Copperbelly Water Snake

Common Name - Copperbelly Water Snake

Category - Reptiles

Scientific Name - Nerodia erythrogaster neglecta

Kingdom - Animalia

Phylum - Chordata

Class - Reptilia

Order - Squamata

Family - Colubridae

Genus - Nerodia

Species - erythrogaster

SubSpecies - neglecta

Description - Dark black back; orange to red belly; dark color of back may fade into belly region; divided anal plate

Size - 30 – 48 in. ( 76.2 – 121.9 cm) long

Ecological Role - Predators of this snake include snapping turtles, cottonmouth snakes, large aquatic birds, otters, red-shouldered hawks, raccoons, mink, and large fish.

Fun Facts - The copperbelly water snake is a subspecies of the plainbelly water snake. Although it is a water snake, the copperbelly spends less time in the water than other Kentucky water snakes. It may anchor itself to a rock or tree and hang in the water facing the current with its mouth open waiting for a meal. It may bite if handled, but is not venomous.

The copperbelly water snake is a live bearer, meaning that the developing young stay inside the female’s body until birth. Live bearing snakes are considered to be higher on the evolutionary chain than those that lay eggs. Egg laying in snakes is generally considered to be a primitive characteristic. Snakes that lay eggs are more vulnerable to loss of the entire clutch to predators or to environmental factors, such as fluctuations in temperature or in water levels if the snake is a water snake.

The copperbelly water snake has a very limited range and has been isolated into two distinct geographic areas, one to the north and one to the south. In the north, copperbellies are extremely rare and have been federally listed as threatened by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Most copperbellies are found in the southern part of their range, however, the species is still imperiled and they are legally protected in Indiana, Illinois, and Kentucky.

It is illegal to harm or possess the copperbelly water snake in Kentucky. Populations are protected by the Habitat Conservation Agreement. This agreement is between Kentucky, Indiana, and Illinois and helps to protect this snake’s remaining habitat. This agreement has prevented the need to add the copperbelly water snake to the federal list of threatened and endangered species.

The genus name, Nerodia, comes from the Greek word neros which means “flowing”, and dia which means “through”, in reference to its aquatic habitat.

Food - Frogs and tadpoles; will also eat other amphibians, such as sirens, as well as fish and some other animals when given the opportunity


Nest - No nest

Breeding - April – June

Eggs - No eggs; give live birth (viviparous)

Habitat - Wetland areas such as sloughs, swamps; bottomland hardwood forests; slow moving streams; upland areas are used for travel

Kentucky Distribution - Western Kentucky CoalField Region

Life Cycle

Life Span

Life Stage


Seasonal Changes - Copperbellies are found in shallow wetlands in the spring. As these temporary, or ephemeral, wetlands dry up, copperbellies often wander away from water. In the fall, the snakes return to the wetland areas to hibernate in crayfish burrows. At times, the snakes are completely submerged during hibernation. In Kentucky, there is documentation of hibernation sites being flooded for two weeks and the snakes still emerged in the spring.


Status - Imperiled



Young - Born in September orOctober near hibernation site; 15 – 18 per litter; 8 – 12 in. (20.32 – 30.48 cm) long at birth; young are boldly patterned with large, dark blotches down the back and smaller alternating blotches on sides, all on a pinkish background; may live up to 9 years

What We Can Do - Protect and manage remaining wetlands. Restore damaged wetlands and create man-made wetlands near remaining high quality natural wetlands.


Diagnosis and Control

Interesting Facts

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