A couple days ago as Dan and I were assessing the property boundaries while scouting out potential net locations for the owl monitoring project, I happened across a small brown snake that appeared to be sunning itself at the side of the road. Thinking it was a Brown Snake (Storeria dekayi) at first, I gingerly picked it up by the tail to move it off the road. The snake looked remarkably intact, and its eyes clear, but unfortunately, it turned out I was too late. It had been hit already, perhaps by a flying piece of gravel. It had a small patch of dried blood at the side of its head, crusted with tiny gravel bits, and it hung limp from my fingers.
As it hung from my hand, however, I was able to view its underside, which was a bright orange-red. Though it wasn’t visible while the snake was sitting on the ground, this clinched its ID as a Red-bellied Snake (Storeria occipitomaculata). Some sources call this the Redbelly Snake, and I’ve also seen “Northern” tagged on in front of both versions; unlike birds, where the American Ornithologists’ Union has set official names for all the species, most other groups of organisms don’t have formally chosen English names, so finding information using the scientific name is more reliable. At least the red belly isn’t disputed. Whatever its name, it’s the first I’ve ever seen of the species.
These little snakes, about the same size as the Brown Snake, and together the smallest Canadian snake species, are the same size as an adult as the baby rat snake was that I found earlier in the week, only 8 to 16 inches (20-40 cm). As a youngster they start out at just 3 inches (7.5 cm). The females do not lay eggs, but rather give birth to live young. They eat small invertebrates such as worms and slugs, and can often be found hunkered under logs or wooden boards, or other surface debris. Red-bellies tend to inhabit more natural woodlands and wet meadows, while Brown Snakes share similar habitat but aren’t opposed to living in suburban parks or vacant lots as well. They spend the winter snuggled away in abandoned rodent burrows or other natural crevices, including sometimes anthills.