(Click on any photo to enlarge it and display it in its own frame.)
The distribution of the Red-bellied Snake extends from southern Canada, North Dakota, and Minnesota south to Louisiana and east to the Atlantic coast. The Black Hills subspecies is a disjunct population residing in the Black Hills of South Dakota and Wyoming. This is a peripheral species in Wyoming, separated from its relatives in the eastern range by 300 miles, and was believed to be isolated near the end of the Pleistocene over 10,000 years ago. It inhabits the deciduous and mixed woodland communities in the foothills and lower montane life zones. It is a secretive snake and hides under rocks, logs, ground litter, and inside rotting stumps. It prefers the moist or damp environments associated with hilly woodlands which lie adjacent to meadows and clearings.
They are mainly nocturnal snakes (occasionally crepuscular) and active from May through September. They feed primarily on snails and slugs (How French!) as well as earthworms, grubs, and small insects. Their slender teeth are “in-curved” and adapted to help hold the shells of snails while they extract the contents. They are docile when handled and rarely bite—choosing instead to emit a foul cloacal discharge to show their displeasure when frightened or stressed. They are also reported to curl the upper lip and display a “grin” when threatened.
These are small snakes with adult lengths in the range 8-12 inches (TL). The dorsal scales are keeled, oval, and slightly overlapping. The bland background is a dark gray or grayish brown with a pair of thin, dark brown dorsolateral stripes lying on either side of a wider, pale gray stripe running down the middle of the back. The anal plate is divided. The belly is not just red—it’s a stunning, glowing ember red with a ceramic glaze.
Mating occurs in spring or early summer. They bear their young alive (viviparous) with litters of 1-20 born in late summer after a 60-70 day incubation (gestation) period. They become sexually mature during their 2nd year.