In Search of… Queen Snake
The Queen Snake is one of Wisconsin’s most endangered snakes. Southeast Wisconsin lies at the very northern tip of its range and there is nothing in any historical literature that suggests they were common at any time. Though there are a few populations known to be holding on, the thought of locating additional and currently unknown populations is an exciting hope.
This past weekend, myself and three others went to explore a couple of locations that are rumored to have held populations of this snake as recently as twenty-five years ago. Their habitat requirements are rather unique. It wasn’t like we could just go anywhere and get lucky. We had to let their habitat requirements guide us.
Queen Snakes have a few requirements (as do most animals) that they just cannot compromise on. Probably the most important requirement is that they have a large supply of their favorite food source, crayfish. Beyond that, they need places to hide so they don’t become food themselves. For that, they prefer plenty of large flat rocks along the banks which they can hide under.
With those requirements in mind, we went to explore the locations where they were reported from most recently. It was a hot, muggy day. Not a day anyone familiar with snakes would call a good day to be out looking. Yet, the day was there and we chose to look anyway.
We flipped countless rocks, used flashlights to search cracks, crevices, etc. Anything that might hold a snake trying to get some R and R without some predator interrupting. After a few hours of looking, we came up empty, on the snake anyway.
We did find a couple Bullfrogs, a Snapping Turtle, Green Frogs, Leopard Frogs and a couple of American Toads but struck out on the snake. Does that mean they aren’t there? No, but it certainly reduces the hope that they are.
The habitat seemed okay but lots of factors come into play as these populations become more fragmented. With populations more scattered, individual populations must be entirely self-sustaining as other snakes simply do not find their way into the population. This drastically reduces genetic diversity.
When populations of Queen Snakes (or any other animal) become stressed, the chances of the population being impacted by natural and man-made disturbances goes up. A single construction project can wipe out the habitat which leads to the loss of the snake. That’s huge.
For now, it’s these mini-adventures that provide us some excitement. Yet, amidst our excitement we must be aware of the bigger picture and the impact we have even as individuals on our natural world. We’ve all heard of low-impact exercise. We must learn how to live “low-impact” with our environment in order for the Queen Snake and other species to survive.