Other names: redbelly snake
The red-bellied snake is brown, grey or black and generally has two dark stripes down the back and two along the sides. This species grows to a maximum length of about 40 centimetres. The dorsal scales are keeled (ridged down the centre), and the anal plate is divided. This snake usually has light spots on the neck, which may fuse to form a partial ring. The belly is usually red but may be red-orange or pink. The chin and neck are very lightly coloured and are often off-white.
No other snake in Ontario has a bright red belly. The ring-necked snake has a well-defined yellow ring around the neck rather than an agglomeration of spots, and also has smooth dorsal scales and a yellow belly. The Dekay’s brownsnake has a light brown belly and two rows of dark spots down its back.
Red-bellied snakes are generally found in forest edge habitat, fields and meadows with abundant ground cover, such as logs, rocks, scrap piles and building foundations. These snakes rarely occur in regions with little forest cover. Like most other snakes in Ontario, these snakes overwinter underground below the frost line. They have small home ranges, and over the entire summer an individual may move no more than 500 metres from its hibernation site.
Red-bellied snakes breed in the spring or sometimes in the fall. Females incubate the fertilized eggs internally and give birth to four to 14 live young in late summer. The newborn snakes are seven to 10 centimetres in length and mature in two years.
Red-bellied snakes are nocturnal. They eat invertebrates such as slugs, earthworms, snails, grubs and insects, which eat plants and vegetables in gardens. These snakes help to control populations of these garden pests. Red-bellied snakes rarely bite and have very tiny, ineffective teeth. However, this species will threaten potential predators by exposing its bright red belly or flattening itself and curling the edges of its mouth outward.
Threats & Trends
Potential threats to local populations of red-bellied snakes include predation by larger snakes, raccoons and pets, habitat loss and road mortality. The red-bellied snake seems able to tolerate some disturbance and alteration to its habitat. Although it can be difficult to find, this species may be very common in areas with good habitat. Given the lack of any significant overall threat to this species, it is not considered to be in decline.
Current Status & Protection
Neither the Committee on the Status of Species at Risk in Ontario nor the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada has assessed the status of the red-bellied snake. The species has no protection under the Ontario Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act. The International Union for Conservation of Nature lists the global status of the red-bellied snake as Least Concern. The species’ status was confirmed in 2007.
Learn more about reptile and amphibian conservation and what you can do to help these species on our Reptile and Amphibian Stewardship page.
To view an interactive map of the known ranges of red-bellied snakes in Ontario, click here.
The red-bellied snake occurs throughout central and southern Ontario east of Lake Superior, and also inhabits a small area west of Lake Superior along the U.S. border. The North American distribution of this species extends from southeastern Saskatchewan to Nova Scotia and throughout the eastern United States as far south as Texas and Florida.