Queen snakes (Regina septemvittata) are non-venomous reptiles that are found the Province of Ontario, Canada.
They can also be found in several Northern US states.
This species is also known by several other names. Plus it is a fairly common looking snake with no stand out features.
Some of the names include the olive water snake, pale snake, striped snaked, striped water snake, willow snake, the banded water snake, and so on.
The Queen snake prefers a specialized habitat, hence it’s sustainability is limited to only a few areas.
Because of urbanization and regular adverse conditions in the environment, the Queen snake is unable to survive in most other places in North America and Canada.
The Queen snake belongs to the natricidae family, which is a subgroup of the family Colubridae.
Coincidentally, this species has nothing to do with King Snakes.
This subgroup consists of at least 3 dozen genera which include common snake species like the North American water snakes, the European grass snakes, and garter snakes.
Some of these snakes exhibit strong keeling, which basically means they have rigid scales.
Where Queen Snakes Live
Queen snakes are fairly common. The snakes are found in most of the eastern part of the US, and in southern Canada.
When it comes to Canada, Queen snakes are found in limited locations in the Province of Ontario.
In general, these nondescript snakes are found in the South including the Bruce Peninsula, Brant, Middlesex, Essex, and Huron counties.
Even within these counties, the snake will avoid urban development. They tend to prefer remote locations with water like rivers and streams. This is mostly because there are a lot of juicy crayfish in these areas, which is one of the Queen Snakes favorite meals.
On the other hand, the US is flush with Queen Snakes, and they can be found in many different places
In the US, the Queen snake will inhabit areas throughout Piedmont and mountainous areas of the Eastern and Northern states.
The queen snake is also common in areas around the Great Lakes, East of the Mississippi River, and South of the Carolinas, Alabama, Central Louisiana, parts of Arkansas, Missouri, and Northern Florida.
Physical Attributes, Size, and Longevity
The Queen snake is a slender, non-venomous reptile that grows up to a length of 2-3 feet at maturity.
The snake is uniform brown or dark gray. But, occasionally some snakes may appear olive green to light brown.
Nearly every one of these snakes will have something in common: Three dark stripes run down the entire length of the dorsal and under surface.
On the side, two light yellow/whitish stripes will also be found.
The under surface is uniformly yellow with four dark brown stripes. These stripes are often difficult to see from far and they often fade with age.
The scales are keeled and very soft This allows the snake to swim friction-less in water.
Like many snake species, full grown females are slightly larger than males.
There are no other snakes in Ontario with a striped belly and so it is easy to identify the Queen snake.
However, this royal species is often confused with the northern water snake.
Northern water snakes share a similar habitat, so the two species are often in the same natural areas.
Overall, the banding and stripes and the water snakes are much darker on the sides of the northern water snake, whereas the Queen snake has much-pronounced stripes on its belly.
Lifespan of the Queen Snake
The lifespan of the Queen snake in the wild is usually around 5-10 years.
However, in captivity, the snake will live anywhere between 10-20 years. So, if you plan to have one as a pet, be sure to plan for the long run.
Snakes are a long term commitment, and this species is no exception.
The Queen snake prefers the temperate climate and are found near waterways, rivers, streams, and canals with free-flowing water.
They are a semi-aquatic snake, so in general, you will only find this species near a body of water.
Since the queen snake prefers to hunt crayfish, the water has to be of good quality, which allows the prey to thrive.
The snake will usually reside a few meters away from the shoreline.
However, they tend to hide under nearby under rocks, crevices, or dense collection of leaves. So if you’re looking for one, it may be more difficult to find because they aren’t often out in the open.
Queen Snake Hibernation
The winters in Ontario and North Eastern USA are fierce, long, and wet; thus the Queen snake will hibernate.
Unlike other snakes, it will share its hibernating den with other amphibians, snakes, and even crayfish. The hibernation den (hibernacula) may include an old building, unused old bridge, crevices in bedrocks, or a small cave.
Their hibernation dens are always close to the water in a suitable and secure location.
During the period of hibernation, the snake is lethargic and thus it needs a den that is safe for at least 3-4 months
After emerging from hibernation (sometimes in late March or early April), mating takes place.
The gestation period is about 2-3 months and in late summer, the female gives birth to live young.
A brood may consist of 12-24 live snakes which are about 20 centimeters long.
Over the past few years, it has been noted that most female snakes that live up North have a litter of only 12 live babies.
For the most part, the queen snake is a solitary reptile and will only come together with the male during the breeding season that occurs in spring.
However, in some cases, the mating may also take place in late summer or early autumn.
In the latter scenario, the female will not give birth until hibernation is completed. The queen snake will carry the eggs within its body for about 2-3 months.
All the body energy stored during the winter is devoted to the eggs inside her body.
The female Queen snake is a poor parent and leaves the den once the babies are born. Thus, the baby snakes are left to fend for themselves.
Luckily, they can swim right after birth and know what to eat. Unfortunately, a significant number of them fall prey to other predators… as do most baby animals who are left to fend for themselves.
