Natural Highlights: Plain-bellied Watersnake

The Plain-bellied Water Snake (Nerodia erythrogaster) is the most ubiquitous water snake in our area, occurring along the Wolf River and also in streams, lakes, and ponds.  Wherever there is water, there is often a Plain-bellied Water Snake nearby.  This species is also called a yellow-bellied, red-bellied or copper-bellied water snake, or simply a yellowbelly, etc. There are six recognized subspecies and the color of the belly varies from red to yellow, but always without markings. The Plain-bellied Water Snakes which occur in the Midsouth have yellow bellies. Because of it dull coloration and its habit of flattening its head when threatened, it is often mistaken for the venomous Cottonmouth or Water Moccasin.  Doing a decent imitation of a venomous species is most likely a defensive adaptation which works most of the time, warning potential predators to steer clear.  It also probably results in the needless persecution by some people of a harmless snake.

Members of the genus Nerodia, which includes many of the nonvenomous water snakes common in the Midsouth, have a reputation as pugnacious, defensive snakes with little tolerance for being handled.  Like all snakes, they are not looking for trouble and are best observed from a distance as they go about their lives, hunting for fish, frogs, smaller snakes, and other aquatic species, and basking in quiet places on logs or along the bank.  All of our water snakes play an important role in the aquatic ecology of the Wolf River as both predators and prey for other species.  Depending on their size, they might eat or be eaten by other snakes, fish, frogs, or birds.  Great Blue Herons, large fish, birds of prey, river otters, raccoons, foxes, alligators and other snake species may dine on water snakes, among other predators.

Plain-bellied Water Snakes bear live young each year which look quite different from the adults, with striking dark bands similar to the markings of the Banded Water Snake.  Young water snakes are easy pickings for predators, so when they swim, they are often in a hurry to get out of the water as soon as possible. Sometimes the nearest refuge seems to be a canoe or kayak, so don't be alarmed if they try to climb aboard. They're just looking for safety.  Adults can reach 30 to 48 inches in length.  

For more information on Plain-bellied Water Snakes, visit these links:


Posted by Cathy Justis at 10:46 AM