Nerodia erythrogaster

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Nerodia erythrogaster
Nerodia erythrogasterPCSL03705B.jpg
plain-bellied water snake
Nerodia erythrogaster
Scientific classification edit
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Reptilia
Order: Squamata
Suborder: Serpentes
Family: Colubridae
Genus: Nerodia
N. erythrogaster
Binomial name
Nerodia erythrogaster
(Forster, 1771)
  • Coluber erythrogaster
    Forster, 1771
  • Tropidonotus erythrogaster
    Holbrook, 1842
  • Tropidonotus transversus
    Hallowell, 1852
  • Nerodia erythrogaster
    Baird & Girard, 1853
  • Natrix fasciata erythrogaster
    Cope, 1888
  • Natrix sipedon erythrogaster
    Allen, 1932
  • Natrix erythrogaster
    Clay, 1938
  • Natrix e. erythrogaster
    Conant, 1958
  • Nerodia e. erythrogaster
    — Conant & Collins, 1991

Nerodia erythrogaster, commonly known as the plain-bellied water snake or plainbelly water snake, is a familiar species of mostly aquatic, nonvenomous, colubrid snake endemic to the United States.

Geographic range[edit]

This species ranges through much of the southeastern United States, from Michigan to Delaware in the north, and Texas to northern Florida in the south, but it is absent from the Florida peninsula and the higher elevations of the Appalachian Mountains.


They are almost always found near a permanent water source, a lake, stream, pond, or other slow moving body.


video of Copper-bellied Water Snake, filmed in Muscatatuck National Wildlife Refuge, Indiana, USA

Adults are 24–40 inches (76–122 cm) in total length, and can reach up to 55 inches in some states such as Kansas.

It gets its common name because it has no patterning on its underside. Subspecies can vary in color from brown, to gray, to olive green, with dark-colored blotching down the back, and an underside that is yellow, brown, red, or green.


It is quick to vigorously defend itself by striking repeatedly and flattening its head making it look like a cottonmouth, which is why it has been commonly mistaken for a venomous snake.


This species bears live young (ovoviviparous) like other North American water snakes and garter snakes. In North Carolina and Georgia, the plain-bellied water snake breeds from April to June, and broods of 5-27 young are born in August to October. In 2014 a captive female produced two healthy offspring via parthenogenesis.[2]


These six subspecies of N. erythrogaster have been historically recognized, including the nominotypical subspecies. However, in 2010, Makowsky, et. al. determined that there was "little support for the recognized subspecies as either independent evolutionary lineages or geographically circumscribed units and conclude that although some genetic and niche differentiation has occurred, most populations assigned to N. erythrogaster appear to represent a single, widespread species."[3][4]


  1. ^ Hammerson, G.A.; Frost, D.R. & Santos-Barrera, G. (2007). "Nerodia erythrogaster". The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. 2007: e.T63854A12722399. doi:10.2305/IUCN.UK.2007.RLTS.T63854A12722399.en. Retrieved 23 December 2017.
  2. ^ Smith, Jules D. (20 September 2015). "Captive Snake Gives Second Virgin Birth in Two Months". Retrieved 22 September 2015.
  3. ^ Makowsky, Robert; Marshall, Jr., John C.; McVay, John; Chippindale, Paul T.; Rissler, Leslie J. (2010). "Phylogeographic analysis and environmental niche modeling of the plain-bellied watersnake (Nerodia erythrogaster) reveals low levels of genetic and ecological differentiation". Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution. 55 (3): 985–995. doi:10.1016/j.ympev.2010.03.012. PMC 3322375. PMID 20302955.
  4. ^ "Nerodia erythrogaster (FORSTER, 1771)". The Reptile Database,

Original publication[edit]

  • Forster, J.R. 1771. in Bossu, J.-B. 1771. Travels through that Part of North America Formerly Called Louisiana. Translated by John [sic] Reinhold Forster, F.A.S. ...with Notes Relative Chiefly to Natural the Translator...Vol. I. T. Davies. London. viii + 407 pp. (Coluber erythrogaster, p. 364.)

Further reading[edit]

  • Conant, R. 1975. A Field Guide to Reptiles and Amphibians of Eastern and Central North America, Second Edition. Houghton Mifflin. Boston. xviii + 429 pp. ISBN 0-395-19977-8 (paperback). (Natrix erythrogaster, pp. 142–144 + Plate 20 + Map 103.)
  • Schmidt, K.P., and D.D. Davis. 1941. Field Book of Snakes of the United States and Canada. G.P. Putnam's Sons. New York. 365 pp. (Natrix erythrogaster, pp. 224–225.)
  • Smith, H.M., and E.D. Brodie Jr. 1982. Reptiles of North America: A Guide to Field Identification. Golden Press. New York. 240 pp. ISBN 0-307-13666-3 (paperback). (Nerodia erythrogaster, pp. 154–155.)
  • Wright, A.H., and A.A. Wright. 1957. Handbook of Snakes of the United States and Canada. Comstock. Ithaca and London. 1,050 pp. (in 2 volumes) (Natrix erythrogaster, pp. 477–490, Figures 141.-143., Map 39.)