I gave up on my shoes early on. They rested on the bank while I waded into the cold stream, scanning the muddy banks and submerged rocks for herps. It was slightly chilly as spring had only just begun and a cold rain soaked the ground the night before. After at least a half hour of stalking the stream and turning over rocks, I spotted an oddly shaped stick on the bank beside me. But it wasn’t a stick at all! A northern brown snake (Storeria dekayi dekayi) was lying perfectly still on the slope above the water.
S. dekayi range from the tip of Florida to southern Maine and stretch as far west as middle Texas. Another common name for this snake is Dekay’s snake, but it is not used much because people sometimes think you are referring to a “decayed” snake. They are not big, adults averaging 12 inches in Virginia, have keeled scales, and are primarily nocturnal.
There are four subspecies of the brown snake: northern brown snake (S. d. dekayi), midland brown snake (S. d. wrightorum), marsh brown snake (S. d. limnetes), and the Texas brown snake (S. d. texana). The Florida brown snake (Storeria victa) used to be a subspecies but was recently renamed. These snakes can be distinguished by slight differences in patterning and range. Since I was in Williamsburg, VA, I found a northern brown snake.
Their most common prey items are earthworms and slugs, but they have also been recorded to eat salamanders, spiders, an assortment of insects, and snails. A cool fact about them: brown snakes pull the snail out of the shell before eating it (escargot – yum!). Some of their predators include birds, other snakes, mammals, toads, and spiders. It’s tough being so small that even spiders can eat you! The second picture in this article will give an idea of just how small a full grown northern brown snake is.
There are no conservation concerns for Storeria dekayi. In some regions, it is estimated that more individuals thrive in urban parks and lawns than in the forest.
I used “Snakes of the Southeast” by Mike Dorcas and Whit Gibbons and “A Guide to the Snakes of Virginia” published by the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. If you enjoyed this article, be sure to follow my twitter!