Discover the Largest Plain-Bellied Water Snake Ever Recorded

Plainbelly Water Snake Pankratov

Written by Taiwo Victor

Updated: October 14, 2023

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Key Points:
  • Plain-bellied water snakes are not as frequently encountered as common water snakes. These snakes are semi-aquatic, meaning that they inhabit areas near a permanent water source.
  • In colder months, plain-bellied water snakes have a tendency to brumate, but during warmer months and summer they are typically more active.
  • The largest plain-bellied water snakes are about 48 inches long.

Snakes, also known as serpents, are unique reptiles with over 4,000 known species. These cold-blooded, sometimes egg-laying, elongated creatures are rumored to be deadly and are significantly feared worldwide.

It would be interesting to know that of the 3,000 known species of snakes, only 600 are venomous, and only 200 can cause harm and actual fatality in humans. They can be found anywhere in the world except Antarctica and are unique in terms of length.

Today, we will discuss a not-so-famous snake known as the plain-bellied water snake, and in terms of size and weight, we will discover the largest plain-bellied water snake ever recorded. 

Infographic of the Largest Plainbelly Water Snake Ever
Plainbelly water snakes are found in all the U.S. southeastern states and some western states.

Where Can Plain-Bellied Water Snakes Be Found?

The plain-bellied water snake is scientifically known as Nerodia erythrogaster. A fairly widespread species, plain-bellied water snakes are among the most common snakes within their range. They are semi-aquatic snakes usually found around a permanent water source, and you will spot them in or around rivers, lakes, ponds, floodplains, and wetlands. These snakes are found in all the U.S. southeastern states and some western states, including Florida, Virginia, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Texas, and many others. 

How to Identify Plain-Bellied Water Snakes

The prominent distinctive feature of the plain-bellied water snake is its unmarked belly, hence the name. The underside of this snake is brighter-colored and can vary from yellow to red. However, its dorsal color is brown, gray, olive green, greenish-gray, or black. Some lighter-colored snakes display dark dorsal blotches.

Plainbelly Water Snake

Plain-bellied water snakes are found in all the U.S. southeastern states and some western states.

When Are Plain-Bellied Water Snakes Active?

One would think that as an aquatic species, the plain-bellied water snake would be more active during the cold seasons, but the opposite is the case. Plain-bellied water snakes would hibernate during cold months but are usually more active in warm months and summer.

These animals are both diurnal and nocturnal in the hottest summer months. During these months, you’d find them basking in the sun on logs of wood around their natural habitat. They can travel long distances into terrestrial habitats; they tend to travel farther on land than other water snakes. 

What Is the Largest Plain-bellied Water Snake Ever Recorded?

Plain-bellied water snakes are generally big, with a thick body weighing an average mass of 10 ounces (286 g) in males to 18 ounces (516 g) in females. An adult plainbelly water snake would range from 24 to about 45 inches long. There hasn’t been any record of the largest plain-bellied water snakes, but the noticeably giant snakes of this species are about 48 inches long (about 122 cm).

Plain-bellied water snake (Nerodia erythrogaster)

An adult plain-bellied water snake can measure between 24 and 45 inches long.

What Do Plainbelly Snakes Eat? 

The plain-bellied water snake has a unique way of filling its colorful belly. They are carnivores and feed on aquatic animals like fish, frogs, salamanders, and crayfish. They also feed on some amphibians due to their love of terrestrial habitats during the hot times.

These snakes stand as prey to both aquatic and terrestrial animals. Like most snakes, they look for their prey, but rather than hunting them down, often patiently wait for them to be close enough and capture them. After this, they swallow the prey alive without any hitch. They would go after their target if it attempted to run. 

Plain-bellied Watersnake - Yellow-bellied Watersnake

As carnivores, plainbelly water snakes eat fish, frogs, salamanders, and crayfish.

How Do Plain-Bellied Snakes Reproduce?

These reptiles are ovoviviparous and bear their young ones alive. Their offspring come in the form of eggs that are hatched within the parent snake. The breeding period of the plainbelly snake is from April until mid-June. The courtship happens in groups called cords. The cords include one adult female and several adult males.

After courtship, the female plain-bellied water snake goes ahead to deliver its offspring somewhere around August to October. Their reproduction cycle lasts about three to four months, with an average litter size of 18 offspring. Interestingly, a female plain-bellied water snake in Northern California was discovered to have reproduced 55 hatchlings. The smallest number of offspring born by a plain belly water snake is two. 

What Eats Plain-Bellied Water Snakes?

Plain-bellied water snakes are preyed upon by aquatic, terrestrial, and avian predators. The most common predators of the plain-bellied water snake are hawks, some species of egrets, king snakes, cottonmouths, and big fish such as largemouth bass.

When preyed upon, the plain-bellied water snakes always release a foul odor from a pair of glands in their tail. They would flatten their head and body to camouflage and bite as they try to escape. Plain-bellied water snakes are not a threat if left alone; they only attack when they feel threatened. 

Are Plain-Bellied Water Snakes Endangered? 

Although plain-bellied water snakes aren’t venomous, there is a similar species: the cottonmouth snake, which is considered harmful to humans. Plainbelly water snakes are usually killed by people who hate snakes or mistake them for cottonmouths. Aside from death by actual slaughter, these snakes are accidentally killed by vehicles when they cross the highway moving from one water source to another.

Although they do not pose any risk to humans, they are still considered conservation risks — mostly associated with the loss of wetlands. The plain-bellied water snake is not a protected species in the southeastern states.

In 1997, the copper-bellied water snake, previously considered a subspecies of the plain-bellied water snake, was designated a threatened species in Michigan, Ohio, and northern Indiana under the Federal Endangered Species Act.

Other Record-Breaking Snakes

The western lyre snake is the largest member of the lyre snake family, known for its medium to large size. It is a slender-bodied snake with a relatively long tail that can measure between 43 and 63 inches (1.10 to 1.61 meters) in length. In contrast, other species of lyre snakes are significantly smaller, with maximum lengths that don’t exceed 40 inches.

For instance, the Sonoran lyre snake, the Baja California lyre snake, the Sinaloan lyre snake, the Mexican lyre snake, the Texas lyre snake, and the Central American lyre snake all have maximum lengths between 35 to 39 inches.

Lyre snakes are medium-sized species of snake that typically grow to nearly 4 feet (1.2 m) long. While they are common, the exact size of their population is unknown, although it is estimated to be around 10,000.

These snakes are most likely to breed in the spring season, with females laying a clutch of 10 or more eggs during the summer months. The eggs are expected to hatch in late summer and early fall.

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About the Author

For six years, I have worked as a professional writer and editor for books, blogs, and websites, with a particular focus on animals, tech, and finance. When I'm not working, I enjoy playing video games with friends.

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