Discover Maryland's Herps

Field Guide to Maryland's Snakes (Order Squamata)

Sub-order Serpentes, Family Colubridae

Red-bellied Watersnake
Nerodia e. erythrogaster

Red-bellied Watersnake, photo by Dave Wilson
 Photo of Red-bellied Watersnake courtesy of Dave Wilson

Size

30 - 48 inches. Record - 62 inches.

Appearance

  • A rich, chocolate brown to ebony black back, with strongly keeled scales.

  • Diagnostic feature is the deep red to orange-red unmarked or plain belly, which contrasts abruptly with the back coloration.

  • The red is usually visible on the throat and along the lower jaw.

  • Thick-bodied and “bread loaf” shaped in cross-section.

  • Young are boldly patterned black on a pinkish ground color.

  • Red-bellied Watersnake, photo by John White
     Photo of Red-bellied Watersnake courtesy of John White

    Habitats

    Forested riparian areas, particularly Atlantic White-cedar and Baldcypress Swamps, and shrub swamps, from brackish to tidal fresh waters of coastal plain rivers. May travel considerable distances from water during humid periods of mid-summer. All records are from the lower Eastern Shore where it may be locally common, though rarely seen.

    How to Find

    Drive (or bike) slowly on roads near swamps in mid-summer looking for animals basking in the road or road-killed individuals. Warning: Will readily inflict a painful bite when handled. Non-venomous. Please report any sightings or road kills to DNR’s Wildlife and Heritage Service as this species is tracked as a rare Watchlist species.

     Red-bellied Watersnake Habitat, photo by Rebecca Chalmers
    Photo of Habitat for
    Red-bellied Watersnake
    courtesy Rebecca Chalmers

    Distribution in Maryland

    Found only on the Lower Eastern Shore.

    Maryland Distribution Map for Red-bellied Watersnake

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    Maryland Amphibian
    and Reptile Atlas Project

    "A Joint Project of the Natural History Society of Maryland, Inc. and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources"

    For monthly newsletters of the Maryland Amphibian & Reptile Atlas Project click on Recent Newsletters and scroll down to the MARA Newsletters.

    The Maryland Herpetology Field Guide is a cooperative effort of the MD Natural Heritage Program and the MD Biological Stream Survey within the Department of Natural Resources and their partners. We wish to thank all who contributed field records, text, and photographs, as well as support throughout its development.