There are A LOT of snakes in North Dakota!
And what’s interesting is that they are all incredibly unique and have adapted to fill many habitats and niches.
You’ll see that the snakes that live in North Dakota are very different from each other.
For example, some species are venomous, while others use constriction to immobilize their prey. Or the fact that certain snakes are rarely seen because they spend most of their time underground, but others are comfortable living EXTREMELY close to humans.
Today, you’re going to learn about the 8 types of snakes 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.
- Broad triangular head, elliptical pupils, heat-sensing pits between the eyes and nostrils, and a tail rattle.
These venomous snakes can be found in North Dakota in open prairies, grasslands, semi-desert shrublands, and forested environments.
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, these snakes freeze to use their camouflage to avoid detection. They may also quietly crawl away to cover. If approached, they may 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.
Prairie Rattlesnakes are listed on the ICUN Red List as a species of least concern. However, they are considered threatened and declining in parts of their range. In addition, they have faced pressure from habitat fragmentation and hunting.
#2. Red-sided Garter Snake
- Thamnophis proximus parietalis
- Normally dark green to black, but color varies.
- Three yellow stripes; one down the back and one down each side.
- As the name suggests, red or orange bars run along their sides between the yellow stripes.
- Subspecies of the Common Garter Snake.
Like other garter snakes, they are habitat generalists. Look for them in North Dakota everywhere, including forests, shrublands, wetlands, fields, and rocky areas. Their favorite foods include frogs, earthworms, and leeches! YUM! 🙂
In some areas, after emerging from hibernation, there are not enough females for all the males. In these cases, “mating frenzies” occur, and dozens and dozens of these snakes can be found together.
To survive colder months, Red-sided Garter Snakes have to hibernate BELOW the frost line. Depending on the area they are located in, it can be hard to find suitable locations. So the few adequate hibernation dens can shelter hundreds, even thousands, of snakes! To see an example, watch the video below:
#3. Plains Garter Snake
- Thamnophis radix
- Adults average 36 inches in length.
- 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 are almost always found in North Dakota in prairies and grasslands 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 snakes! In fact, 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, including the Eastern Meadowlark and Bank Swallow.
#4. Smooth Greensnake
- Opheodrys vernalis
- Adults are SLENDER and typically range from 14 to 20 inches in length.
- Coloration is uniformly light green with a yellow or white underside and a red tongue with a black tip.
- Juveniles may be olive-green, blue-gray, or even brown until they shed their skin for the first time.
Also called Grass Snakes, these bright green snakes can be found in marshes, meadows, pastures, savannas, open woods, and along stream and lake edges. They prefer moist areas near permanent water sources.
They prey almost exclusively on insects and spiders and don’t use constriction; instead quickly striking and swallowing their prey alive.
Smooth Greensnakes hibernate during the winter in North Dakota, seeking shelter in old mammal burrows and abandoned anthills. They often hibernate communally with other small snakes. They emerge in the spring, typically in April, and are active until October.
Smooth Greensnakes rely on their EXCELLENT camouflage to avoid predators. They’re also agile and can flee quickly if they must.
- 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 North Dakota 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.
Bullsnakes are fast and can actively pursue prey in loose soil. They even use their prominent rostral (nose scale) to dig! Once they’ve captured their prey, they use their strong body to coil around and constrict their prey.
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 until they feel they can retreat.
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.
#6. Plains Hog-nosed Snake
- Heterodon nasicus
- Adults range from 15 to 39 inches in length.
- Coloration is varying shades of brown with darker brown blotches on the back, two alternating rows of smaller dark spots down the sides, and large longitudinal blotches on the sides of the neck.
- Enlarged rostral (nose) scale.
The Plains Hog-nosed Snake strongly prefers open sandy or gravelly habitats. They’re excellent burrowers and also use old animal burrows for hibernation and protection from hot temperatures.
These snakes are best-known for their impressive displays when disturbed!
When initially confronted, Plains Hog-nosed Snakes typically remain motionless or hide their head under their coils. They may also try to bury themselves or escape into a burrow.
However, if they’re further disturbed, they’ll spread their jaws and neck like a cobra and puff up their bodies. They may also hiss loudly and deliver false strikes with a closed mouth.
If these intimidating displays fail, the Plains Hog-nosed Snake will then twist as though they’re in pain, roll over on their back and play dead. They’ll be limp, open mouthed, and will remain this way even if picked up. They may also bleed from the mouth and cloaca, expel musk and fecal matter, and regurgitate recently eaten food.
If I saw one of these snakes do this display, I’d definitely leave it alone! But, unfortunately, they’re sometimes killed by people who are frightened by their cobra-like posture.
#7. Red-bellied Snake
- Storeria occipitomaculata
- A small woodland species that grows between 10 to 25 cm (4-10 in) long.
- Colors vary from orange, gray, black, and brown.
- Their bright red or orange belly stands out from other species.
This species is probably the “cutest” snake in North Dakota!
Red-bellied Snakes are small, docile, and have a bright red belly, which makes them VERY easy to identify.
Look for them under logs and leaf litter. They are also commonly found burrowed inside abandoned ant mounds. They are typically diurnal but can be hard to find due to their secretive nature.
Red-belled Snake Range Map
The colors represent the different subspecies of Storeria occipitomaculata.
Red-bellied Snakes have a unique behavior called “lip-curling,” where they curl their lips upward and flick their tongue when eating or feeling threatened. This behavior helps them catch their prey and also scares off potential predators.
Unfortunately, people often kill this species out of fear. This is incredibly sad because these snakes are harmless and valuable to the ecosystem. In addition to this senseless slaughter, many are killed while crossing roads.
#8. North American Racer
- Coluber constrictor
- Adults typically range from 50 to 152 cm (20 to 60 in) in total length
- The patterns and texture of their skin vary widely among subspecies. However, most are solid-colored and have a lighter-colored underbelly.
True to their name, North American Racers are one of the FASTEST snakes in North Dakota!
When they get moving, they can speed away at up to 3.5 miles per hour (5.6 kph). These active snakes are curious and have excellent vision. In fact, they are known to raise their heads above the height of the grass to view their surroundings.
Despite their scientific name (constrictor), North American Racers do not squeeze their prey to death. Instead, they subdue their victim by holding it down with their body. Smaller prey is simply swallowed alive.
North American Racer Range Map
These nonvenomous snakes fight back incredibly hard if they feel threatened or become trapped. You can expect them to bite, thrash, defecate, and release a foul-smelling musk, especially if you try holding one. In addition, racers will try to impersonate rattlesnakes by shaking their tails in dry leaves.
North American Racers are still abundant in many places. But they face threats as they are losing habitat to urbanization and development. Unfortunately, many people also kill them out of fear, even though they are completely harmless, especially if you leave them alone.
Do you need additional help identifying snakes in North Dakota?
Try this field guide!
Which of these SNAKES have you seen before in North Dakota?
Leave a comment below!
Also, if you enjoy this article, make sure to check out these other North Dakota guides!