Northern Red-bellied Snake
Storeria occipitomaculata occipitomaculata

** Harmless **

Common Name:

Northern Red-bellied Snake

Scientific Name:

Storeria occipitomaculata occipitomaculata



Storeria is in honor of David Humphreys Storer, an 18th-century, zoologist from New England.


occipitomaculata is derived from the Latin words occiput which means "the back part of the head" and macula meaning "spot".


occipitomaculata is derived from the Latin words occiput which means "the back part of the head" and macula meaning "spot".

Vernacular Names:

Brown snake, copper snake, ground snake, little brown snake, little red-bellied snake, red-billed brown snake, red-bellied garter snake, red-bellied ground snake, spot-neck snake.

Average Length:

8 - 10 in. (20.3 - 25.4 cm)

Virginia Record Length:

15 in. (38.1 cm)

Record length:

16 in. (40.6 cm)

PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION: The adult is usually brown above but may vary from gray to nearly black. There are four indistinct dark stripes and/ or a broad light stripe may occur on the back. The belly is usually bright red with no markings. Occasional individuals may be orange, pink, yellow or rarely bluish-black below. There are three pale spots which may connect to form a collar. The juvenile is similar to the adult. The dorsal scales are keeled with 15 scale rows and the anal plate divided. The preocular scale is present and the loreal scale is absent. They are about 3 inches at birth and grow to 16 inches. Adults are usually from 8-10 inches in total length *1006*. In VA., maximum known SVL is 295 mm (11.6 in.). and max total length is 381 mm (15.0 in.) *10760*. Outside Virginia, the maximum known total length is 16 inches *11523*. Tail length/total length ratio is 11.8-26.3% (avg. = 20.9+/-2.8, n=39).

SCUTELLATION: ventrals 100-134 (avg. = 119.0+/-6.1, n=43); subcaudals 37-54 (avg. = 43.5+/-4.3, n=42); ventrals + subcaudals 149-185 (avg. = 162.4+/-7.4,n=42); dorsal scales keeled; scale rows 15 at midbody; anal plate divided; infralabials 7-7 (75.0%, n=40), or combinations of 5-7 (20.0%); loreal scale absent; preoculars 2-2; postoculars 2-2; temporal scales usually 1+2/1+2 (86.8%,n=38) or combinations of 1-3 (13.2%).

COLORATION and PATTERN: Dorsum of body and tail light brown, dark gray, or black with some indication of 2 or 4 thin black stripes; body scales contain varying amounts of black flecking, the amount of black determines the amount of brown visible; dark gray specimens have gray scales with abundant black flecking; black flecking on these snakes may be concentrated in the lateral and dorsal areas where it forms thin stripes; a middorsal stripe of tan to black is outlined by dark stripes on scale row 7 on each side; scales on row 2 may be edged white, these appear as stripes of small white spots; venter immaculate red, rarely yellowish; dark dorsal color occupies a 20-25% of the venter on each side forming what may appear as 2 dark stripes along the lateral margins of the venter, in these individuals the red color is reduced to a narrow stripe along the midventral line about half to 3/4 the width of a ventral scale; anterior portion of venter whitefish; dorsum of head brown to gray to black, although the anterior most portions are brown; 3 cream to orange spots on neck, one middorsally and one on each side; in some individuals these spots may be connected by a line of similar color; supralabials, except the 5th, which is white bordered by black on the lower edge, may be colored as the rest of the head; chin and infralabials cream and speckled in black; some specimens are nearly all black, although the 3 spots on the neck and the white edges of the dorsal scales are present.*10760*

SEXUAL DIMORPHISM: Sexual dimorphism is expressed in body size and scutellation. Females reach a larger average SVL (201.8+/-43.7 mm, 152-295,n=26) than males (180.2+/-35.8 mm, 155-252, n=6), and a larger total length (381 mm) than males (320 mm). Sexual dimorphism index is 1.12. The average ratio of tail length to total length is slightly higher in males (23.3+/-2.5%, 18.8-26.3, n=10) than females (20.1+/-2.5%, 11.8-24.7, n=29). Females have a higher number of ventral scales (120.2+/-5.4, 111-134, n=31) than males (116.2+/-7.2, 100-131,n=12), but a smaller average number of subcaudals (females 42.0+/-3.1, 37-49, n=30; males 47.3+/-4.8, 38-54, n=12). The number of ventrals + subcaudals is similar between sexes (males 163.4+/-8.7, 152.185, n=12; females 162.1+/-7.0, 149-175, n=30).

