garden inhabitant

While working in the garden on the weekend, I turned up this inhabitant – a Red-bellied Snake (Storeria occipitomaculata). As you can see by comparing it to my hand (and I have quite small hands), it’s a small species, about 20 to 40 cm (8 to 16 inches) in length, with a narrow, delicate head. They are generally brown on top, usually with faint darker striping (see bottom photo – click on it for a much larger view). The underside of the snake is usually pink to quite a bright reddish-pink. This one was more pink than red. They have 3 pale markings on the neck just behind the head – one on top and one to each side. Their scales are keeled, meaning that they have a raised line down the center of each scale — examine the large view of the above photo and you should be able to see the keeled shape of the scales.
[EDIT: Hugh from Rock Paper Lizard left a comment below saying:

You can tell by her cloudy eyes that she will soon shed her skin, and after that her belly will be much redder. How do I know she’s a she? I don’t. It just sounds friendlier than “it.”

Thanks for leaving that bit of information, Hugh. I had noticed the cloudy eyes and associated it with molting, but didn’t know if it was a before or after thing.]

Although common in our region, Red-bellied snakes are not often seen unless you happen to turn one up while moving boards or rocks in your garden. The are found in places where their main foods — slugs, snails, earthworms, and insects may be found. They are live-bearing, producing about 8 or so young in late summer. They are entirely harmless snakes and do not bite when handled — or, at least in my experience, I have found them to be very passive. For more information about this species, visit this page on the Univ. of Michigan’s Animal Diversity Web.

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16 Responses to “garden inhabitant”

  1. robin andrea Says:

    A very pretty, little creature. All the snakes that size I’ve seen always moved away much too fast for me to spend any quality time with it. Nice to get a chance to see the details.

  2. Hugh Says:

    You can tell by her cloudy eyes that she will soon shed her skin, and after that her belly will be much redder. How do I know she’s a she? I don’t. It just sounds friendlier than “it.”

  3. wren Says:

    Great pictures. I particularly like the top one, with the close view of its eye.

    I used to be terrified of all snakes. One of the benefits of blogging is that I’ve come to appreciate them instead.

  4. bev Says:

    robin – yes, they do like to move away quickly. That’s one thing about snakes. Most of the time they are so shy that we really don’t get much of an opportunity to see them.

    Hugh – Thanks for bringing that to my attention. In fact, I’m going to edit the above post and make mention of it.

    wren – I’m glad you’ve become more comfortable about snakes. A lot of people are initially nervous of them, but once they get used to being close to them, that usually goes away.

  5. Kelly Says:

    Lovely pics :) I’m still a little uncomfortable around snakes (mostly because they tend to jump out from under my foot as I’m about to step on one) but I’m coming to appreciate them more and more. This little one is quite pretty, really :)

  6. Peter Says:

    Nice photos Bev. Very delicate looking snake. I used to find them often enough as a kid when turning over everything to look for critters was a daily routine :-)

  7. Dave Says:

    Very cool!

  8. John Says:

    Bev, I saw your post just moments after you left it and wanted to leave a comment, but had to rush off. I visited couple of times since. Now, I’ve made the time to comment…odd though my comments might be.

    The little snake in your hand looks so at ease, so fearless, so unfettered by a cross-species encounter. How is it that we (I) assume the snake was without fear? I supposed the fact that it didn’t wrestle free says something. But how do we KNOW that it wasn’t terrified? How do we know whether snakes have any “emotions” at all? We (I) attribute human anthropomorphic qualities to creatures we simply don’t understand, but why? Is it because of what we know about them, or what we know about ourselves? You can ignore this comment if you like; I think I’m crazy, too.

  9. bev Says:

    Kelly – This species is very small and quite passive, so I’m sure you would feel quite comfortable around them.

    Peter – I used to find a lot of snakes when I was a kid as I also turned over old boards, stones and other things while looking for interesting creatures.

    Dave – Thanks!

    John – I’m quite sure that we can know that snakes have emotions — or at least, something equivalent to what we call emotions — as their behaviour varies depending on whether they feel threatened or at ease. When a snake is at ease, it will usually just rest in your hands or slowly move forward while you move your hands to allow it to stay on the move — that’s what I was doing in the above photos. If you restrict a snake by grasping it too tightly or handling it roughly, you’ll know what it thinks soon enough as many snakes will become defensive and may try to bite, or they’ll writhe as they try to break free and escape. Others will feign death — or perhaps they are truly in shock from fear. I’ve found that certain snakes will behave more aggressively than others – even within a species. Oddly enough, some of the most aggressive looking snakes I’ve ever seen have been young garter snakes that seemed full of bravado as they coiled, raised their heads and struck if approached. I’m sure it’s just one of their necessary survival tactics and more bluff than anything else as they were really far too small to inflict much of a bite.

  10. NIna Says:

    I have never seen one–so sweet a find!

  11. Wayne Says:

    Hugh is right about the cloudy eyes thing – the transparent covering is losing its vitality, ready to be shed with the rest of the outside skin.

    I’ve felt about spiders in the same way that Wren and others do, and it’s only been in the last decade or so that I’ve rather deliberately replaced that fear by a comfort afforded by observation.

    Bev – These are wonderful little snakes – the whole genus is. Our more common species down here is the differently but equally nicely patterned Dekay’s Brown Snake, Storeria dekayi. Well, it may not be more common but I run across it more frequently – and also while gardening in some fashion!

    I frequently kept one of these in a terrarium when I was a kid, feeding her :-) slugs and earthworms, which she ate enthusiastically. I know it was a her because she gave birth to a half dozen babies just as you describe.

    And never any biting, either!

  12. Kneeblood Says:

    Pretty little snake in the garden. I’m inclined to let them take over my garden if they choose.

  13. Jess Says:

    Wow! Awesome blog. I stumbled upon it while looking for a picture of a six-spotted fishing spider (I was toying with the idea of getting a tattoo of one, I think they’re beautiful). It’s always so refreshing to find other people who see insects, snakes, etc and don’t immediately think ‘Bleh’ and reach for something to kill it with.

    I like to think my interest in crawly critters happened when I was not quite a year old, when, while exploring our yard, I found a snake nest and stood on top of it. My mother turned around, horrified to find a bunch of baby garter snakes crawling all over my feet while I stood there laughing.

    Great blog, I bookmarked it!

  14. Bambi Says:

    I have a snake like this one, i caught it outside my cusins house.

  15. nathan Says:

    We just saved I think the same snake from a cat, it has been hanging out on my hand for a while, nicest reptile I’ve ever met. Any idea what to feed it? It got banged up by the cat & I want it to be healthy before braving the wild.

  16. siiierra Says:

    i LOVE snakes. and i love all of them… poisons or not. and i was just wondering…. if anyone has seen a water snake that lives in nebraska is red yellow and black?it looks like a garter snake but is way to aggressive to be one.
    it lives in the water 24/7. i dont want to get rid of it i just want to now if it poisons or not and what kind it is.

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