Threatened and Endangered Species Week: Copper-Bellied Water Snake

Copper Bellied Water Snake Copper Bellied Water Snake. Photo Courtesy of Jim Harding - Michigan DNR
The Copper-Bellied Water Snake (Nerodia erythrogaster neglecta) is extremely rare in Michigan, hence it being classified as endangered and being featured here this week, but most people have never even heard of it. Many sightings tend to be a case of mistaken identity; they look very similar to red-bellied snakes, especially juveniles.
Copper-bellied water snakes can be as long as 4 to 5 feet with a dark almost black body and a reddish-orange belly and chin. If you spot what you believe to be an adult you should report it to the DNR Wildlife Division in Lansing. Indiscriminate killings of snakes can be a problem for them in the few areas where they are found and it is illegal to kill a copper-bellied water snake because of their endangered status.
 While most people focus on game species habitat, it’s important to remember that any habitat improvement helps a number of other species not being targeted. For instance, this snake prefers wooded floodplains, shrub wetlands, and living near slow moving rivers, all things someone might try to protect or improve for waterfowl.
Copper-bellied water snakes are excellent swimmers and feed primarily on aquatic species such as tadpoles, frogs, salamanders (hopefully not the marbled salamander!), aquatic insects and crayfish. Another big problem they face that contributes to their low numbers is loss of suitable habitat. Wetland drainage and development in their preferred habitat has limited them to a few spread out populations in southern Michigan. Protecting our wetlands can go a long way to help many species you love, and some you’ve never heard of.

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