Description: Brown snakes are small - 6-13 in. (17-33 cm) - snakes that are usually brown, but can be yellowish, reddish, or grayish-brown. They usually have two rows of dark spots, sometimes linked, along the back and a dark streak down the side of the head. The belly is light brown to white. A series of tiny black dots are often present along each side of the belly. The young have a yellowish collar going down the neck with a less evident dorsal pattern. This snake looks similar to earth snakes (Virginia sp.) but those species lack spots on the back and head. They can be distinguished from redbellied snakes (Storeria occipitomaculata) by their lack of red underside and from the Florida brown snake (Storeria victa) by geographic range and lack of light neck band . Brown Snakes and Florida Brown Snakes are considered by some authorities to be subspecies that belong to the same species. In many suburban areas brown snakes are killed when they are mistaken for copperheads (Agkistrodon contortrix); however, Copperheads have prominent hourglass-shaped bands and have bright yellow tail tips when less than 12 in long.
Range and Habitat: Brown snakes are found throughout the eastern US, but are absent from high elevations in the mountains. In extreme southern Georgia and Florida, brown snakes are replaced by the closely-related Florida brown snake (Storeria victa). In the Piedmont this species can be found in a variety of woodland habitats. In the Coastal Plain this species is most common in wet areas such as cypress swamp edges and wetland margins. Brown snakes are frequently found in residential areas, and are often the most abundant snake in urbanized habitats. This lends to their reputation of being a city snake. This snake can be found under debris in residential areas and almost anywhere else where there is groundcover.
Habits: Brown snakes generally hide under cover such as leaf litter and logs, but are sometimes active in the evening or at night, occasionally being seen crossing roads. They feed nearly exlusively on soft-bodied invertebrates such as slugs and earthworms. Brown snakes are viviparous, with females giving birth to 3-31 young in late summer. They probably reach sexual maturity at 2 - 3 years of age.
Conservation Status: Brown snakes are common in our region and are not protected. Because they seem to tolerate urbanization better than other species, brown snakes are not a major conservation concern. There is some concern that Brown Snakes have declined in sections of the Florida Panhandle.
Willson, J. D. and M. E. Dorcas. 2004. Aspects of the ecology of small fossorial snakes in the western Piedmont of North Carolina. Southeastern Naturalist 3:1-12.
Account Author: Glenn Thomas, University of Georgia edited by J.D. Willson