Red-bellied snake (Storeria occipitomaculata)

Also known as: northern red-bellied snake, northern red-belly snake, red-bellied ground snake, redbelly snake, spot-necked snake, worm snake
GenusStoreria (1)
SizeLength: 20 - 25 cm (2)
Top facts

The red-bellied snake is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1).

The small, secretive red-bellied snake (Storeria occipitomaculata) is a distinctive reptile which gains its common name from the crimson-red underside which occurs in most individuals. However, the underparts of this species are known to vary between bright red and yellow (2) (3) (4) (5) (6) (7).

The upperparts of the red-bellied snake are also variable and can be grey, brown, red-brown or black with a light, wide stripe which extends along the length of the back (2) (3) (5) (6). Four narrower stripes may occasionally be present on the backs of some individuals (2) (3) (5) (6).

The red-bellied snake usually has three pale yellow or white spots on the neck, which sometimes merge, creating a collar-like marking (2) (3) (6) (7). The top of the head is darker then the rest of the upperside, being black in most individuals (6), while the chin and throat are white. There is a light spot on the upper lip (2) (7).

Male and female red-bellied snakes are often difficult to differentiate, other than by the male having a slightly longer tail (7). The juvenile red-bellied snake is similar in appearance to the adult, but is generally darker, with less vivid colouration on the underside (2) (3) (6) (7).

Some scientists recognise two or more subspecies of red-bellied snake, which vary in pattern and colouration (5) (6).

The range of the red-bellied snake extends across eastern North America, from southern Canada in the north to Florida and Texas in the south, including Oklahoma, Kansas and North and South Dakota (1) (2) (3) (7).

The red-bellied snake inhabits areas of deciduous or mixed woodland, as well as meadows, marshes, pastures, swamp edges and prairies (1) (5) (6) (7), where it shelters under rocks, logs or leaf litter on the ground (1) (3) (4) (6) (7). Within these habitats this species is generally found in moist areas (1) (7), although it also inhabits dry areas such as rocky hills (3) (7).

The diet of the red-bellied snake is mostly composed of slugs, snails, earthworms, beetle larvae and other insects (2) (3) (7). Due to special adaptations of its teeth and jaws, this species is able remove snails from their shell with relative ease (7).

Female red-bellied snakes are able to store sperm for several months before fertilisation occurs (2), and usually give birth to a single litter of up to 21 live young in August or early September (2) (3). When born, the young are between six and ten centimetres long (3), and are covered by a thin membrane, which they quickly break (2). 

During the winter months, the red-bellied snake undergoes a mass migration, followed by a period of hibernation. At favourable hibernation sites, such as anthills and abandoned burrows, groups of red-bellied snakes may be formed, together with other small snake species (7). Although it is diurnal in spring and autumn, the red-bellied snake is mostly nocturnal during times of hot weather (2) (7).

The red-bellied snake is prey for a wide range of species including raccoons, ground squirrels, shrews, hawks and other snakes, as well as domestic cats and dogs (7).

The red-bellied snake does not currently appear to be facing any major threats, and it is reported to be relatively tolerant of habitat alteration (1).

The range of the red-bellied snake includes many protected areas (1), but there are not known to be any other specific conservation measures currently in place for this species. 

More information on reptile conservation:

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:

  1. IUCN Red List (March, 2012)
  2. Oldfield, B. and Moriarty, J.J. (1994) Amphibians and Reptiles Native to Minnesota. University of Minnesota Press, Minnesota.
  3. Linzey, D.W. and Clifford, M.J. (1981) Snakes of Virginia. University of Virginia Press, Virginia.
  4. Christie, P. (1997) Reptiles and Amphibians of Prince Edward County Ontario. Natural Heritage, Ontario.
  5. VanDeWalle, T. (2010) Snakes and Lizards in Your Pocket:A Guide to Reptiles of the Upper Midwest. University of Iowa Press, Iowa.
  6. Stebbins, R.C. (2003) Western Reptiles and Amphibians. Houghton Mifflin Company, New York.
  7. Harding, J.H. (1997) Amphibians and Reptiles of the Great Lakes Region. University of Michigan Press, Michigan.