Myladylove discovered this little queen snake when we were giving the yard a spring clean-up Sunday. It's the first snake I've seen this year—and I've been looking, considering the incredibly warm days we've had, many in the mid- to upper-70s˚F.
Queen snakes, Regina septemvittata, are are small, shy, and completely harmless creatures. If you elect to handle one, about the worst they can do to you is discharge a rather malodorous musk. I picked this one up after taking a few photos; it wasn't exactly thrilled, but wasn't upset enough to give me a shot of stink. As snakes go, they're pretty docile.
A big specimen might push two feet, but most will measure between a foot and eighteen inches. This one was probably close to sixteen inches, and no larger in diameter than my ring finger. I think their color and pattern is quite lovely. They look a lot like garter snakes, but unlike garters, have dark, ventral stripes.
A type of water snake, queens are never found far from clean-running streams that have a stone or gravely bottom. That's because they feed almost exclusively on crawfish, which themselves require rocky, clean running water. They're therefore a good indicator species of high-quality water—and speaking as an Ohio stream fisherman, a good indicator of a potentially excellent smallmouth bass stream, since crawfish and bronzebacks are practically inseparable. The queen snake Myladylove uncovered below a pile of leaves in a flower bed, was perhaps thirty feet from the river.
I was glad to see this first queen of the new year—not only as another indicator of just how far the season has progressed, but because I appreciate and enjoy having queen snakes around. And I'm always happy to know my neighbors have made it through the winter.