Redbelly Watersnake; Nerodia erythrogaster

Red Belly Watersnake


 Nerodia e. erythrogaster

The Red Belly Watersnake, or scientifically, Nerodia erythrogaster erythrogaster, is a sub-species of the Plain Belly Water snake.   The Plain Belly Water snake gets its name from the fact that there are no markings on the belly.

This article will be focusing on the sub-species “Red Belly Water Snake”.

Non-Venomous

Note the lack of marking on back or belly of this Nerodia e. erythrogaster; Photographed by Phillip Laxton Instagram: @plaxton53
Note the lack of marking on back or belly of this Nerodia e. erythrogaster; Photographed by Phillip Laxton Instagram: @plaxton53

The Red Belly Watersnake is a stocky snake found in the southeastern USA.  These heavy snakes average 24-40″ in length.  Occasionally, this species can reach 55″ although this is very rare.  They can be easily identified by the unmarked, orange or reddish belly and the unmarked, reddish-brown to dark brown back.  The chin is usually light. Juveniles can sometimes be confused with other watersnakes, or Nerodia, due to being vividly marked.  Juvenile Red-Bellied Watersnakes are marked with dark cross-bands on the neck and three rows of alternating blotches going down it’s back.  These marking quickly fade as the animal matures.  Juveniles can be distinguished from other Nerodia by viewing the underside.  The belly is unmarked from birth.

Nerodia e. erythrogaster; Photographed by Phillip Laxton Instagram: @plaxton53
Nerodia e. erythrogaster; Photographed by Phillip Laxton Instagram: @plaxton53

Feeding/Diet:  Nerodia erythrogaster will feed on a variety of other animals and can be quite opportunistic.  I have found them picking injured frogs off the highway many times.  Red Belly Water Snakes are big fans of frogs, toads, salamanders, and long slender fish such as eels and young gar.  I have found many young who have expelled mosquito fish after capture.

General Activity/Behavior:  Red Bellies, like most Nerodia, love to bask in the sun on the edge of the water.  When spooked, Nerodia will lunge into the water.  Nerodia typically swim under the water.  This is a helpful bit of knowledge, as Cottonmouths, Agkistrodon piscivorous, a venomous species, typically swims on top of the water.  The Plain Belly species, including the Red Belly Sub-species, is known to travel overland in search for amphibians at night.  These guys love to get in roads that travel near water on rainy nights, making them an easy to cruise on rainy nights.

Nerodia e. erythrogaster; Photographed by Phillip Laxton Instagram: @plaxton53
Nerodia e. erythrogaster; Photographed by Phillip Laxton Instagram: @plaxton53

Red Bellies, like all Nerodia, are known for their nasty attitudes.  These snakes, like most, will attempt to get away but if they feel cornered the Nerodia will strike.  Sometimes these snakes have been known to lunge towards a would-be predator just before making a quick exit.  Based on my observations of snake species, I believe this is where the misconception of Cottonmouths chasing people come from.  If you pick up a Nerodia, you best plan to be bit.  Bites can sometimes draw blood but are superficial.  It is important to clean the wound after being bitten to avoid infection.  Simple First aid measures are really all that is needed.

Nerodia e. erythrogaster; Photographed by Phillip Laxton Instagram: @plaxton53
Nerodia e. erythrogaster; Photographed by Phillip Laxton Instagram: @plaxton53

Habitat/Range:  Nerodia e. erythrogaster is found in a variety of aquatic environments.  Lakes, swamps, rivers, streams, and creeks are all home to the Red Belly.  The Plain Belly group as a whole, can regularly be found in drainage ditches that are frequently filled with water.  The range of the Red Belly Water Snake includes Florida in the northern peninsula and panhandle, southern Alabama and along the Atlantic coast to the most southeastern part of Virginia.

Reproduction:  Redbelly watersnakes, like all Nerodia give live birth from 6 to as many as 50 young.  Like all Nerodia, e. erythrogaster mates in mid to late spring and give birth in early fall.

Neat Fact:  Of all the water snakes in the USA, the plain belly group (which includes the red belly) travel the furthest from water.  These snakes have been found a couple hundred yards from the nearest water source.

Nerodia e. erythrogaster; Photographed by Phillip Laxton Instagram: @plaxton53
Nerodia e. erythrogaster; Photographed by Phillip Laxton Instagram: @plaxton53

Herping Tips:

  • Like most aquatic snakes, they are a little more tolerant of temperatures.  I have found them basking on the water’s edge in the mid-60’s and I have found them sitting in a shady ditch enjoying the water when air temps were in the 90’s while the rest of the snakes are looking for a place to hide from the heat.
  • Spring and Fall look for them basking on the edge of water sources on nice warm days.  They love to soak up the rays.
  • In the heat of summer, look for them on the water’s edge by flipping rocks, wood, tin, and any other light object.  They may also be sitting in the water, under shade from vegetation.
  • This species, like other Nerodia, are very curious of objects floating in the water.  I have caught many Nerodia by simply cruising down a creek in a boat, reaching in, and grabbing the snake as they come to check out the vessel.
  • This species can easily be cruised in populated areas at night, especially on humid rainy nights.  For best results, cruise during the rain, during normal showers or during the approach of a warm front.  Cold front storms typically produce much less results.
  • Like all Nerodia, it is easy to break the tail during capture.  Many adults are found with a part of the tail deformed or even missing.  The tail does not regenerate and does not appear to cause much harm to the animal.  Try to catch the snake mid-body to avoid injuring the animal.