The Red-Bellied Snake

Tyler Ricco, Georeferencing Intern
December 14, 2022

I have spent the last three months georeferencing the herpetology collection for the Chicago Academy of Sciences / Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum. Georeferencing is the practice of digitally mapping spatial data into a database like a Species Distribution Model (Bloom et al., 2017, GIS Resources, 2013). In biodiversity research, georeferencing is used to track the occurrence of different species over time in order to understand how they are affected by climate change. Through review of these data, researchers are able to determine the threats to a species population and what level of threat the species is under (Bloom et al., 2017). This research is used by organizations like the IUCN Red List. The IUCN Red List is an organization that evaluates and publishes a list of the global extinction risk status of plant, fungus, and animal species (IUCN, 2022).

While georeferencing, the red-bellied snake caught my eye. A Cook County native, this small snake is unmistakably beautiful. The red-bellied snake, also known as the redbelly snake or Storeria occipitomaculata, is named for the red (sometimes orange or pink) strip that goes down its belly. This stripe gives the snake’s underside a vibrant look compared to its brown, black or gray back. Its stripe and small stature (about four to ten inches in length) give the red-bellied snake a charming look that even the most snake-wary people can find approachable (iNaturalist, n.d.).


Credit: Picture by Jonathan Gagnon, accessed via iNaturalist (CC BY-NC 4.0)

One thing I found interesting about the red-bellied snake is its diet. Due to its small size, the red-bellied snake cannot eat very big prey. This snake mostly survives on a diet of earthworms and slugs with the occasional snail or insect larvae thrown into the mix. Since the red-bellied snake is non-venomous and so small, it does not pose a threat to humans and pets (Florida Museum of Natural History, University of Florida, 2021). In fact, the red-bellied snake is preyed upon by many animals, including raccoons, largemouth bass, and hawks. When threatened, the snake will flatten itself, show its black mouth, emit a foul odor, and even play dead (Snake Facts, n.d.).

I chose to write about the red-bellied snake due to its native range. In the Academy’s collection, red-bellied snake specimens were collected from throughout Cook County in Thatcher Woods, Wheeling, and Chicago. I believe that it is important for people to learn about the animals native to where they live. This snake can also be found throughout the eastern half of the United States, as far North as Southern Canada and as far South as the Gulf of Mexico (Hammerson, 2007).


Caption: A map of where the Chicago Academy of Sciences’ red-bellied snake specimens were found. This map was created through the process of georeferencing and can be further explored here.

The red-bellied snake enjoys habitats with plenty of ground cover like woodlands, marshes, and prairies (Florida Museum of Natural History, University of Florida, 2021). This species is often found with snakes of the same species or other small snakes in a group called a den, bed, nest, or pit (Conjecture Corporation, n.d.). The red-bellied snake population is categorized as being of least concern according to the IUCN Red List (Hammerson, 2007).

As a reptile, the red-bellied snake is cold blooded and thus unable to regulate its own body temperature. Due to this fact, its daily activity changes with each season. The red-bellied snake hibernates in the winter, is diurnal (active during the day) in the spring and fall, and nocturnal (active at night) in the hot summer months (Snake Facts, n.d.).

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A model of red-bellied snakes from the Chicago Academy of Sciences’ collection.


Bloom, T. D. S., Flower, A., & DeChaine, E. G. (2017, December 6). Why georeferencing matters: Introducing a practical protocol to prepare species occurrence records for spatial analysis. Wiley Online Library. Retrieved December 8, 2022, from

Conjecture Corporation. (n.d.). What is a group of snakes called? All Things Nature. Retrieved December 8, 2022, from

Florida Museum of Natural History, University of Florida. (2021, September 8). Red-bellied snake. Florida Museum. Retrieved December 8, 2022, from

Gagnon, J. (2018, November 18). Northern redbelly snake (subspecies Storeria occipitomaculata occipitomaculata). iNaturalist. Retrieved November 29, 2022, from

GIS Resources. (2013, September 6). What is georeferencing? GIS Resources. Retrieved December 8, 2022, from

Hammerson, G. A. (2007). Storeria occipitomaculata. IUCN red list of threatened species. Retrieved November 29, 2022, from

iNaturalist. (n.d.). Red-bellied snake (Storeria occipitomaculata). iNaturalist. Retrieved December 8, 2022, from

IUCN. (2022). The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2022-1. Retrieved December 8, 2022 from

Snake Facts. (n.d.). Red-bellied snake. Snake Facts. Retrieved December 8, 2022, from,as%20the%20congeneric%20eastern%20hognose

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