The queensnake is dark brown, with three slightly darker (often hard to see) stripes running down its back. A distinctive yellow stripe runs along the lower side of the body, and the belly is yellow with four distinct brown stripes. This species can grow to almost a metre in length.
No other Ontario snakes have a striped belly. Queensnakes are found in the same habitat as northern watersnakes. Young watersnakes are strongly patterned, but larger adults may be quite dark and have faint horizontal banding, whereas queensnakes have faint lateral banding, as well as the pronounced stripes along their sides.
View an interactive map of the known ranges of queensnakes in Ontario.
Queensnakes mate soon after emerging from hibernation in the spring. The females give birth to live young late in the summer. A brood consists of up to 23 young, but more commonly contains about half that number. At birth, the young are approximately 20 centimetres in length.
This species is often found near streams, either basking or under rocks. In the spring and fall, queensnakes may bask communally, even in low shrubs. The diet of the queensnake is one of the most restricted of any snake; it feeds almost exclusively on crayfish that have recently moulted. Little is known about queensnake hibernation sites.
This species, and other harmless snakes that bear live young, were formerly included in the Colubridae family but have recently been placed in the Natricidae family.
Other names: Coluber septemvittatus, Natrix septemvittata
Threats and Trends
The profound changes to the southern Ontario landscape, including wetland drainage, forest clearing and increasingly high human density, all threaten the survival of the queensnake. Dams can make habitat unsuitable for this species by altering stream flow. Queensnakes are more sensitive to environmental contamination than many other reptile species; pollution and other changes to water quality can affect crayfish habitat and subsequently threaten queensnake populations.
Current Status and Protection
The queensnake is currently listed as Endangered under the Ontario Endangered Species Act, 2007 and Endangered under the federal Species at Risk Act. The species has also been designated as a Specially Protected Reptile under the Ontario Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act. These acts offer protection to individuals and their habitat. The habitat of this species is further protected in Ontario by the Provincial Policy Statement under the Planning Act. The International Union for Conservation of Nature lists the global status of the queensnake as Least Concern. The species’ status was last confirmed in 2007. Additional detail about legal protection for species at risk in Ontario is available on our Legal Protection page.
Learn more about reptile and amphibian conservation and what you can do to help these species on our Reptile and Amphibian Stewardship page.