Plain-Bellied Watersnake

Image of a yellow-bellied watersnake
Scientific Name
Nerodia erythrogaster
Colubridae (nonvenomous snakes) in the order Squamata (lizards and snakes)

A medium-sized, heavy-bodied, dark-colored, semiaquatic snake with a plain yellow belly. It is mainly gray, greenish gray, or brownish black, with little or no pattern. The belly is plain yellow or occasionally orange. The young are strongly patterned with brown dorsal and lateral blotches that may be joined to form transverse bars.

Similar species:

  • The plain-bellied watersnake used to be divided into several different subspecies, including the yellow-bellied watersnake (N. e. erythrogaster) and blotched watersnake (N. e. transversa), but those subspecies are no longer recognized.
  • Watersnakes are often confused with the venomous northern cottonmouth (Agkistrodon piscivorus) and needlessly killed. Cottonmouths are more heavy-bodied, with a larger, chunky head and a facial pit between the nostril and eye; they are darker and have a light line from the eye to the corner of the mouth.
Other Common Names
Yellow-Bellied Watersnake (former subspecies)
Blotched Watersnake (former subspecies)

Length: 30 to 48 inches.

Where To Find
Plain-Bellied Watersnake Distribution Map

Southeast corner of the state, north along the Mississippi River floodplain, and along the southern and western border of Missouri.

This species is prefers the quiet waters of swamps, sloughs, oxbow lakes, and ponds. Individuals bask on logs in shallow water, on branches above the water, or along the shore. As with most other watersnakes, this species is pugnacious when cornered and will strike or bite viciously. It also excretes a foul-smelling musk from glands at the base of the tail and will smear this substance and feces onto a captor.

Foods include fish, toads, frogs, tadpoles, salamanders, and crayfish.

Life Cycle

This species is apparently active from late March through October. Courtship and mating occur in April and early May. Like other watersnakes, this species gives birth to live young, and larger females bear larger litters. The young are born during August and early September, with 10–30 in a litter.

Snakes stir our imaginations and figure prominently in our myths, religions, and stories. We humans have invented many unfair and incorrect myths that make them seem the embodiment of evil. Learn to separate truth from fiction, and overcome your prejudices.

As predators, watersnakes control populations of the animals they consume. But snakes are preyed upon themselves. Their defenseless newborns are eaten by animals ranging from large frogs and fish to other snakes and birds and mammals. Adults are eaten by predatory mammals and birds.

Media Gallery
Similar Species

Where to See Species

Settle's Ford Conservation Area is located on both sides of the South Grand River in southeast Cass and northeast Bates Counties and is easily accessed from Cass County Route B. This 7,364-acre area
About Reptiles and Amphibians in Missouri
Missouri’s herptiles comprise 43 amphibians and 75 reptiles. Amphibians, including salamanders, toads, and frogs, are vertebrate animals that spend at least part of their life cycle in water. They usually have moist skin, lack scales or claws, and are ectothermal (cold-blooded), so they do not produce their own body heat the way birds and mammals do. Reptiles, including turtles, lizards, and snakes, are also vertebrates, and most are ectothermal, but unlike amphibians, reptiles have dry skin with scales, the ones with legs have claws, and they do not have to live part of their lives in water.