The Copperbelly Water Snake (Nerodia erythrogaster neglecta) is listed as a threatened species.


Copperbelly water snakes have a solid dark (usually black) back with a bright orange-red belly. They grow to 3 to Template:Convert long. They are not poisonous.

The largest length on record is 65½" in the northern edge of the range.

Baby copperbellies are 6 inches long and in a year are about 18" long. They are patterned with two-toned, reddish-brown, saddle-like banding with reddish-orange chins and lips. They are cryptic, camouflaged, secretive and hardly ever seen.

The largest brood on record is 38 young born, in the northern edge of the range, while 16-18 young is the average brood.


Copperbellies live in lowland swamps or other warm, quiet waters.

Lowland and some upland woods are almost always part of the swamp habitat. Recent studies have shown that at least Template:Convert of continuous swamp-forest habitat is necessary to sustain a viable population over time.

Vernal wetlands are necessary and frequently used by copperbellies in the spring through June, because of prey species' reproduction and growth.

Permanent, vegetated, shallow-edged wetlands are an important part of the habitat, but less so than vernal wetlands. A mix/matrix of both types within continuous swamp-forest and woodlots may be ideal for sustaining all age/size classes.

Upland woods and slightly-elevated lowland chimney crayfish burrows are used as winter hibernation sites.


Young snakes are born in the fall near or in the winter hibernation site. The average litter size is 18 young.

Feeding HabitsEdit

The snakes feed on frogs, tadpoles, crayfish, and small fish.

Adults have been observed hunting in small groups, although this behavior is rarely seen.

An entire colony of all age/size classes has once been observed just underwater, foraging together in the shallows of a small woodland shrub swamp, their heads moving back and forth with mouths open, even along with a few common water snakes. They were apparently foraging for tadpoles.

Peak foraging times are 900–1300 hrs with a secondary, smaller peak between 1700–1900 hrs, depending on weather conditions. Nocturnal foraging has been observed in the southern part of the range, and after hot, humid summer days in the northern sector.

Prey species are caught in water and on land, often far from wetlands. The snakes find food in the woods after the late spring rains, especially if there is a high water table, cover items and chimney crayfish burrows.

Rivers, farm ditches, small streams, rocky areas and any fast-moving waters are avoided.


The population of Copperbelly water snakes that live in southern Michigan, northeastern Indiana, and northwestern Ohio has been listed as threatened. Another population of these snakes live in southwestern Indiana and adjacent Illinois and Kentucky, and southeastern Indiana. That population is not listed as threatened, but is protected by conservation agreements with State Departments of Natural Resources, various other State agencies, and coal companies.

Reasons that lead to being threatenedEdit

Habitat Loss or DegradationEdit

These snakes have declined mainly because of the drainage, loss and filling over of their lowland swamp habitat and clearing of adjacent upland woods where they spend the winter (hibernation sites).


Copperbelly Water Snakes are collected fairly regularly because of their rarity, large size, unique color, and value in the pet trade. Under the Endangered Species Act, collection is illegal without a permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.


During migration, they are vulnerable to predation, especially when their migration routes are interrupted by cleared areas such as roads, mowed areas, and farmlands.

Efforts to prevent extinctionEdit


The copperbelly water snake was added to the U.S. List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants on February 28, 1997. The population that was listed as threatened occurs in southern Michigan, northeastern Indiana, and northwestern Ohio. The population that occurs in southern Illinois, southern Indiana, and western Kentucky was not listed but has been protected by conservation agreements.

Recovery PlanEdit

In September 2007, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service completed a draft recovery plan that describes and prioritizes actions needed to conserve this species.


Researchers are and will continue monitoring and surveying the copperbelly water snake to find current population status and the best ways to continue enhancing and managing for the snake and its habitat.

Law enforcement will be regularly on-site to prevent any collection, harassment and disturbance of this species and habitats. If any of these activities are found, legal action, including arrests and citations, will ensue.

All radiotracking and other invasive studies have been done 1987–2006, with all necessary baseline data gained. There is no longer a reason or need to continue with that disruptive practice.

Observing and monitoring copperbellies in the wild and their habitats should continue, as well as expanding and securing existing, confirmed habitats.

Habitat Protection and ManagementEdit

Where possible, the snake's habitat (lowland swamps and adjacent upland woods) will be protected and improved. Endangered Species Act grants have funded habitat management on private lands that support copperbellies in Indiana and Michigan.


1991. Sellers, M. A. Final Report on the Rangewide Status Survey of the northern copperbelly water snake. unpub. rpt to the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

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