • predatory fish (Actinopterygii)
  • large frogs (Rana)
  • hawks (Accipitridae)

Anti-predator Adaptations: cryptic

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Ecosystem Roles

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

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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.

Known Predators:

Anti-predator Adaptations: cryptic

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Population Biology

Number of Occurrences

Note: For many non-migratory species, occurrences are roughly equivalent to populations.

Estimated Number of Occurrences: 81 to >300

Comments: This species is represetned by a large number of occurrences (subpopulations) (see county distribution map in Gibbons and Dorcas 2004). Palmer and Braswell (1995) mapped over 100 collection sites in North Carolina alone.

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Global Abundance

100,000 - 1,000,000 individuals

Comments: Adult population size is unknown but presumably exceeds 100,000. This snake is common in many areas with suitable habitat. It is common along many streams above the Fall Line in Alabama (Mount 1975); uncommon in most of the range in Illinois, but locally abundant in good habitat (Phillips et al. 1999); uncommon and local in most of the range in the Great Lakes region, but locally common where ideal habitat remains (Harding 1997).

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Life History and Behavior

Behavior

Communication and Perception

Like other Serpentes, 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.

Communication Channels: chemical

Perception Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic ; vibrations ; chemical

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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.

Communication Channels: chemical

Perception Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic ; vibrations ; chemical

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Cyclicity

Comments: Active May-September in north (Vogt 1981). Active day or night in south (Mount 1975), reportedly not active at night in Indiana (Minton 1972).

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Life Cycle

Development

The eggs of queen snakes develop within the bodies of females, where they hatch. Females then give birth to live young.

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Development

The eggs of queen snakes develop within the bodies of females, where they hatch. Females then give birth to live young.

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Life Expectancy

Lifespan/Longevity

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

Range lifespan

Status: captivity:
19 (high) years.

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Lifespan/Longevity

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

Range lifespan

Status: captivity:
19 (high) years.

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Lifespan, longevity, and ageing

Maximum longevity: 19.3 years (captivity)
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Reproduction

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.

Mating System: polygynous

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.

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.

Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; seasonal breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); oviparous

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.

Parental Investment: no parental involvement; pre-fertilization (Provisioning, Protecting: Female); pre-hatching/birth (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Female)

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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.

Mating System: polygynous

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.

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.

Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; seasonal breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); oviparous

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

Parental Investment: no parental involvement; pre-fertilization (Provisioning, Protecting: Female); pre-hatching/birth (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Female)

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Gives birth to 5-31 young, July-early September (Behler and King 1979, Ashton and Ashton 1981). Males sexually mature in 2 years, females in 3 years (Vogt 1981).

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Molecular Biology and Genetics

Molecular Biology

Statistics of barcoding coverage: Regina septemvittata

Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLDS) Stats
Public Records: 0
Specimens with Barcodes: 3
Species With Barcodes: 1
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Conservation

Conservation Status

IUCN Red List Assessment


Red List Category
LC
Least Concern

Red List Criteria

Version
3.1

Year Assessed
2007

Assessor/s
Hammerson, G.A.

Reviewer/s
Cox, N., Chanson, J.S. & Stuart, S.N. (Global Reptile Assessment Coordinating Team)

Contributor/s

Justification
Listed as Least Concern in view of its wide distribution, presumed large population, and because it is unlikely to be declining fast enough to qualify for listing in a more threatened category.
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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.

IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: least concern

US Federal List: no special status

CITES: no special status

State of Michigan List: no special status

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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.

US Federal List: no special status

CITES: no special status

State of Michigan List: no special status

IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: least concern

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National NatureServe Conservation Status

Canada

Rounded National Status Rank: N2 - Imperiled

United States

Rounded National Status Rank: N5 - Secure

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NatureServe Conservation Status

Rounded Global Status Rank: G5 - Secure

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Population

Population
This species is represented by a large number of occurrences (subpopulations) (see county distribution map in Gibbons and Dorcas 2004). Palmer and Braswell (1995) mapped over 100 collection sites in North Carolina alone. The adult population size is unknown but presumably exceeds 100,000. This snake is common in many areas with suitable habitat. It is common along many streams above the Fall Line in Alabama (Mount 1975); uncommon in most of the range in Illinois, but locally abundant in good habitat (Phillips et al. 1999); uncommon and local in most of the range in the Great Lakes region, but locally common where ideal habitat remains (Harding 1997). Its area of occupancy, number of subpopulations, and population size appear to have declined in some parts of the range (Ernst and Ernst 2003), but the degree of decline is unknown. In the Great Lakes region, numbers have declined in many places due largely to habitat degradation; this species is now scarce or absent in many stream that once harbored healthy populations (Harding 1997). This species appears to be declining on the Delmarva Peninsula (White and White 2002). Currently, extent of occurrence, area of occupancy, number of subpopulations, and population size are probably relatively stable or declining at a rate of less than 10% over 10 years or three generations.

