Red-Bellied Snake Storeria occipitomaculata

Adult from Brown County

Identification

These small, secretive snakes are similar to many other small brown snakes in Indiana, with the exception of their bright orange-red underbelly. Their dorsal color is variable with some individuals exhibiting a light gray background color while others are reddish brown and most snakes have one to three light blotches around the neck (forming a ring on newborn snakes). Typically two thin, dark lines run the length of their body and enclose a stripe that may be gray or brown. Most adult Red-Bellied Snakes are under a foot (30 cm) in length.

Venter of adult from Lake County
Typical defensive

Red-Bellied Snakes are most similar to their close relative, DeKay's Brownsnake, but can be easily differentiated as Dekay's Brownsnakes lack the red belly and light neck blotches and have black spots or dashes down their back. Kirtland's Snakes have a red belly bordered by black spots and have a black hood and dark blotches dorsally. Neonates are superficially similar to young Ring-Necked Snakes (due to the appearance of a ringed neck), but the latter is a slate-gray to black snake with a bright yellow belly.

Ecology and Conservation

The Red-Bellied Snake is most often found on dry wooded slopes and ridges. It spends much of its time under bark, logs, and leaf litter. It is also reported to have climbing skills sufficient to perch itself on tree limbs out of harm’s way. The diet of the Red-Bellied Snake consists of slugs, earthworms, and other soft-bodied invertebrates.

Remnant prairie in Lake County
Mesic woodlands in Brown County

Distribution

Red-Bellied snakes have an interesting distribution in Indiana as they are found both in the rugged, unglaciated hills of south-central Indiana and in the flat regions of northern Indiana that were formerly prairie and savannah. As such, their habitat preferences are apparently broad. In southern and western Indiana, they are uncommon and usually encountered in mesic forests. In northern Indiana, they are locally abundant in more open habitats and often found along railroad right of ways, abandoned lots, and remnant prairie patches.

Taxonomy

Some scientists recognize multiple subspecies with the Red-Bellied Snake (Storeria occipitomaculata); Pyron et al. (2016) argued against the recognition of subspecies. Under the earlier taxonomy, Indiana was home to the Northern Red-Bellied Snake (S. o. occipitomaculata). These snakes are members of the family Colubridae, which is represented by a total of 28 species in Indiana.

Literature Cited

Conant, R. and J. T . Collins. 1998. Reptiles and Amphibians of Eastern and Central North America. Third Edition, Expanded. Houghton Mifflin, New York, NY.

Minton, S. A. Jr. 2001. Amphibians and Reptiles of Indiana. Indiana Academy of Science, Indianapolis, IN.

Pyron, R. A., F. W. Hsieh, A. R. Lemmon, E. M. Lemmon, and C. R. Hendry. 2016. Integrating phylogenomic and morphological data to assess candidate species-delimitation models in brown and red-bellied snakes (Storeria). Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society, 177:937-949.

Distribution Map
Distribution map of Red-Bellied Snake (Storeria occipitomaculata)
Photographs