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Copperbelly Water Snake

Working together with landowners to prevent extinction


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We went looking for copperbelly water snakes, and found one enjoying his lunch. Things get a little graphic at 2:06!

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Have you seen me?

Please report any Copperbelly water snake sightings (with a picture if possible – cell phone pictures are okay) to copperbelly@fws.gov or call (517) 351-5350 and leave a message.

The copperbelly water snake (Nerodia erythrogaster neglecta) faces extinction in the northern portion of its range. That range is now limited to parts of Williams County, Ohio; Hillsdale County, Michigan; and Steuben County, Indiana.

Much of the existing and restorable habitat for the copperbelly occurs on private lands. Private landowners, working in cooperation with government agencies and conservation organizations (including The Nature Conservancy), can play a key role in maintaining and improving habitat for the copperbelly. In doing so, they can not only help pull the copperbelly back from the brink of extinction, but also improve habitat for other wildlife on their property.

Quick facts about the Copperbelly:

  • It is not poisonous.
  • Its back is a solid dark color and its belly is orange-red.
  • It can be 3 to 5 feet in length.
  • It likes to eat frogs, tadpoles, crayfish and small fish.
  • It’s illegal to keep the Copperbelly as a pet.
  • It likes lowland swamps and other warm, quiet waters.
  • It is found in Southern Michigan, Northeast Indiana and Northwest Ohio.
  • During the winter, it likes upland woods.
  • It only swims in clean water, so it is a sign of clean, healthy water.
  • The Copperbelly is now threatened and endangered, because its habitat is being drained and cleared.

Threats to the Copperbelly
Habitat loss and fragmentation have caused the greatest decline of the copperbelly water snake in its northern range. Wetland drainage and conversion of lands for agriculture and development have reduced suitable habitat to a few key spots in the tri-state area. Roads create both a hazard and a barrier between suitable blocks of habitat. Finally, indiscriminant killing of snakes may contribute to further decline of this already imperiled species.

What can you do?
Private landowners living within the range of the copperbelly can do a number of things that may benefit this species. These conservation actions will also improve habitat for other wildlife, such as deer, turkeys, waterfowl and songbirds.
Actions include:

  • Protect existing shallow wetlands, particularly those in the woods or with woody vegetation.
  • Do not stock existing or restored shallow wetlands with fish, which may eat the snake’s preferred food
  • Leave woody debris, such as downed logs, in and adjacent to wetlands
  • Maintain a buffer of native vegetation, ideally 150 feet or more in width, around wetlands
  • Maintain wooded upland cover around a complex of wetlands

Learn more about how to help this species with a Copperbelly Water Snake hand-out from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

 

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