Picture this: You’re walking down the restored Olentangy River corridor on Ohio State’s campus in Columbus. You see the beautiful assortment of leaves and clearer river and hear the faint rolling of cars in the background. But as you stroll across the pavement you notice to your right, under some fallen leaves and twigs, a streak of bright orange and black. You lean down to investigate, but to your horror, it’s … a SNAKE!
But before you never return to this treasured place, there are a few things you should know. First, the snake is a copper-bellied water snake (pictured, below right), which isn’t venomous, will strike only if cornered, and is easily recognized by its beautiful orange belly. (Not to be confused by name or looks with the venomous copperhead snake.) Also, as of this posting, the Ohio Division of Wildlife lists the copper-bellied water snake as endangered and says it resides only in Williams County in northwest Ohio.
However, the Olentangy restoration project offers an excellent opportunity to reintroduce endangered and threatened species, so hopefully in 10 to 15 years the copper-bellied snake will again call the river home, as, possibly, will the native queensnake (below left) and the northern fox snake, both of which are also non-venomous and enjoy the swampy waters of a wetland.
So, please, when you take your evening stroll through this new habitat in 15 years and you see a beautiful orange streak slither through the leaves, don’t scream. Instead, relish the knowledge of one or more species being saved from extinction.
Read more about the copper-bellied (or copperbelly) water snake at an Ohio Division of Wildlife Web page here and in a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service fact sheet here. The USFWS lists the copper-bellied water snake as threatened nationally. (Photos: Copper-bellied water snake by R.W. Vandevender, USFWS; queensnake, Ohio Division of Wildlife.)