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The copperbelly water snake gets its name from its bright orange-red underside that is visible from a side view. Its back is solid dark, usually black. Adult copper-bellies water snakes can grow up to five feet. This species is sometimes confused with the more common northern water snake which has variable colored half-moon shaped spots on the belly.
Frogs and tadpoles are the copperbelly water snake’s main prey. It hunts on land and in shallow water and favors seasonal wetlands where frogs, toads, and salamanders lay their eggs. In addition to large numbers of prey, the gradual drying of these wetlands provides excellent feeding conditions as tadpoles become stranded. The snakes find food in the woods after the late spring rains, especially if there is a high water table, cover items and chimney crayfish burrows.
Distribution And Habitat
Copperbelly water snakes inhabit swampy woodlands and river bottoms which often become dry in summer. When this happens, these snakes move into adjacent woodlands and meadows. They frequently bask at the water’s edge on debris, tree roots, or rock piles. In the winter, they retreat down crayfish burrows to escape freezing.
Upon emerging from their hibernation sites, copperbellies become more active as the weather warms. Courtship and the mating process occurs in the spring and young snakes are born in the fall near or in the winter burrow. The average litter size of a copperbelly water snake is 18 young. The largest brood on record is 38 young born, in the northern part of their range.
This snake is currently known to only reside in Williams County, although small, widely scattered remnant populations may occur elsewhere in northwestern Ohio. Agricultural development on its limited habitat has all but eliminated this snake from the state. It is listed as “endangered” by the Ohio Division of Wildlife and “threatened” by the US Fish and Wildlife Service.