Are you wondering what reptiles you can find in North Dakota?
This is a great question! Although these reptiles are widespread, they can be difficult to find. Most reptiles, including snakes, turtles, and lizards, are secretive and shy. But observing and finding reptiles is a really fun experience!
Below you will find a list of the most common and interesting reptiles that live in North Dakota. In addition, you will find detailed pictures, along with range maps for each species to help with your identification!
7 COMMON Reptiles in North Dakota:
#1. Prairie Rattlesnake
- Crotalus viridis
- Adults typically range between 3.3 and 5 feet in length.
- Coloration is highly variable and can be greenish-gray, olive green, greenish-brown, light brown, or yellow. All variations have dark blotches on the body that turn into rings near the tail.
- They have a broad triangular head, elliptical pupils, heat-sensing pits between the eyes and nostrils, and a tail rattle.
Prairie Rattlesnakes have a more varied habitat than many reptiles in North Dakota. These venomous snakes can be found in open prairies, grasslands, semi-desert shrublands, and forested environments. They can even be found at elevations up to 9500 feet!
The Prairie Rattlesnake hibernates during the winter, often in communal dens. These dens are typically rock crevices, caves, or old mammal burrows. Individual snakes return to the same den each winter and migrate up to seven miles to their hunting grounds in the spring.
When they feel threatened Prairie Rattlesnakes may also quietly crawl away to cover. If approached, they coil and rattle their tail as a warning before striking. Their potent venom has both hemotoxic and neurotoxic properties and, although rare, can be fatal to an adult human.
#2. Plains Garter Snake
- Thamnophis radix
- Adults average 36 inches in length.
- The coloration is gray-green with a distinctive orange stripe down the back and a greenish-yellow stripe down each side.
- Distinct light yellow spots on the very top of the head!
Plains Garter Snakes live near freshwater sources. They have a fairly large population and adapt well to human-modified landscapes. You may spot them near abandoned buildings, trash heaps, or vacant lots.
This species is considered one of the most cold-tolerant of all reptiles! They will even come out of hibernation on warmer winter days.
Plains Garter Snakes feed primarily on earthworms, slugs, and small amphibians. However, they have also been observed preying on small mammals and birds.
- Pituophis catenifer sayi
- Adults are large and typically range from 4 to 6 feet in length.
- Coloration is yellow, beige, or light brown with large brown, black, or reddish blotching on the back and three sets of small blotches on the sides.
- Blotches may appear like bands near the end of the tail, and the underside is yellowish with black spots.
Bullsnakes are often seen in areas with high rodent populations.
So they’re common in places like prairie dog towns. But you can also find them in fields, grasslands, forest edges, savannas, and brushlands with sandy soils.
Despite being nonvenomous, these snakes act aggressively toward any threats. They often lift the front half of their body, hiss, and lunge at their attacker. This body language is reminiscent of other reptiles in southwestern North Dakota, like prairie lizards!
Interestingly, their hissing can sound like a rattle! (see below!)
To accomplish this, the snake forces air through an extension of the windpipe, which has a piece of cartilage called an epiglottis that flaps back and forth, sounding very similar to a rattlesnake.
#4. Greater Short-Horned Lizard
- Phrynosoma hernandesi
- 1.75 to 4.75 inches long from snout to vent (length does not include the tail).
- Coloring is beige, tan, or reddish, speckled with white. There are large brown blotches on the neck and sides.
- Horns are short and stubby, located on the back of the head and each side.
Greater Short-horned Lizards prefer to live in shortgrass prairies and the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. Their habitat is semi-arid, with long dry spells and infrequent rain.
Greater Short-horned Lizard Range Map:
Ants are a primary food source for Greater Short-horned Lizards, but they have a varied diet.
They are one of the few reptiles in North Dakota that gives birth to live young!
And you may not believe this, but they can produce up to 48 babies in one birth!
#5. Common Snapping Turtle
- Chelydra serpentina
- They weigh 10 to 35 lbs. and grow 8 to 18 1/2 inches long.
- The snapping turtle has a long tail, chunky head, and large webbed feet.
- The carapace (upper shell) coloring is black, brown, or olive with no distinct pattern.
These prehistoric-looking reptiles are widespread throughout North Dakota.
Look for them living in marshes, lakes, ponds, rivers, and slow streams. They prefer areas with plenty of aquatic vegetation to hide in and insects, fish, frogs, and birds to eat.
Snapping Turtle Rangemap:
Credit: Virginia Herpetological Society
Snapping Turtles are best known for their powerful jaws. While there aren’t any recorded incidents of one of their bites causing amputation to a person, it can cause infections serious enough to require an amputation. In fact, their jaws are so strong that snapping turtles commonly eat other turtles!
These reptiles are usually docile but will become very aggressive if removed from the water. One of the best ways to calm an aggressive individual is to place it back into the water, where it can feel safe. I know I have personally picked them up with a large snow shovel to get them off the road and back to safety!
#6. Painted Turtle
- Chrysemys picta
- 2.5 to 10 inches long.
- The carapace is low to the ground and generally dark brown or black.
- As the name suggests, they have distinctive yellow, green, and red striping on the carapace, head, and limbs.
The Painted Turtle is one of the most recognizable reptiles in North Dakota!
Look for its beautiful coloring of bright reds and yellow greens on its shell, limbs, and head. Painted Turtles live near calm, shallow water. They are attracted to areas with plenty of aquatic plants, their primary food source.
Painted Turtle Rangemap:
It’s almost impossible to accurately assess the population of Painted Turtles in North Dakota. Many people keep them as pets and then release them into the wild, causing an ever-expanding range and unstable reproduction rates. These released reptiles can also put pressure on natural populations.
In the wild, Painted Turtles can hold their breath for up to 30 hours!
They also can remain dormant in near-freezing water for up to 4 months. This ability is essential when temperatures often go below freezing.
#7. Spiny Softshell Turtle
- Apalone spinifera
- Females are 7 to 21.25 inches long; males are 5 to 12.25 inches long.
- The carapace is flexible with a rough sandpaper texture, with a single row of spines or cones along the middle of the back. There is also a row of pointed tooth-like appendages on the edge of the carapace.
- Coloring is olive, gray, or brown, with black spots on some individuals.
Look for these reptiles in North Dakota in lakes, rivers, and streams with sandy or muddy bottoms and little or no vegetation. I often see them sunning themselves on the banks while kayaking down slow-moving rivers.
Spiny Softshell Turtle Rangemap:
Spiny Softshell Turtles can “breathe” underwater by absorbing oxygen through the skin of their throats. This is a useful adaptation because they spend very little time out of the water, even sunning themselves in shallows or floating on the surface.
This reptile has some other unique adaptations that make it perfectly suited for its environment. Its leathery shell is extremely flat, and it has webbed feet and long claws, which allow it to swim quickly away from predators and bury itself in the muddy bottom.
Its most unique feature is its nose, which is long and snout-like! It can poke its nostrils out of the water and stay completely submerged to protect itself from hungry predators!
What types of reptiles in North Dakota have you seen?
Let us know in the comments!
And if you’re looking for a more comprehensive list of specific reptiles like snakes, lizards, or turtles, check out our ID guides to these fascinating creatures!