Here is the answer to yesterday’s quiz along with things to note as you make your observations. The snake is a Red-bellied Snake (Storeria occipitomaculata). It is a small snake with adults ranging up to about 12 inches in length. They are fairly common, but somewhat secretive, in wooded areas and edges of old fields. They are harmless, and don’t bite, even when handled. Their diet consists primarily of slugs and small snails. They are quite variable in coloration as you will see if you peruse a field guide or online source, ranging in color on their dorsal surface from gray (can be almost black) to brown to reddish.
Their common name stems from the reddish coloration of their underside. They can be confused with a number of other local snakes. Just in terms of their name (and reddish underbelly) some may think they are Red-bellied Water Snakes (Nerodia erythrogaster), another common (but much larger) species in our area that is usually found near waterways.
People also often mistake this snake with two other small species – the Brown Snake (Storeria dekayi) and the Ring-necked Snake (Diadophis punctatus). I will admit to occasionally having called these guys ring-necks on first seeing one as they tend to have a yellow or orange collar behind the head, much like a Ring-necked Snake. But, with a closer look you can see some distinctive characteristics that will separate them…
Red-bellied Snakes have a conspicuous white spot under, and just behind, the eye. They also have keeled scales (scales that have a small, raised ridge, running down the middle). The Ring-necked Snake has smooth scales (no keel). The Brown Snake lacks the reddish underside and the yellowish spots behind the head.
And speaking of keeled scales, that is what the mystery photo from yesterday was – a close up view of a beautifully patterned Eastern Garter Snake (Thamnophis sirtalis).
Garter snakes are another common species in this area and can grow to over 3 feet in length. We often have them around our small water gardens since amphibians are a favorite food item. They are not venomous, but will emit a strong musk, and may bite, if handled. This particular snake is a beauty and is hanging out near a decaying log in the front yard.
Whatever your opinion of snakes, they are an important part of our ecosystem and deserve to be left alone. You might even find them fascinating and beautiful if you give them a closer (but not too close) look.
Outstanding, very informative and interesting. Why would there be different types of scales? And what do you think is the purpose of the ridge?
Great question, Don. I assumed it might have to do with traction (arboreal species might be able to climb better with keeled scales), but looking online it seems no one really knows. There are all sorts of suggestions from reducing light reflection (perhaps to increase camouflage) to water retention. So, it looks like a topic for research.
Well, I never would have guessed that because I had never met one. My second guess would have just been common ‘snake’ scales. Garter snakes are pretty here, but are not very similar to those of the East. The San Francisco garter snake is the common one here right now, although their populations seem to fluctuate, so that common garter snakes are more common at times.
Beautiful. So nice to see a little redbelly. We have lots of Storeria dekayi, but I haven’t seen S. occipitomaculata since I lived in Pennsylvania, about 30 years ago.
We have both here, probably more Brown Snakes than Red-bellieds. Too bad this one did not “curl its lips” when we handled it.