Growth & Development
At birth, the young snake will only weigh about 2-3 g but will rapidly grow within the first week of life
. It will shed the skin and will live off the nutrient-rich yolk stores preserved within the body.
After 12 months of life, the snake will have reached anywhere from 50-80% of its full length.
After this period, the growth of the queen snake is slow. Sexual maturity for both the male and female snakes occurs at about 2 years of age.
However, females will only breed for the first time when they are about 36 months old.
Queen Snake Diet
Compared to most snakes, the diet of the Queen snake is very restrictive. It primarily feeds on crayfish that have recently molted. When the crayfish population goes down, so does the queen snake population.
Depending on the location, crayfish make up nearly 90% of the diet of this semi-aquatic species.
Alternatively, these snakes will eat just about any aquatic animal: fish, frogs, lizards, etc.
That said, something interesting about this snake is that they strongly prefer freshly molted crayfish. There are two reasons this species avoid hard shell crayfish:
1. By avoiding the hard shell crayfish the queen snake quickly overpowers the molted crayfish which is defenseless
2. The hard shell crayfish have pincers that can cause serious injury to the snakes.
How They Hunt
The Queen snake is an excellent swimmer and actively searches for its prey underwater.
It will search in between the rocks, crevices and other hiding places to look for food.
These snakes use chemosensation to search for prey. What is that, exactly. Well, humans have 5 senses — and some animals have more or different ones than us.
Chemosensation is basically a sense of spatial awareness that this species uses while hunting. Essentially, the snake uses its forked tongue to sense the scent of nearby predators and this allows it to find prey underwater.
The snake’s tongue acts like a chemosensitive radar.
Pretty cool, right?
However, for the queen snake to be successful at hunting crayfish the water temperature has to be at least 50F. Lower water temperatures and cold water make the snake lethargic, which greatly inhibits it’s hunting effectiveness.
The queen snake is a solitary reptile unless it is mating. It prefers the cooler temperatures of the morning and tends to sleep during the night time. However, during the intense summer heat, the snake may rest during the day.
Occasionally the snake may bask in the morning. For the most part, the Queen snake is found living close to the waters. Especially in areas where there is an abundance of crayfish, which make up its diet.
Frequently snakes will be seen basking on trees and shrubs hanging over the water.
If disturbed or threatened it will simply drop into the water and swim away. Even though solitary, the, snake may be seen basking with other snakes, especially the northern watersnake.
Overall, this is a docile species. No need to worry if you run into one in the wild.
Is the Queen Snake Aggressive?
The Queen snake is not venomous nor is it aggressive towards humans. It is a very docile reptile which usually retreats when threatened.
However, when forced to defend it can bite and/or release a foul-smelling secretion that is a good deterrent for most predators.
Queen Snake Bite. Does it Hurt?
As you may have noticed, there are many photos in this post of people holding wild Queen Snakes.
They are an incredibly friendly species, and you can often pick one up in the wild without it being defensive. So, do Queen Snakes Bite?
No, not really. Chances are you will never be bitten by one of these, and even if you do, it won’t hurt at all.
Since this is a non-venomous snake, bites aren’t a serious concern. If you do happen to receive a bite from one of these fellas, simply wash the inflicted area with soap and water.
Also, if you’re at all worried, we always recommend calling a doctors office to be safe.
While Queen snakes love to eat molting crayfish, adult crayfish are known to hunt baby Queen Snakes.
These snakes are also consumed by large birds (herons, hawks), mink, raccoons, mink, skunk, large snakes, and even otters.
The smaller snakes have a wider range of predators since they cannot defend themselves.
Queen Snakes as Pets
The queen snake does not make a good pet primarily because of its restricted diet and lifestyle.
One has to create both a land and water environment for the snake, which means the need for a very large tank.
Plus, one must have a constant supply of molting crayfish, frogs, toads, and minnows.
In addition, this snake does not like to be handled. However, some people have managed to adopt these reptiles as pets with good survival.
Where to Buy Queen Snakes
In Ontario, Canada the snake is a protected species. Therefore, it is not permitted for sale as a pet.
In the US, one can buy the Queen snake from reptile stores, local breeders, or reptile shows. Queen snakes aren’t expensive and will run between $30-$50.
What Threats are Facing the Queen Snake?
Unfortunately, the Queen snake is on the endangered list in Ontario.
In the US, the population of the Queensnake appears to be stable in some states but overall, the numbers of these reptiles are on a decline.
The primary reasons for this include loss of habitat, urbanization, traffic, and road kill, and other predators.
The key threat to the Queen snake is the loss of habitat.
Over the past 4 decades, there has been an explosion in development, particularly in areas where the Queen snake is found.
The development of buildings along the shorelines has significantly disrupted its habitat.
In addition, the waterways in the South have gone through extensive alterations including drainage, pollution, and diversion- all of which affect the sustainability of the crayfish which is the major food source for the Queen snake.
Finally, the snakes fall victim to unknowing humans who mistake the species for a more dangerous snake. Afterall, they look pretty nondescript. To the untrained eye, this may be mistake for a copperhead, especially if it’s a baby.