This subtly beautiful snake is the Graham's Crayfish Snake (Regina grahamii). The scientific name of grahamii, is in honor of Lieutenant Colonial James Duncan Graham,United States Topographical Engineer, who collected the type specimen. They are rather drably colored in shades of tan or brown, but there is something about them that is uncommonly beautiful. I found this one at Squaw Creek NWR about a week and a half ago basking on the road near the wetland. It was the first time I've seen this species and I was exceedingly excited to see it and get the chance to photograph it. They are normally a shy, secretive snake that is rarely encountered by humans. They are not prone to bite, but if disturbed they will musk you, which is exactly what this one did, and I didn't mind in the least. It was worth every stinky minute to hold such a rare snake in my hands. After snapping several photos I released it closer to the waters edge and away from the road.
In Missouri this species is found statewide near wetlands, sloughs, oxbow lakes, marshes and ditches that hold water. Although statewide they are uncommon in Missouri. They are specialists in their diet and feed almost exclusively on crayfish (hence the name). They prefer freshly molted crayfish which are much softer and easier to eat. There are reports of this species consuming small frogs and fish, but I believe these are uncommon occurrences.
Locality map for Graham's Crayfish Snake
The above map shows the most recent reported occurrences for the Graham's Crayfish Snakes. Each of those black dots represents an area near a wetland or marsh.
These snakes are medium sized at around 28-30 inches in length and will be a uniform brown, gray or tan color. Their belly is cream colored with a zig-zag black stripe down both sides. There may or may not be a faint dorsal stripe present. The lateral stripe stands out and will be cream or white in color.
While you may find this species hanging out with watersnakes in the genus Nerodia, they differ from them in many ways. First and foremost their temperament. Graham's tend to be docile by nature and not prone to bite, whereas watersnakes like the Northern Watersnake (Nerodia Sipedon Sipedon) would just as soon bite you as look at you. Nerodias typically get much larger and are more readily seen. Graham's tend to hide under logs, rocks or other debris at the waters edge where they attempt to avoid being seen. During the spring and fall Graham's may be seen basking on the road like this specimen, but during the summer months it is believed they become almost entirely nocturnal.
During the winter they will often hibernate in old crayfish burrows. They will also use crayfish burrows to escape the heat of summer. These snakes are tempting to try and keep as pets as they are extremely docile and pretty, but should not be removed from the wild. They are protected in most of their range, including in Missouri. In addition to being protected they are extremely difficult to keep in captivity because of their diet. They require crayfish that have recently molted and a steady supply of them. They are reported to stress easily and develop skin lesions. These snakes are best enjoyed in their natural habitat by observing and photographing them and considering yourself lucky when you come across one.