The Burrowing Behavior of Dekay's Brownsnakes

Dekay's Brownsnakes are generally small and inconspicuous reptiles, spending their days hiding under rocks and chasing after critters like slugs and earthworms. Yesterday I flipped over a rock in my yard and to my surprise, found this year's first live Dekay's, a relatively small juvenile (based on size, most likely). I decided to set up a temporary enclosure in a Tupperware to observe its behavior overnight and into the next day, when I would release it back where I found it.

The serpent hotel featured a rock and a piece of bark for it to seek shelter under (they are frequently found under rocks and wood boards), a stick, and a water dish for soaking and drinking. I used coconut soil bedding for the substrate because that's what I had on hand. Something important to keep in mind when dealing with Dekay's is that they cannot use newspapers or paper towels or bare enclosure floors like other species might be able to. They thrive when they have at least an inch of substrate, whether it's soil or coconut bedding. What I would discover is that the substrate I chose actually enabled it to burrow more easily, but more on that later.

In the first few hours of captivity, it stayed above the surface, doing laps around the perimeter. Later that day when I went to check on it, it was nowhere to be found. A quick glance at the sides of the enclosure revealed that it had actually burrowed underneath the substrate and was hiding in a little tunnel it had created. Sometimes it would stick its head out from one end of the rock while its body was curled up under it, and other times it was curled up tightly in one of its tunnels. The tunnels did not ever collapse and were visible from the sides along the Tupperware. I imagine that it either made a web of tunnels across the entire enclosure or just one that wrapped around the sides. It spent a large portion of its time underground, resting and slithering through the tunnel system.
I am not entirely sure about the reasons for its burrowing, but I came up with a list of potential ones. The reason is probably a combination of them.

  • to hide from me, something that it is probably reasonably scared of
  • to regulate its body temperature

Or it might be neither of those. Maybe it's something else I didn't think of. Let me know if you know the reason for this behavior, I find it intriguing. I had never thought of Dekay's as being burrowing animals since I always find them curled up under rocks and flowerpots outside. Do they burrow like this in the wild, into the ground to travel? It is known that they use abandoned burrows of other animals for brumation, but maybe they utilize the underground in other ways. Whatever the reason, it's interesting behavior.

Posted on June 15, 2022 07:38 PM by mbwildlife mbwildlife


Photos / Sounds


Dekay's Brownsnake (Storeria dekayi)




June 2022


Held captive overnight only for observation, then released.



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