I like red-bellied snakes! They are common throughout Wisconsin, but uncommonly seen by most people. I see one or two each year and I always look forward to seeing the next one. I was lucky to do so this week when I saw one lurking under our door frame as I went outside.
This is a small 8 to 10-inch-long, non-venomous snake that comes in various color variations of plain brown, gray, or black with a lighter broad stripe down the back and a red, orange, or yellow belly. It is one of the friendliest snakes I have handled, is quite docile, and rarely attempts to bite humans or predators.
The red-bellied snake is a beneficial woodland and adjacent field snake, most at home under logs and forest floor litter where it eats beetle larva, slugs, and earthworms. Mary Lou likes this snake too as it helps control slugs that feed on her garden hostas.
Female redbellies give birth to 2 to 14 live young in August or early September. During late September and October, adults and offspring migrate by the hundreds to winter hibernaculas, usually abandoned ant mounds, where they will spend the winter in a deep sleep along with other snake species such as smooth green and garter snakes.
Did you know that snakes have a tongue for a nose? Well they do and that is why we see snakes flicking out their forked tongue so often. By doing this, they can pick up chemical particles of scent from the air and surrounding surfaces. As they reel their tongue back into their mouth, the forked tips fit into the roof of their mouth where there are sensitive organs with sensory cells like those found in human noses. The sensory information obtained in this way allows snakes to find their prey and mates.
There has been a lot of activity going on in Nature these days. Have you ever seen in recent years so many monarch butterflies? The predictions that they overwintered well in Mexico and that we would see more of them this year proved correct as they are everywhere. Yellow tiger swallowtails are being commonly seen, their appearance coordinated with the blooming in the swamps of bog Labrador tea which they are attracted to. Baby mallards hatched out on our ponds last week and all kinds of baby birds are out and about being fed by their parents. White-tailed deer are rapidly changing into their summer coats. Bunchberries and lupine are in full bloom. Green and tree frogs are now calling. And mosquitoes and ticks are still numerous and continuing to bite!