Glossy Crayfish Snake (Regina rigida)

Photos by J.D. Willson unless otherwise noted

Description: Glossy crayfish snakes are mid-sized, highly aquatic snakes, ranging in length from 14 to 24 in (36 – 61 cm). They are somewhat heavy-bodied with short heads and large eyes. Coloration is shiny brownish to olive, sometimes with two inconspicuous light stripes running down the body. The underside is yellowish with two rows of dark spots. This species is similar in appearance to the closely-related striped crayfish snake (R. alleni) but has two rows of spots on the venter (R. alleni has one). These species are also often distinguishable by geographic range because R. alleni is restricted to extreme southern Georgia and Florida. Adult females are larger than adult males and the young resemble miniature adults.

Range and Habitat: The glossy crayfish snake is found in the Coastal Plain of the southeastern United States from eastern North Carolina to eastern Texas but is absent from the southern portion of peninsular Florida. An isolated population exists in eastern Virginia. They are highly aquatic and inhabit a variety of wetland habitats including cypress swamps, Carolina bays, roadside ditches, and the margins of heavily-vegetated ponds and lakes.

Habits: Because glossy crayfish snakes are highly aquatic and extremely secretive they are seldom seen, even by experienced herpetologists. Occasionally, individuals are found crossing roads on rainy nights and they may be collected by setting traps in shallow water. When restrained, they may hiss and feign striking but seldom bite. Glossy crayfish snakes feed primarily on crayfish and have chisel-shaped teeth that enable them to ingest hard-shelled individuals. They use their coils not to constrict their prey but to hold them while they consume the crayfish alive, tail first. Like other natricine watersnakes, this species gives birth to 6 to 14 live young in the summer or early fall.

Conservation Status: The glossy crayfish snake is of conservation concern throughout its range because its reliance on aquatic habits makes it vulnerable to habitat destruction. Moreover, because it is so secretive, little is known about its distribution or status in any region. This species is protected throughout the state of Georgia.

Pertinent References:

Gibbons, J. Whitfield, and Michael E. Dorcas. 2004. North American Watersnakes: A Natural History. University of Oklahoma Press.

Willson, J. D., C. T. Winne, and L. A. Fedewa. 2005. Unveiling escape and capture rates of aquatic snakes and salamanders (Siren spp. and Amphiuma means) in commercial funnel traps. Journal of Freshwater Ecology 20:397-403.

Account Author: J.D. Willson