While hiking along a remote country road in Arkansas’ Ouachita National Forest recently, I had the good fortune of encountering one of the state’s more elusive reptiles – the red-bellied snake (Storeria occipitomaculata). This diminutive, infrequently seen species is a resident of the forest’s leafy floors, where it plays an integral role in balancing local food webs.

Red-bellied Snake

Red-bellied Snake

As I walked along admiring the green foliage, a subtle movement at the edge of the road caught my eye. Upon closer inspection, I discovered a slender, grayish snake with a distinctive brick-red underside – identifying features of the red-bellied snake. No longer than 15 inches, this individual was navigating a path across the road, perhaps in search of its next invertebrate meal.

Native across much of the eastern United States, populations of the red-bellied snake have declined in parts of its range due to threats like habitat loss and the pet trade. Seeing this species thriving amid the diverse flora and fauna of the Ouachita National Forest was thus a reassuring reminder of the importance of protected lands for conserving our native wildlife.

Though small and obscure, the red-bellied snake is no less a vital component of the intricate ecological web that makes Arkansas such a biologically rich place. This sighting has inspired me to learn more about the natural history of this fascinating denizen of the leaf litter. With continued stewardship of wild spaces like the Ouachitas, future generations will also have the chance to rediscover this inconspicuous resident of Arkansas’ forests.

Gear Used:

  • Camera: Canon EOS 7D Mark II
  • Lens: Canon EF 100-400 mm f/4.5-5.6 L IS II USM


I got low while hand-holding my camera. I was lucky, and this snake stayed put while I photographed it.

  • Location: Near the Ouachita National Forest (Arkansas)
  • Date & Time Taken: August 26, 2016 (12:36 P.M.)
  • Aperture Priority
  • Aperture: f8.0
  • Shutter speed: 1/1250 sec. (as determined by the camera)
  • ISO: 640
  • Exposure Compensation: +1/3 EV
  • Focal Length: 400 mm

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