The Amazing Dekays Earth Snake
The Dekay’s Earth Snake: Friend not Foe
Said to be one of the most inoffensive snakes in the world, the harmless DeKays earth snake is an excellent neighbor. The scientific name is the Storeria Dekayi and is also known simply as brown snakes or American brown snakes. They hold the honor of being the only North American snake with a binomial scientific name that honors two people. “Storeria” comes from David Humphreys Storer and “dekayi” finds its name from James Ellsworth DeKay. DeKay was a herpetologist during the 19th century who was the first to record this snake’s existence on Long Island.
Born at a tiny length of 3 ½ inches, the Dekays Earth Snake is easily mistaken for an earthworm. Even fully grown, this snake rarely grows to more than 12 inches with the current record being 19 ⅜ inches! A small fellow to be sure, the Dekays is many times thought to be a juvenile of other snake species such as a garter, racer, or even copperhead. This confusion, along with its small size, makes survival a difficult game for the shy, generally reclusive Dekays.
What does it look like?
As far as appearance goes, the Dekay’s snake is brown to gray in color with a lighter stripe bordered by small black spots along the dorsal area. It is long and thin with large eyes and round pupils. Many of these reptiles have darker headstamps and even stripes on their heads. This snake has a rough texture with keeled scales, meaning they have a ridge down the center. As mentioned before, the adult Dekay is less than 12 inches, so not a big fella at all.
But here is the most interesting fact of all regarding the DeKay’s earth snake: Like other non-venomous snakes, the DeKay’s can actually flatten its head to look like a triangle!!! Why might you ask? It is probably a defensive mechanism to keep from becoming prey to something bigger, and let’s face it…this defenseless, little guy needs all the help he can get! The problem is people. I myself used to think that a triangle head always means venomous. Not so!
I can’t tell you I’m not afraid of snakes. I am. I don’t want to touch them or honestly even look at pictures of them. Eek! Still, I can respect and understand them. Snakes have a purpose and are helpful to our environment, so I must do what I can to protect those who protect me. Knowledge is power so before you kill a DeKay’s earth snake, do your research and understand that your fear leads to the death of a harmless creature. But I still get the shivers when I see you slither, sorry snakes.
Where would I find this snake?
This small snake has a huge range and has been seen from southern parts of Canada through the eastern United States and even into Central America. They aren’t picky about their habitat as long as it is moist and has ample food sources. Neighborhoods, woods, and cities are all possible home sites for the DeKays earth snake. Around Cherokee County, residents might find this reclusive guy under logs or leaf piles or maybe debris piles. They are small and hide easily so you likely have some DeKays in your area but don’t even notice their presence.
What is the snake’s behavior?
The DeKay’s brown snake is shy and some even say reclusive; however, the fact that many are sighted every year leads scientists to believe there is a large number of this species. It is more likely to see this snake after heavy rain or after leaving brumation, which is reptile hibernation. This variety of snakes actually hibernates, or brumates, with other snakes such as green snakes, garter snakes, and other brown snakes. I guess DeKay’s snake must be a friendly reptile. Typically, they are active during the daytime but when the summer heat arrives, they tend to become more nocturnal. If you encounter this snake, you will likely find that it will do its best to escape or hide. It’s never wise to touch a snake, even a harmless snake, and those who try to touch a Dekay’s will come away with a very unpleasant, musky scent. Also note that any animal who feels threatened will do its best to defend itself, so it might try to bite you even though the efforts will be minimal. And remember what I said regarding the flattening of the head to mimic a triangular shape. This is caused by fear and it is a protection mechanism.
What do these snakes eat?
Here’s the great part about DeKay’s snakes, they are one of a gardener’s best friends. Snails, slugs, and larvae are the favorite dishes of this small, brown snake. I have to admit they also have a penchant for snacking on earthworms, but no one is perfect. It is interesting to note that the jaws of a DeKay’s earth snake are special and can remove snails from their shells!
Is the DeKay snake dangerous?
While it is true that any snake can bite if frightened or provoked, the DeKays snake has such a small mouth that biting a person would actually be quite difficult. And this little snake is NOT venomous, even though it might try to bite if frightened or threatened. The fact is that a bite from a DeKays would likely feel more like a pinch, and you might not even feel it. But again, Never try to touch a snake, harmless or otherwise. The DeKay’s earth snake is a friend and not a foe, so it is best to leave them to their work of protecting your yard and garden area and go about your business.
I hope you have enjoyed learning about DeKay’s earth snake with me. Spring is on the way, so be on the alert for this interesting local reptile.
And as always, if you have pests bugging you, give us a call at 770-479-1598.