Wild Profile: Meet the red-bellied snake

A macro portrait of a red-bellied snake against a background of forest floor litter By Mike Wilhelm/Shutterstock

Snakes don’t usually get the label of “cute”—but maybe that’s because nobody remembers the red-bellied snake. Look at that little face! C’mon. This guy’s not so bad.

Are red-bellied snakes venomous?

Like almost all of Canada’s snakes, red-bellies are not venomous. They are also unlikely to attempt to bite you, even if you picked one up. They tend to be timid when handled. They’re very skinny—more like long worms—and sometimes only as long as eight inches. Even turtles and blue jays eat them. The most a red-bellied snake will do to you is curl its upper lips back in a snarl, or attempt to roll over and scare you away with its red stomach. (Because red is scary?) As with all snakes, this one might try its best to intimidate you with fakery. But…when a snake is as small as a red-belly, its efforts kind of fall short. Well, you gave it the old college try, little buddy.

Where does the red-bellied snake live? 

In Canada, you can find the red-bellied snake from southeastern Saskatchewan east as far as Nova Scotia—although they seem to be absent around Lake Superior. If you can find them. With their dark backs and small size, they blend in with dead pine needles and other leaf litter. Plus, they tend to only emerge from rock crevices and under logs at night, to hunt for their dinners of slugs, earthworms, and beetle larvae.

Is this snake endangered?

Red-bellies mostly breed in April, after hibernating over the winter. But a mother doesn’t give birth—to a litter of up to 14 live, baby snakes—until August or September. The snakelets shed one layer of skin within an hour; after two years, they’re mature and able to reproduce. But it’s hard to monitor this snake’s longevity and numbers, in part because of their nocturnal, super-secretive nature. Currently, they’re not assessed under COSEWIC or SARA; under the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species—it catalogues the extinction risk of the world’s animal and plant species—they’re considered “of Least Concern.” So that’s a better outlook if you compare it to the future of plenty of other snakes.


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