Dekay's Brownsnake Storeria dekayi

Adult from Jennings County

Identification

This small, grayish brown snake may be encountered in backyard gardens and city parks throughout the state. The head is darker than the body and one or two dark spots are usually present beneath and behind the eye. They are otherwise relatively drab, but have a faint stripe bordered by small dark spots down the back. Some adult Dekay's Brownsnakes grow to just over a foot (30 cm) in length, but most are smaller.

Juvenile from Tippecanoe County
Adult from Newton County

Red-Bellied Snakes are similar at first glance, but Dekay's Brownsnakes lack the distinctive red belly of their close relative. Juvenile Common Gartersnakes and other Thamnophis are also similar, but have more distinctive dorsal stripes.

Ecology and Conservation

Although adaptable to a wide range of habitats, the Dekay's Brownsnake prefers moist, open prairies and meadows. They can also sometimes be found in gardens feeding upon slugs and snails, thus benefiting a potentially frustrated gardener. They also eat earthworms.

Remnant prairie in Lake County

Distribution

These snakes are found throughout Indiana in a wide variety of habitats, but are most abundant in moist, open areas such as meadows, wetland margins, and forest edges. They adapt well to disturbance and are often found in abandoned urban lots, suburban yards, and railroad right of ways.

Taxonomy

Some scientists recognize multiple subspecies with the Dekay's Brownsnake (Storeria dekayi); Pyron et al. (2016) recommended the elevation of one subspecies to a distinct species and argued against the recognition of other subspecies. Under the earlier taxonomy, Indiana was home to the Midland Brownsnake (S. d. wrightorum), perhaps with some influence from the Northern Brownsnake (S. d. dekayi). These snakes are members of the family Colubridae, which is represented by a total of 28 species in Indiana.

Literature Cited

Conant, R. and J. T . Collins. 1998. Reptiles and Amphibians of Eastern and Central North America. Third Edition, Expanded. Houghton Mifflin, New York, NY.

Minton, S. A. Jr. 2001. Amphibians and Reptiles of Indiana. Indiana Academy of Science, Indianapolis, IN.

Pyron, R. A., F. W. Hsieh, A. R. Lemmon, E. M. Lemmon, and C. R. Hendry. 2016. Integrating phylogenomic and morphological data to assess candidate species-delimitation models in brown and red-bellied snakes (Storeria). Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society, 177:937-949.

Distribution Map
Distribution map of Dekay's Brownsnake (Storeria dekayi)
Photographs