JUVENILES: Juveniles are uniformly black when born except for the 3 cream to yellow spots on the neck. Neonate S. occipitomaculata are 58-66 mm SVL (avg. = 61.0+/-2.3, n=9) and 70-84 mm total length (avg. = 77.8+/-4.2). Neonatal birth weight is unknown.

CONFUSING SPECIES: This species may be confused with several other small snakes. The congeneric S. dekayi has a row of dorsal paired spots and lacks the 3 spots on the neck and red venter. Geographic Variation: Small sample sizes from most regions preclude analysis of regional geographic variation in scutellation by sex. Geographic variation among subspecies is based on variation in the patterns on the neck and fifth labial scale.*10760*

REPRODUCTION: The female bears up to 21 live young during the summer, usually in July and August *1006*. Mating occurs in the spring and fall. Spermatozoa remain viable over winter in oviducts of the female and can be used for spring fertilization. Litter sizes in VA. are 2-12 (avg. = 7.5+/-2.8, n=10).*10760* This snake appears more abundant in the mountains and Piedmont than in the Coastal Plain. This snake will not bite when handled, but may emit musk from glands at the base of the tail, curl the upper lips exposing the black mouth, and may even play dead.*10760* Mating has been observed at 8:00 am on May 3, under a fern frond in a wooded lot *11499,11523*.

BEHAVIOR: This species exhibits lip curling as a defensive behavior. Death feigning has also been noted. They feed on insects, earthworms, slugs and occasionally small frogs *1006*. Thorp has found this species on roads, under coverboards, and under bark and logs. Also, in trash piles and abandoned house sites, Thorp has found it under the same cover or nearby cover with other red-bellied snakes, dekays or brown snakes (Storeria dekayi dekayi), and rough earth snakes (Virginia striatula) *11523*.

POPULATION PARAMETERS: The maximum known age is 4 years, 7 months *11523*.

AQUATIC/TERRESTRIAL ASSOCIATIONS: There is one unusual record of a marbled salamander that killed and partially swallowed an 8 1/2 inch northern red- belly snake *1006*. Known predators are largemouth bass (Micropterus salmoides), red-tailed hawks (Buteo jamaicensis), domestic chickens, milksnakes (Lampropeltis triangulum), kingsnakes (Lampropeltis getula), and black racers (Coluber constrictor). Linzey and Clifford noted that an adult marbled salamander (Ambystoma opacum) killed and ate a small red-bellied snake in captivity.*10760* Another noted predator is the mole kingsnake (Lampropeltis calligaster) *11499,11523*.

References for Life History

  • 1006 - Linzey, D.W., M.J. Clifford, 1981, Snakes of Virginia, Univ. of Virginia Press, Charlottesville, VA
  • 10760 - Mitchell, J. C., 1994, The Reptiles of Virginia, 352 pgs., Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, DC
  • 11499 - Palmer, W.M., A.L. Braswell, 1994, The Reptiles of North Carolina, UNC Press, Chapel Hill, NC
  • 11523 - Thorp, T.J., 2001, Personal Communication, Expert Review for GAP Analysis Project, Three Lakes Nature Center and Aquarium


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Verified County/City Occurrence

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Verified in 56 Counties/Cities.


Virginia is home to 28 species of frogs and toads.


We have a large diversity of salamanders consisting of 56 different species and subspecies.


Virginia is home to 9 native lizard species and two introduced species, the Mediterranean Gecko and the Italian Wall Lizard.


The Commonwealth is home to 34 species and subspecies of snake. Only 3 species are venomous.


Virginia has 25 species and subspecies of turtle. Five of these species are sea turtle.