I’ve heard of snakes with ‘king’ in their names (the King Cobra comes to mind), but I didn’t know there was such a thing as a queen snake. But they are real, and they are pretty cool.

A very dignified looking queen snake. Image by Patrick Coin (Patrick Coin), CC BY-SA 2.5, via Wikimedia Commons

The queen snake can be found in North America, from the Great Lakes in the north to Florida in the south. They love water and usually live next to rivers, ponds, and marshes. They like to have rocks or overhanging trees to bask on, and in the north they spend the winter hibernating in cozy burrows.

These snakes don’t get super big, averaging 60 cm in length. They are dark brown or olive in colour, with yellow stripes running down each side of their bodies. Queen snakes have four dark stripes on their bellies, something which helps differentiate them from the very similar-looking garter snake. They have thicker scales on their chins and on the tops of their heads, which helps protect them while they forage for prey under rocks.

The prey that queen snakes seek is quite specific: they eat crayfish, and have a preference for those that have freshly moulted. There are two major advantages to eating crayfish that have just moulted. Firstly, the snakes don’t have deal with any pesky exoskeletons. Secondly, crayfish have a hard time defending themselves without an exoskeleton. The only problem with this diet is it leaves the snakes vulnerable; if something happens to the crayfish population, queen snakes will have a difficult time. This has happened, thanks to water pollution, which crayfish are particularly sensitive to.

Queen snakes often bask in trees that overhang water. If they are startled, they will quickly drop into the water for protection. Image by Patrick Coin (Patrick Coin), CC BY-SA 2.5, via Wikimedia Commons

Queen snakes have an excellent sense of smell, which they use both to find crayfish underwater and to detect potential mates. Breeding season occurs in May. Female queen snakes give birth to 5-31 live young, after three to four months of gestation. The young snakes become sexually mature after about two years.

I think queen snakes are quite neat, but I do think the people who name snakes are a tad sexist (though they probably didn’t mean to be). After all, snakes with ‘king’ in their name are very badass, while the poor queen snake is so wussy it waits until crayfish can’t defend themselves before hunting them. In fact, crayfish sometimes prey on queen snakes while they’re hibernating. Maybe queen snakes need to toughen up a bit.

Cover image credit: Patrick Coin, again. He takes good pictures. Patrick Coin (Patrick Coin), CC BY-SA 2.5, via Wikimedia Commons, cropped to fit.