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Fall 2011

Urban Jungle

The changing natural world at our doorsteps | Illustration and text by Patterson Clark      

DeKay's brown snake, Storeria dekayi

November 1, 2011

DeKay’s brown snake: A discreet reptile makes a conspicuous journey

In eastern U.S. cities and rural lowlands, a common but shy snake is on the move.

DeKay's brown snakes spent spring, summer and early fall hiding under rocks, logs and leaves, feasting on earthworms and slugs, while avoiding the jays, cats and shrews that would make a meal out of the 6- to 13-inch reptiles.

But in late October and early November, the little

snakes expose themselves as they abandon their hiding places and slither across gardens and paths in search of hibernation holes, or hibernacula, which they often share with other small snake species.

A common option for a hibernaculum is an ant nest.

Without any larvae or pupae to defend in the late fall, ants are much less likely to attack snakes

entering their burrows. After the ants have retreated to the deeper recesses of the nest, snakes slither down the tunnels to hibernate just above their hosts, but still below the frost line.

Sources: Transactions of the Kansas Academy of Sciences; Savannah River Ecology Laboratory, University of Georgia; University of Michigan Museum of Zoology