Red-Bellied Snake

Photo of a northern red-bellied snake on a rock.
Scientific Name
Storeria occipitomaculata
Colubridae (nonvenomous snakes) in the order Squamata (lizards and snakes)

The northern red-bellied snake is a small woodland snake. It is either gray brown or reddish brown, normally with 4 narrow, dark stripes, a faint light tan stripe down the middle of the back, or some combination of this striping. The head is usually darker than the body, and the nape of the neck has 3 light spots, which occasionally fuse to form a tan collar behind the head. The belly is yellow, orange, red, or occasionally pink.

Similar species: This species is sometimes mistaken for a young copperhead and needlessly killed. Copperheads, however, are stout-bodied and have hourglass-shaped markings on the back, vertical pupils in the eyes, a sensory pit between each nostril and eye, and, sometimes, especially in young copperheads, a yellow tail tip.

Other Common Names
Northern Red-Bellied Snake (former subspecies)

Length: 8 to 10 inches.

Where To Find
Northern Red-Bellied Snake Distribution Map

Statewide, except for several northwestern counties.

The red-bellied snake is secretive and occurs in moist forests where there is ample shelter to hide under. Active from late March through October, it spends most of its time hiding beneath rocks, boards, scattered tree bark, logs, and other objects. Sometimes it basks in the sun. It is not known to bite and is completely inoffensive and gentle to handle. Freshly captured, it will secrete a musky odor from glands at the base of the tail. Sometimes it plays dead.

Food includes earthworms, forest slugs, and, occasionally, soft-bodied insects. This species also eats land snails. Some researchers suggest that the blunt head and elongated teeth of this snake and the closely related midland brownsnake helps them to grip and tug persistently on a snail’s body until the snail fatigues and can be pulled out of its shell.

Several subspecies were once recognized for the red-bellied snake group, and Missouri had the northern red-bellied snake (S. o. occipitomaculata). Biologists have concluded that subspecies recognition was not warranted for the red-bellied snake.

Life Cycle

Courtship and mating take place in the spring, summer, or autumn. The young are born (the mothers do not lay eggs) during late summer or early autumn. A litter can contain 1–21 young, which are about 3–4 inches long at birth.

Many snake species are burdened with unfair, undying myths that paint them to be much more dangerous and harmful than they are. But persecuting this small, harmless species is especially unjust, for it results from ignorance and fear. Support nature education. Speak out on behalf of snakes.

As predators, these snakes control populations of the invertebrates they consume. But snakes are preyed upon themselves. Their defenseless newborns are gobbled by numerous animals. The adults, being small and defenseless except for smearing stinky stuff on their captors, are eaten by many animals.

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Similar Species
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.