Texas Brown Snake (Storeria dekayi texana)
Round Rock, Texas: September 2, 2002

This snake was found by an inquisitive seven year old boy near his home, on the northwest perimeter of Round Rock, over the Labor Day holiday. This young fellow's mother found the www.bugsinthenews.com website, and called me on the phone. 

Though relatively small, it appears mature. Its body measures 15 inches from snout to tail. The head is less than one-quarter of an inch wide and, when captured, was much narrower than the remainder of the body (up to 5/8ths inch wide at its widest point), with the exception of the last three inches of the tail; this feature was exaggerated by the fact the snake was bearing young at the time. The snake has seven upper labial scales, two of which, directly under the eye, are darkened to form an inverted "V". The dorsal scales are arranged in 17 rows.

My first attempts to identify the species were unsuccessful. Several snakes are similar to this one, having keeled scales, brown dorsal coloration with buff belly, and a broad light-colored mid-dorsal stripe bordered by a series of dark spots. One of these is the Brown Snake (Storeria dekayi) which- in many subspecies- lacks the dark patches on the neck. However, one subspecies has the patches (though they sometimes are joined to form a single patch extending from one side to the other), including the inverted "V" under the eyes, and the same minute dots on the margins of the forward ventral scales. 

The Midland Brown Snake (S. dekayi wrightorum) appeared at first to be the most likely species, but some herpetologists identify another species found in Texas as the Texas Brown Snake (S. dekayi texana) which fits this fellow exactly.  Another is the Night Snake (Hypsiglena torquata), which has the dark patches on the neck, plus another on the nape; H. torquata has prominent dorsal blotches lacking in the snake under investigation, with smooth scales, and is egg-bearing, making it very different from this snake. 

Dorsal scales are minute, keeled, and hydrophilic. This snake was not, initially, fond of water, and when dropped into a small container of water it immediately extricated itself and huddled nearby in a loose, wet coil. This was unusual, because most of the snakes I've studied are fond of water. Most swim vigorously when placed in water and appear to enjoy the experience, but not this one- at least not at first. After a week or so in the enclosure she began taking (infrequent) baths in the water container like her companions. Unlike the lined snake, or the two rat snakes I'm currently studying, water does not bead up and run off her skin, but rather wets the surface as it does with the desert striped whip snake.

I was intrigued by the species name of the Night Snake (H. torquata); torquata (pron. tor'-qwa-ta) which I first guessed to be related, etiologically, to the modern word "torque". That word is used in physics to measure the tendency of a force to cause rotation. I wondered if this might indicate the snake uses spiral wriggles to free itself, as does our snake, but no- I was mistaken. As used in this instance, torquata refers to a torques (pron. tor'-qwez), or distinctive ring pattern of colors or feathers, that encircles an animal's neck. The ancient Gauls, among others, used necklaces of gold they called torques, and the modern word is derived from that usage. Our snake has two distinctive patches of color, but they are not joined to give the impression of a "necklace" as in H. torquata.

S. dekayi texana is found as far north as Wisconsin, and south to the panhandle of Florida. It is not described as being found as far west as Texas, but is common in Louisiana. 

The scales on the underside of the head are distinctive, and are roughly characteristic of published drawings of the Midland Brown Snake. The photo on the left shows that the anal scale (the large scale covering the vent, at mid photo) is divided into two sections. Scales beyond the vent, to the tip of the tail, are also divided. 

Differences between the scale arrangement on the underside of this snake and published drawings of another species, S. dekayi wrightorum, the Midland Brown Snake, are minor. Note the small delta-shaped scale in the middle of the photo. This is missing in a drawing published on the web by the Florida Museum of Natural History,  The scale below that delta, furthermore, appears to be singular in our specimen, but is divided into three parts in the FMNH drawing. Note the lack of symmetry in this scale. The noted differences may reflect typical variations common to this species.  

Because the head is so diminutive, this snake is adapted to feed on small insects, snails, slugs, and earthworms, like the Lined Snake (Tropidoclonion lineatum). However, this snake's belly does not have the unusual markings of the Lined Snake. A minute black dot marks the lateral margins of the forward ventral scales nearest the head. A conspicuous brown and black patch is positioned on each side of the body at the snake's neck. 

The vent (in the photo at right, the opening in the snake's body used for defecation and, when opened, to expose the snake's genital organs) is large and conspicuous. This snake does not use defecation as a defense mechanism, as the lined snake is prone to do. Nor does it release a musk when handled. This snake has a long tail that extends about four inches beyond the vent, wrongly suggesting to me that it was a male, since females of many snake species have shorter tails. To arrive at a firm conclusion about this snake's sex, I would have had to probe its vent with an instrument to determine the presence or absence of hemipenes, the male sexual organs.  I did not do this...  

This snake is not aggressive, and does not attempt to bite, though others report that it can be very aggressive, biting (ineffectively) repeatedly. When handled it wriggles to get free, rotating its body vigorously in the process.  I've not noticed this specific behavioral trait in the other snakes I've handled.

The body of this snake when first captured was soft and spongy, especially in the lower two thirds of its body. Anatomically, the organs found in this portion of a snake's body consist of the lower intestine (when filled with recently ingested food, this area would be distended), the kidneys (not themselves subject to much distention), and- in the female- the ovaries (distended when the female is preparing to deposit eggs or give birth to live young). This suggested two possibilities for the distention of the snake's body. Time soon provided answers to this question, when the snake gave birth to 9 live young on September 20.