Species group: Insect-Eating Snakes
Other common names: DeKay’s Snake
Scientific name: Storeria dekayi dekayi
One of the USA’s most widespread and common snakes, this diminutive creature ranges from southern Canada through much of the eastern USA to North Carolina. Six additional subspecies are found across the rest of the USA, and in Mexico and Guatemala. The Brown Snake is equally at home in fields, swamps, forest edges or suburban yards, and even manages to survive in parks within NYC and other urban areas. It is often the first (and, in cities, the only!) snake to be found and brought home by children.
Appearance / health:
The slender, graceful Brown Snake averages a mere 9-13 inches in length, although some individuals may reach 20 inches or so. It is often confused with the Garter Snake, which occupies similar habitats. It is clad in various shades of brown (no surprises there!) or tan, with some individuals sporting a most attractive reddish hue. Two lines of black spots run along the back.
Behavior / temperament:
Shy and always on guard (they are on the menus of a great many predators!) these little snakes can rarely even be induced to bite. Stressed individuals may release musk, but most take short periods of gentle handling in stride.
A single Brown Snake will do fine in a 10 gallon aquarium; a 20 gallon will support 2-3 adults. Unlike most snakes, they do not fare well on newspapers, aspen shavings or similar substrates. Their terrarium should instead be furnished with a mixture of dead leaves and coco-husk. Most will shelter below the substrate, but a dark cave stocked with moist sphagnum moss should also be provided. The tank’s screen lid should be secured by cage clips. Due to their small size, Brown Snakes are ideal inhabitants of naturalistic terrariums provisioned with live plants. Ambient temperature: 72-78 F; Basking temperature: 85 F
If droppings are removed regularly, there is usually little need to break down and clean the entire terrarium, especially if live plants are established. The tank should be misted daily, and the moss within their cave should be kept slightly moist.
The natural diet includes earthworms, beetle grubs, slugs and other soft-bodied invertebrates. Pets do fine on a base diet of earthworms, waxworms and butterworms. A shallow water bowl should be available.
Well-adjusted Brown Snakes often delight their owners by reproducing. Five to thirty young are born alive at various times from spring through fall. Slender and measuring only 3 to 4 ½ inches in length, they might easily be mistaken for earthworms were it not for their alert demeanors and active lifestyles. A short cooling off period and reduced light cycle may encourage breeding, but is not essential.
Written by Frank Indiviglio
children, little brown snake
live plants, gentle handling, Room temperatures, naturalistic setups
IDK Where Have Dekay's Brown Snakes Been All My Life?
My oldest nephew, now 15, has worked to put money back for his future first wheels and his education since he was in elementary school. Tenacious and pragmatic, he enlists my help whenever possible to cart him from one odd job to another. Three years ago, a friend of ours asked if D would like to take over his lawn care, and the job was to be a demanding one with grass cutting, shrub trimming, and a little clearing to make up the bulk of his tasks. When D accepted, I agreed to take him out there.
In the heat of that Alabama summer day that he began this detail, I put myself in charge of sweet iced tea duty. As I brewed the tea, D came running in, yelling, "I found a ground rattler! Give me a jar!" Umm, whuh?!
Quickly I ran behind him to caution him regarding touching the snake, discuss relocation (which I did not plan for him to handle), and negate whatever overweening sense of boyish adventure was happening out there. The lawn's owner was excited, too.
Leaning over to gaze at the bed of canna lily roots where the little brown snake sat surprised and confused, I said these things:
NO, you may not touch him.
Yes, I will gather him for you.
I am not promising that you may keep him.
Let's do a little investigation.
What we found is that this particular snake was a DeKay Brown Snake. DeKay's are native to Alabama but in constant danger, if discovered, because folks tend to identify them as "ground rattlers," quickly hoeing them to death as the dangerous offspring of venomous adults. My personal feeling is that snakes serve an important role in their ecosystems and that they should be left alone whenever possible, but--after careful consideration--we decided that this little fellow might be happy living with me. I confirmed this supposition by calling a biology professor/snake afficionado friend of mine who was excited to see the little fellow.
My nephew beamed throughout the day, and we had a great time purchasing habitat and accoutrements for his new friend. Naming his snake IDK (I Don't Know) jokingly, D set about to make this little fellow as comfortable as possible.
Little is known about DeKay's as they tend to keep to themselves, are hard to spot, are often killed when spotted, and are infrequently observed. What we discovered is that they love to eat slugs but will accept earthworms. Once a week, D provides a couple of lil slugs or a large one, and these he collects from beneath my birdbath, flower pots, and other slug-friendly shelters. In the winter or other times when slugs are harder to come by, he harvests a small earthworm from my organic garden worm bins. We sometimes feel pretty sad about that since those worms are like pets, too.
D keeps IDK's habitat clean and comfortable with a substrate of natural components taken from the very types of moist forest area where he was found. Included are soil, pebbles, a log, and other items for shelter. His prime habitat temperature seems to be about 80 degrees Fahrenheit.
IDK is a surprisingly good-natured pet. Full grown, he is only 18 inches long, very narrow, extremely attractive, and friendly, crawling into D's hand whenever D offers it.
Before taking IDK out of his natural habitat, D and I determined that DeKay's Brown Snakes are neither endangered nor protected creatures. While I have heard that pet stores in the region do carry these from time to time, I feel it necessary to warn folks not to collect snakes for themselves routinely. Some snakes will behave aggressively and others will be endangered by their removal from nature..
From Nolaerus Feb 20 2014 12:47PM
This snake is often the first encountered by children, as it can be found even in large US cities. Yet it is interesting enough for even the most advanced owner. It tops out at 12-13 inches in length; 2-3 can be housed in a 20 gallon aquarium. they do best in naturalistic set-ups provisioned with live plants, and is such will provide much of interest to observe. Room temperatures, with a basking spot of 85F, suffice, and they do well on a diet of earthworms, wax worms and butter worms; slugs, beetle grubs and the like can also be offered. They are shy, but accept gentle handling and can rarely be induced to bite.
From findiviglio Jan 19 2014 11:14PM