Mid-week Reptilian #4: "Northern" Brown Snake

Thursday, October 8, 2009 at 11:52 PM Bookmark and Share
When I first moved to western New York from Colorado, I was pretty psyched to get familiar with the new bird and reptile species in the area - especially those representing an unfamiliar genus or family. Among these, the Brown Snake (Storeria dekayi) and it's cousin the Redbelly Snake (Storeria occipitomaculata) were pretty different from anything I'd seen back home in Colorado. Together, they pretty much fill out the genus Storeria in the U.S. Locally, they make up the bulk of the "little-brown-snake-that-isn't-a-garter" sightings here in the Finger Lakes region of western New York.

A Northern Brown Snake (S. d. dekayi) right, and an Eastern Garter (T. sirtalis).
These are 2 of 4 snakes (3 Brown Snakes, 1 Eastern Garter) that were found
together under the bark of a log on 10 June, 2007 south west of Ithaca, NY.

So why is it so interesting to see new critters in a new corner of the world?  In part, it comes from an appreciation of the diversity of life that is out there and being involved with like-minded individuals that share that same appreciation.

As can be seen in the 3 Brown Snakes in the photo above, there's plenty of individual variation within most any species (often, even within small local populations). In short, the more divergent the evolutionary histories of two organisms, the more recognizably different they tend to be.

A natural next step after recognizing the many similarities and differences between related species or subspecies leads one to wonder about the how and why behind it all. For example, why does the Redbelly Snake have a red belly? Might it have anything to do with why the locally occurring Northern Ring-necked Snake (Diadophis punctatus edwardsii) also has a colorful underside? Why do these two (more distantly related) species share this characteristic, while the Brown Snake does not?

Ah, such fun questions - so little time... too bad my thesis chapter won't write itself while I'm blogging! ;)


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