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Canadian Herpetological Society

Société d'herpétologie du Canada

Storeria occipitomaculata
Red-bellied Snake / Couleuvre à Ventre Rouge

Red-bellied Snake
© J. D. Willson

The Red-bellied Snake, and other live-bearing, harmless snakes, which were included within the Family Colubridae, have recently been placed in the Family Natricidae.

The Red-bellied Snake is brown, gray or black and grows to only 40 cm in length. Individuals may have a single broad light stripe, or four faint and narrow dark stripes, or all five stripes down the back. There are three light spots on the nape of the neck, which may fuse to form a ring. The belly is usually red, but may be orange or yellow.

Confusing Species
The red belly and light spots about the neck are quite diagnostic for this species. The Ringneck Snake has a definite ring about the neck, rather than just spots. It also rarely has a red belly and the Ringneck Snakes grows to over 75 cm in total length.

The Red-bellied Snake occurs from eastern Saskatchewan to Nova Scotia. The distribution in Canada is not continuous as it is not found north of Lake Superior. The Red-bellied Snake is found across much of the eastern US as far south as Texas and Florida.

The edges of wooded areas are the preferred habitat of Red-bellied Snakes, hence they are often found in fields, meadows and abandoned farms.

Mating occurs in the spring or sometimes in the fall. Females do not lay eggs but give birth to their young in late summer. A brood can consist of up to 21 snakes, although approximately 7 is the average. The newly born snakes are 7-10 cm in length and mature in approximately 2 years.

Natural History
Red-bellied Snakes are primarily nocturnal, remaining concealed under boards or logs during the day. They eat mainly slugs, but other invertebrates such as earthworms and insects are also consumed. Occasionally Red-bellied Snakes will climb shrubs or trees. An individual may move no more than 500 m from its hibernation site over the entire summer. Most Red-bellied Snakes make use of the same hibernacula each winter.

Conservation Concerns
This snake is virtually absent in areas of low forest cover. Individuals are also frequently found dead on roads. Yet where good habitat remains, the Red-bellied Snakes may be one of the commonest snakes.