Population Trend
Stable
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Global Short Term Trend: Relatively stable (=10% change)

Comments: Currently, extent of occurrence, area of occupnacy, number of subpopulations, and population size probably are relatively stable or declining at a rate of less than 10 percent over 10 years or three generations.

Global Long Term Trend: Relatively stable to decline of 50%

Comments: Area of occupancy, number of subpopulations, and population size appear to have declined in some parts of the range (Ernst and Ernst 2003), but the degree of decline is unknown. In the Great Lakes region, numbers have declined in many places due largely to habitat degradation; this species is now scarce or absent in many stream that once harbored healthy populations (Harding 1997). This species appears to be declining on the Delmarva Peninsula (White and White 2002).

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Threats

Major Threats
Threats and declines appear to be greatest in the northern or peripheral parts of the range where habitat alteration has negatively affected crayfish populations (Gibbons and Dorcas 2004). Ernst and Ernst (2003) stated that water pollution and acid rain have combined to reduce crayfish populations in many parts of the eastern portion of the snake's range, and that this, along with drainage of wetlands, has eliminated the Queen Snake from many areas where it was once common. In Arkansas, eutrophication due to livestock or poultry waste runoff into streams is a possible threat, as is "overuse of water resources by human recreational activities" (Trauth et al. 2004). In the Great Lakes region, siltation from urban or agricultural runoff may reduce or eliminate crayfish populations (Harding 1997). Threats in Illinois include pollution that reduces crayfish populations and siltation of rocky stream bottoms (Phillips et al. 1999). Anecdotal evidence suggests that local populations in the northeastern United States are being reduced in numbers or extirpated as a result of adverse effects of stream degradation and pollution on crayfish (Mitchell 1994, Hulse et al. 2001, White and White 2002). Other potential threats include stream channelization and large impoundments (Mitchell 1994).
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Degree of Threat: Medium

Comments: Threats and declines appear to be greatest in the northern or peripheral parts of the range where habitat alteration has negatively affected crayfish populations (Gibbons and Dorcas 2004). Ernst and Ernst (2003) stated that water pollution and acid rain have combined to reduce crayfish populations in many parts of the eastern portion of the snake's range, and that this, along with drainage of wetlands, has eliminated the queen snake from many areas where it was once common. In Arkansas, eutrophication due to livestock or poultry waste runoff into streams is a possible threat, as is "overuse of water resources by human recreational activities" (Trauth et al. 2004). In the Great Lakes region, siltation from urban or agricultural runoff may reduce or eliminate crayfish populations (Harding 1997). Threats in Illinois include pollution that reduces crayfish populations and siltation of rocky stream bottoms (Phillips et al. 1999). Anecdotal evidence suggests that local populations in the northeastern United States are being reduced in numbers or extirpated as a result of adverse effects of stream degradation and pollution on crayfish (Mitchell 1994, Hulse et al. 2001, White and White 2002). Other potential threats include stream channelization and large impoundments (Mitchell 1994).

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Management

Conservation Actions

Conservation Actions
Many occurrences are in protected areas.
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Global Protection: Many to very many (13 to >40) occurrences appropriately protected and managed

Comments: Many occurrences are in protected areas.

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Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems

Benefits

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.

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Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

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

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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.

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Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

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

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Wikipedia

Queen snake

The queen snake (Regina septemvittata) is a species of nonvenomous snake, a member of the colubrid family of snakes. It is endemic to North America.

Geographic range[edit]

This species ranges through the temperate region of North America east of the Mississippi River from western New York state to Wisconsin and south to Alabama and northern Florida. It is also found in the southwestern parts of Ontario.

ventral surface

Appearance[edit]

The queen snake is similar in appearance to a garter snake, genus Thamnophis, so is often confused with that group. The queen snake is olive to gray or dark brown in overall coloration, with peach or yellow stripes that run down its length at the first scale row. There are also four prominent ventral stripes of a darker colour, and as no other similar species has stripes running down the length of its belly, this is an important feature in identifying this snake. In the young and juvenile snakes there are three extra stripes: one stripe that runs along the vertebral dorsal scales, and two stripes (one on each side) that run down the length of the body at scale rows five and six. These extra stripes tend to fade as the snake matures, but when young the snake will have a total of seven stripes, three on the back and four on the belly, which gives cause for its taxonomical reference name, Regina (queen) septemvittata (seven-striped). The belly of the snake is a cream to yellow colour.

