The Dekay’s brownsnake is brown, light brown or grey. It always has two parallel rows of small dark spots bordering a faint, wide stripe down the back. On some brownsnakes, these parallel spots may appear connected. The belly is outlined with black flecks and is usually light brown but sometimes pinkish or tan. This species also has a dark stripe on both sides of the neck behind the eyes and another below each eye. Juvenile Dekay’s brownsnakes may have a light-coloured marking around the neck. The dorsal scales of this species are keeled (ridged down the centre) and the anal plate is divided. The Dekay’s brownsnake is relatively small and grows to just over 50 centimetres in length.
Because of the light-coloured ring-like marking on the neck of the juvenile brownsnake, it may be confused with a ring-necked snake. Ring-necked snakes, however, have smooth scales, a yellow or orange belly and no patterning on the back. Red-bellied snakes have a bright red or sometimes red-orange or pink belly and thin stripes down the back rather than spots.
The Dekay’s brownsnake occurs in forested regions and can be found in diverse habitats, including forests, wetlands, forest clearings, edge habitats and even urban areas. These snakes spend much of their time under logs, rocks, boards, leaves and other cover. They overwinter communally underground or in building foundations.
To view an interactive map of the known ranges of Dekay’s brownsnakes in Ontario.
Dekay’s brownsnakes breed in the spring soon after emerging from hibernation. Females incubate the fertilized eggs internally and give birth to three to 31 live young in late summer. The newborn snakes are about eight to 11 centimetres in length.
These snakes are primarily nocturnal, though they may be active during the day as well. They eat a variety of invertebrates such as insects, slugs and earthworms, and occasionally small fish or amphibians. When threatened, brownsnakes may flatten themselves against the ground and release a foul-smelling musk if handled.
Other names: northern brown snake, northern brownsnake, brown snake, Dekay’s snake
The Dekay’s brownsnake is fairly common and widespread within its Ontario range, although little information on its abundance is available. This species is fairly tolerant of human disturbances to the landscape. Predation, road mortality and pesticide use in urban areas are threats to this species.
Neither the Committee on the Status of Species at Risk in Ontario nor the Committee on the Status of Endangerd Wildlife in Canada have assessed the status of the Dekay’s brownsnake. The species has no protection under the Ontario Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act. The International Union for Conservation of Nature lists the global status of the Dekay’s brownsnake as Least Concern. The species’ status was confirmed in 2012.
Learn more about reptile and amphibian conservation and what you can do to help these species on our Reptile and Amphibian Stewardship page.