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New Jersey Endangered and Threatened Species Field Guide
Species Group: Reptile
A slender snake that reaches lengths of 16-24’ when fully grown. Ground color is tan to dark brown, with a yellow stripe low on the side extends from the snake’s chin to its tail. The belly of the snake is a white to yellow color with four characteristic stripes that make for easy identification. Queen snakes have keeled scales and an anal plate that is divided.
Distribution and Habitat
This species is very rare in New Jersey. Queen snakes have a very narrow range along the Delaware River from Hunterdon County southward to Gloucester County. Within this range, isolated populations may exist in areas with appropriate habitat. However some experts believe this species has actually been extirpated from the state.
Queen snakes dwell where crayfish are available and abundant. Swiftly flowing creeks and streams with rocky bottoms are the preferred habitat for queen snakes. They can be observed in the water, basking along the shoreline, or under nearby rocks or other debris.
Crayfish are the queen snake’s primary food source. The local abundance of crayfish in an area can regulate the presence or absence of this snake. Supplements to the diet include minnows and amphibian larvae. Queen snakes forage for their prey during both day and night.
Queen snakes give birth to live young during midsummer. They typically give birth to 5 to 15 snakes at a time. At birth, the young range from 6-9” in length. Active from early May to early October in our area, large numbers of individuals of this species may form aggregations along stream banks just prior to hibernation.
Current Threats, Status, and Conservation
Declines in crayfish populations throughout the Northeast may partially explain the queen snake’s decline in our region. Water pollution, canalization of streams and rivers, and stream bank erosion may be contributing to the decline of both crayfish and queen snakes.
Studies focusing on the distribution and biology of queen snakes are needed to better understand the potential threats to this species. The possibility exists that this species has been extirpated from New Jersey. Basic survey work is therefore needed to determine if this species is still present in our area. Once viable populations are identified, management plans can be developed to maintain or increase the abundance of queen snakes in New Jersey.
Text derived from the book, Endangered and Threatened Wildlife of New Jersey. 2003. Originally written by Sherry Liguori. Edited and updated by Brian Henderson.
Species: R. septemvittata
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