The head of the queen snake is narrow and has nine large plate-like scales on the top and the chin has several rows of thicker scales. This is a protective adaptation, for the snake's feeding habit of chasing its prey under rocks. The pupils of the eye are round, a feature shared with most other colubrids. There are 19 scale rows at midbody and these scales are keeled, and the anal plate is divided. The sexes are often difficult to distinguish based on external characteristics. Male queen snakes have relatively longer tails than females. Males have from 65 to 89 subcaudal scutes (average 76), with the tail from 23% to 34% of the snake's total length. Females have 54 to 87 subcaudals (average 69), with tails equal to 19% to 27% of total length.

9 plate-like scales on head

Queen snakes are not large, and they seldom grow more than 24 inches (60 cm.) in length. The females are generally slightly larger than the male and female queen snakes will be fully mature at three years of age, the males at two. Breeding takes place in the spring and autumn months. If mating was in the autumn, the female can delay giving birth till spring, storing the energy she will need through the months that she will be hibernating. This snake is ovoviviparous, the female giving birth to live young after carrying the eggs within her body. This differs from oviparous and viviparous snakes. Litter size can vary from 5 to 20, and the time for an individual birth is from 1.5 to 2.5 minutes. Time between individual births is 4 minutes to 1 hour, with the average time being 11 minutes.

The newly born snakes will be approximately 6 in (15 cm) long and weigh 0.1 oz (3 g). Newborn snakes begin to grow very rapidly and may shed their skin twice in their first week while living on the nutrient rich yolk stores they preserve through this time in their lives. The baby snakes are able to swim and move about and they must fend for themselves independently directly after birth. Juvenile queen snakes range from 17.5 to 23 cm (6.9 to 9 in) in length.

Habitat[edit]

The habitat requirements for the queen snake are very specific, and this snake is never found in areas that lack clean running streams and watersheds with stony and rocky bottoms. The water temperature must be a minimum of 50°F (10°C) during the snake's active months. This is in a large part due to the snake's dietary requirements. They subsist almost entirely on fresh water crayfish. It preys almost exclusively on newly-molted crayfish, which are not able to defend themselves effectively with their pincers. One study indicates that this type of snake may consume over 90% of its diet strictly on crayfish.[1] Other sources of food include frogs, tadpoles, newts, minnows, snails, and fairy shrimp. The queen snake does not find its food by sight or heat detection, but by smell, using its tongue to carry the scent of its prey to receptors within its mouth. In this way it is able to home in on its prey, even under water.

Habits[edit]

The queen snake hibernates throughout the winter months, and groups of them can be found in "hibernacula", near water. These hibernation dens can be inside old bridge abutments, cracked concrete retaining walls and dams, and in niches of bedrock. During this time, the snakes are lethargic, and their main prey, crayfish, may become the predator, particularly of the young snakes.

basking

It is a diurnal species, but it can be found moving about and hunting at night as well. They are often found by turning over rocks within or near the brooks and streams they inhabit. They will also come out of the water to bask in the sun, often perching on branches or roots above or near the waters edge. Queen snakes are very alert to any potential danger and will drop into the water when disturbed. They are rather docile snakes, not too likely to bite and can be easily handled. However, in doing so, one risks being polluted by malodorous feces and anal musk, similar to the behaviour of the garter snake in this defense.

Predators of queen snakes are raccoons, otters, mink, hawks and herons. Large frogs and fish will also eat the young snakes. The main threat to the queen snake is habitat loss as waterways are drained, disturbed or polluted. Crayfish, their main food, are sensitive to acidification and accumulation of heavy metals. Thus, as waterways have become polluted and crayfish have died out, the queen snake population has declined throughout its former range. In many areas the queen snake has disappeared or has become in danger of doing so.

Popular culture[edit]

Linus van Pelt, from the Peanuts comic strip, has a phobia of queen snakes, believing them to be venomous, and finds them ugly.[citation needed]

Sources[edit]

  • Whit Gibbons and Michael Dorcas, 2005. Snakes of the Southeast. Athens, Georgia: University of Georgia Press. ISBN 0-8203-2652-6.
  • Michigan Snakes: A Field Guide and Pocket Reference (1989; rev. 1998) by J.A. Holman, J.H. Harding, M.M. Hensley, and G.R. Dudderar, Michigan State University Cooperative Extension Service, East Lansing, E-2000.
  • Smith, Kim. 1999. COSEWIC Status Report on the QUEEN SNAKE, Regina septemvittata. Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada. 27 pp.

Further reading[edit]

  • Say, T. 1825. Descriptions of three new species of COLUBER, inhabiting the United States. Journ. Acad. Nat. Sci. Philadelphia 4 (2): 237-241. (Coluber septemvittatus, pp. 240–241.)
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Names and Taxonomy

Taxonomy

Comments: Molecular data indicate that Regina is polyphyletic; a taxonomic revision is warranted (Alfaro and Arnold 2001). See Ernst et al. (2002) for a discussion of the taxonomy of Regina.

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