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Queensnake

Regina septemvittata

Family: Colubridae

COSEWIC status:
  • Endangered
SARA status:
  • Endangered
IUCN status:
  • Least Concern

Description

The Queensnake is olive to dark brown, with three slightly darker (often hard to see) stripes running down its back. Distinctive cream coloured stripes run along the lower sides of the body, and the belly is cream with four distinct brown stripes, two of which are down the centre of the belly. The belly stripes can become mottled with age appearing indistinct along the lower 3/4 of the snake. It has keeled scales. This species can grow to almost a metre in length, though most specimens are much smaller.

Similar Species

No other snake species within the range of the Queensnake has a striped belly. Queensnakes may be confused with Northern Watersnakes, Eastern Ribbonsnakes, Northern Brownsnakes and Eastern Gartersnakes. Young watersnakes are strongly patterned, but larger adults may be quite dark and have faint horizontal banding, whereas Queensnakes have no banding, as well as the pronounced cream stripes along their sides. Although ribbonsnakes, gartersnakes and Queensnakes all have a light coloured stripe along each side of the body, the former two species have a third yellow stripe down the back whereas Queensnakes have three dark stripes down the back. Northern Brownsnakes have an unmarked belly, and usually a lighter tan central stripe with small dark spots that runs down the back.

Distribution

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The Canadian range of the Queensnake is limited to southwestern Ontario and the Bruce Peninsula, where its distribution is quite restricted. Recently, the Queensnake was rediscovered on the Bruce Peninsula, an area from which this species was thought to be extirpated. South of Canada, the species ranges over much of the eastern United States, as far south as Florida.

Habitat

The Queensnake is Canada’s most aquatic snake and is seldom found more than a few metres from water. This species inhabits streams and rivers with rocky shorelines and bottoms, and occasionally is found in marshy areas. Rocks and other shoreline debris are important microhabitat features that are used for thermoregulation and as retreat sites. Crayfish are the primary food source so they must be present in the habitat for it to be suitable for Queensnakes. Queensnakes hibernate below the frost line in rock crevices, burrows or other underground cavities or in muskrat and beaver lodges.

Biology

Queensnakes reach maturity at three or four years of age in Canada and individuals can live for more than 20 years. They mate soon after emerging from hibernation in the spring and the females give birth to 8–14 live young in the late summer. At birth, the young are approximately 20 cm in length. This species is primarily diurnal and can often be found basking in grasses and shrubs that overhang the water. The diet of the Queensnake is one of the most restricted of any snake; it feeds almost exclusively on crayfish that have recently moulted.

Threats

The profound changes to the southern Ontario landscape, including wetland drainage, forest clearing and increasingly high human density, all threaten the survival of the Queensnake. Dams can make habitat unsuitable for this species by altering stream flow. Queensnakes are more sensitive to environmental contamination than many other reptile species; pollution and other changes to water quality can affect crayfish populations and subsequently threaten Queensnake populations. Trampling of the shoreline habitat by humans often results in injury and death as individuals are crushed under rocks.

Additional Information About This Species In Canada