Another SW Virginia Herp: the Queen Snake
Two days in a row last week, there were three snakes found in the beautyberry bushes below the blackberries we’ve been picking. Sudden discovery of their presence at mid-chest height gave us a sudden start at first, but we were not at risk.
These seldom-seen snakes, when they are observed at all, are seen as splashes into a clear stream from a hanging branch or rocky perch where the queen snake waits between meals. If you find them along your creek, that’s a good sign that the water is clean and pure.
We saw a lot of queen snakes the first few summers we lived on Goose Creek. But the fifth summer and since, until this year, we’ve not seen any. I’m guessing that has something to do with the 55 gallon blue plastic barrel of waste oil (and who knows what else) that some subhuman specimens pushed into the headwaters of Goose Creek the summer of 2005.Â [I reported it to DEQ who came and did what clean-up they could do.]
Queen snakes feed almost exclusively on crayfish. They are distinctive in being the only striped snakes in our area (that I’m aware of) other than the garter snake. One of our three, instead of this blue-black form, was dark yellow-green. The mature snakes have a stripe down their backs, and three on each side, hence the specific epithet, septemvittata. They are harmless and non-aggressive, and I’m glad to have them back–and will know to look for them before reaching far into the berry vines, just so we don’t startle each other too badly.
Also noted: yesterday at Philpott Reservoir, one very large fence swift and a skink (probably a five-lined), both within a few feet of each other, sunning on the rocky banks. Also notable sightings from yesterday: belted kingfisher (carrying a small fish),an osprey, blue heron, little green heron, and a mature bald eagle.