Another SW Virginia Herp: the Queen Snake

Queen Snake: Regina septemvittata

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. [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.

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. Where is this lake? At what elevation? Your bird sightings sound like what I would see in many places on the California coast, so I am surprised. Not your snakes.

  2. Thanks for the info on the Queen Snake Fred! I’m glad to hear that their presence is an alert to clean water. Thank you also for reporting the oil dumping to the DEQ, and for the DEQ for being willing to clean it up. Too bad that the dumpers thought there wouldn’t be consequences to their actions. What horrible karma!