Plainbelly Watersnake (Nerodia erythrogaster)
Two subspecies of Plainbelly Watersnakes occur in Kentucky. Yellowbelly Watersnakes (Nerodia erythrogaster flavigaster) have a gray to greenish back and an unpatterned, yellow belly. Copperbelly Watersnakes (Nerodia erythrogaster neglecta) have a black back and an orange to red belly. Juvenile snakes of both subspecies have dark brown to grayish bands on their backs and an unpatterned belly. Adult Plainbelly Watersnakes are stocky snakes with keeled scales and a divided anal plate.
A typical adult Plainbelly Watersnake reaches 3 feet in total length. Large individuals may obtain a maximum length of 4 feet.
Both subspecies are found in western Kentucky. Yellowbelly Watersnakes are found throughout the Jackson Purchase. Copperbelly Watersnakes are found in the western coalfields. Plainbelly Watersnakes prefer bottomland hardwood forests, swamps, sloughs and riparian areas. They also can be found near open wetlands, ponds and lakes.
Plainbelly Watersnakes become active in early spring where they can be seen feeding on amphibians around wetlands. In addition to amphibians, fish are also an important prey item. Mating occurs April through June and they give birth to live young in late summer.
Plainbelly Watersnakes are well known for overland movements and individuals are often found quite far away from aquatic habitats. Similar to other Watersnakes, Plainbelly Watersnakes musk and bite if threatened. Copperbelly Watersnakes are protected in Kentucky through various conservation agreements and they are considered a “Species of Greatest Conservation Need” by Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources.