The 13 Types of SNAKES That Live in Minnesota! (ID Guide)

There are A LOT of snakes in Minnesota!

Common Snakes in Minnesota

 

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 Minnesota 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 13 types of snakes in Minnesota!

 

Also, if you enjoy this article, make sure to check out these other Minnesota guides!

 


#1. Timber Rattlesnake

  • Crotalus horridus

Types of Snakes found in Minnesota

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Adults typically range from 30 to 60 inches in length.
  • Coloration is variable and generally ranges from yellowish-brown to gray to almost black. Look for dark brown or black crossbands on their back.
  • Heavy-bodied with characteristic rattle on the tail.

 

The Timber Rattlesnake, also known as the Canebrake Rattlesnake, is only found in southeast Minnesota. Look for these venomous snakes in lowland thickets, high areas around rivers and flood plains, agricultural areas, deciduous forests, and coniferous forests.

Timber Rattlesnake Range Map

timber rattlesnake range map

Credit: Virginia Herpetological Society

 

These snakes are ambush predators, waiting for unsuspecting prey to come within range of their strike. They feed primarily on small mammals but may also consume frogs, birds, and other smaller snakes. Timber Rattlesnakes strike their prey and release them, waiting until their venom has taken effect before eating them.

 

These venomous snakes are the most dangerous species found in Minnesota due to their large size, long fangs, and high venom yield. Luckily, Timber Rattlesnakes have a mild disposition and don’t bite often. They typically give plenty of warning by rattling and posturing.

 

The Timber Rattlesnake played a noteworthy role in U.S. history. Found in the original 13 colonies, it was used as a symbol during the American Revolution. In 1775 it was featured at the center of the “Gadsden Flag.” This yellow flag depicts a coiled and ready-to-strike Timber Rattlesnake and the words “Don’t Tread on Me.”

 


#2. Eastern Massasauga

  • Sistrurus catenatus

Snakes species that live in Minnesota

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Adults are typically around 2 feet in length.
  • Coloration is gray or light brown with darker chocolate-brown blotches on the back and smaller ones on the sides, which feature light edges.
  • Thick body, vertical pupils, heat-sensing pits between the eyes and nostrils, and heart-shaped head.
  • Being rattlesnakes, look for the rattle at the end of their tail.

 

These small venomous snakes live only in southeast Minnesota in wet habitats.

 

The name “Massasauga” actually comes from the Chippewa language and means “great river mouth” which describes their habitat. Look for them in floodplain forests, shrub swamps, low areas along rivers and lakes, wet prairies, moist grasslands, bogs, and marshes. During the summer, they often migrate to drier regions adjacent to these habitats.

Eastern Massasauga Range Map

 

Unlike other rattlesnakes, the Eastern Massasauga hibernates alone. They frequently hibernate in crayfish burrows but may also use small mammal burrows or spaces under rotting logs or tree roots. Dens must be below the frost line, or they risk freezing to death!

 

These snakes have cytotoxic venom (poisonous to cells), which destroys tissue, disrupts blood flow, and prevents clotting. But these snakes are secretive, shy, and avoid humans when possible. The only times they bite seem to be when handled or accidentally stepped on!

 

This venomous snake is listed as threatened, endangered, or a species of concern in all of its range. Historically, these snakes have faced pressure from hunting, and many states had bounties and roundups for them. Today they are still often killed out of fear AND face diminishing wetland habitats.

 


#3. Northern Watersnake

  • Nerodia sipedon sipedon

Common Snakes species in Minnesota

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Adults range from 24 to 55 inches in length.
  • Coloration is pale grey to dark brown with reddish-brown to black bands.
  • Large adults become darker with age and appear almost plain black or dark brown.
  • Females tend to be larger than males, and coloration is most vivid in juvenile and wet individuals.

 

This species is the largest snake you will see in the water in Minnesota!

 

Northern Watersnakes prefer slow-moving or standing water like ponds, lakes, vernal pools, marshes, and slow-moving rivers and streams. They’re most often seen basking on rocks or logs in or near the water.

 

Northern Watersnake Range Map (Yellow area below)

common watersnake range map

Credit: Virginia Herpetological Society

 

These snakes primarily feed on fish and amphibians by hunting along the water’s edge and shallow water during the day. They grab their prey and quickly swallow while it’s still alive!

 

While non-venomous, they can deliver a painful bite!

 

Their saliva contains a mild anticoagulant that can cause bites to bleed, making the injury appear worse. These important defense mechanisms help water snakes survive predators such as raccoons, snapping turtles, foxes, opossums, other snakes, and birds of prey.

 


#4. Eastern Garter Snake

  • Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis

Minnesota Snakes species

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Adults typically range from 18 to 26 inches in length.
  • Coloration varies and can be mixtures of green, brown, or black. Look for a distinct yellow or whitish stripe down the center of their back.
  • Some individuals may exhibit a checkered body pattern.
  • Subspecies of the Common Garter Snake.

 

Eastern Garter Snakes are common and easy to locate in eastern Minnesota!

 

In fact, they are typically the snake species that people come across the most. They’re well-adapted to living around people and can often be found in city parks, farmland, cemeteries, and suburban lawns and gardens. Though not required, they prefer grassy environments near freshwater sources such as ponds, lakes, ditches, and streams.

eastern garter snake range map

Look for these snakes in eastern Minnesota basking in the sun in grassy areas near cover.

 

Eastern Garter Snakes protect themselves when they are cornered or feel threatened. For example, if you capture or continually disturb one, it will defecate and release a foul-smelling musk from its glands. It’s also common for them to bite as a last resort!

 

The Eastern Garter Snake most commonly preys on toads, frogs, slugs, salamanders, fish, and worms. However, they are very opportunistic and will eat other insects and small animals they can overpower. They’re active during both the day and night, depending on the temperature.

 


#5. Red-sided Garter Snake

  • Thamnophis proximus parietalis

red sided garter snake

Identifying Characteristics:

  • 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 western Minnesota everywhere, including forests, shrublands, wetlands, fields, and rocky areas. Their favorite foods include frogs, earthworms, and leeches! YUM! ๐Ÿ™‚

red-sided garter snake range map

 

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:

 


#6. Plains Garter Snake

  • Thamnophis radix

plains garter snake

Identifying Characteristics:

  • 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 Minnesota 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.

plains garter snake range map

 

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.

 


#7. Eastern Milksnake

  • Lampropeltis triangulum triangulum

eastern milksnake

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Adults typically range from 24 to 36 inches in length.
  • Coloration is tan or gray with 3 to 5 rows of reddish-brown, black-edged blotches.
  • Look for a gray or tan Y- or V-shaped mark near the rear of the head.

 

Eastern Milksnakes get their unique name from an old myth that they milked cows since they’re commonly found in barns! Obviously, this isn’t true. Instead, their presence inside barns is likely due to the high number of mice, some of their favorite prey.

Eastern Milksnake Range Map

eastern milksnake range map

Credit – Virginia Herpetological Society

 

A member of the kingsnake family, Eastern Milksnakes occupy a wide variety of habitats in southern Minnesota, including fields, woodlands, agricultural areas, and rocky outcrops. These beautiful snakes are somewhat secretive and spend much of their time beneath the ground. You may be able to find one underneath rocks, logs, boards, and other debris.

 

The Eastern Milksnake prefers to feed on small mammals such as mice and shrews. However, they’ll also consume various types of prey, including birds and bird eggs, lizards, snakes, amphibians, fish, earthworms, slugs, insects, and carrion.

 

Like other individuals in the kingsnake family, they will prey on venomous pit vipers. So how do they combat the venom? Interestingly, their blood contains venom-neutralizing properties!

 


#8. Smooth Greensnake

  • Opheodrys vernalis

smooth green snake

Identifying Characteristics:

  • 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.

smooth greensnake range map

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 Minnesota, 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.

 


#9. Bullsnake

  • Pituophis catenifer sayi

bull snake

Identifying Characteristics:

  • 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 Minnesota in areas with high rodent populations.

 

Look for themย in fields, grasslands, forest edges, savannas, and brushlands with sandy soils.

bullsnake range map

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.

 


#10. Plains Hog-nosed Snake

  • Heterodon nasicus

plains hog nosed snake

Identifying Characteristics:

  • 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.

plains hog nosed snake range map

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.

 


#11. Eastern Hog-nosed Snake

  • Heterodon platirhinos

eastern hog nosed snake

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Adults typically range from 20 to 30 inches in length.
  • Coloration can be yellow, gray, brown, black, olive, or orange, often with darker blotches or spots down its side and back, though solid gray and black individuals are fairly common.
  • Thick-bodied, broad, triangle-shaped heads, and an upturned snout.

 

Eastern Hog-nosed Snakes prefer areas in Minnesota with sandy soil.

 

Here’s why:

 

Eastern Hog-nosed Snakes primarily prey on toads and use their upturned snout to dig for them in their burrows. They also have enlarged teeth at the rear of the upper jaw that they use to puncture and deflate toads that puff up when threatened. These snakes also have large adrenal glands, which secrete large amounts of hormones to counteract the toad’s potent skin poison!

eastern hog nosed snake range map

When disturbed, Eastern Hog-nosed Snakes lift their head off the ground and flatten their neck like a cobra! They may also hiss and false strike with a closed mouth.

 

If this display fails to scare off a predator, then the snake will play dead. They’ll roll onto their back, let their tongue hang out, and emit musk from glands near the base of their tail. Interestingly, when the threat has left, the snake will right itself and continue as normal. ๐Ÿ™‚

 


#12. Dekay’s Brownsnake

dekays brownsnake

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Adults typically range from 6 to 13 inches in length.
  • Coloration is light brown or gray to dark brown or black with two rows of dark spots down the back, which are sometimes linked.
  • A dark streak down the head and may have a light stripe down the center of the back.

 

Dekay’s Brownsnakes occupy various terrestrial habitats in Minnesota as long as there’s plenty of cover available such as rocks, logs, boards, and all sorts of trash and organic debris. They’re often found in backyards and gardens under objects.

 

dekays brownsnake range map

These secretive, nocturnal snakes hunt during the evening and night, feeding primarily on slugs and earthworms. However, they’ve also been known to consume snails, insects, insect larvae, small tree frogs, tadpoles, frog eggs, spiders, and fish. Prey is typically grabbed and quickly swallowed alive.

 

These docile snakes usually don’t bite in defense. Instead, if captured, they often squirm vigorously or flatten their bodies and may release foul-smelling musk from glands near the base of their tail.

 

This species is considered common in most of its range and is not a major conservation concern. It adapts well to human development and has a reputation as a “city snake.” However, pesticide usage and clean-up of cover objects may reduce their populations in urban areas by reducing their habitat and food source.

 


#13. Western Foxsnake

  • Pantherophis ramspotti

western fox snake - species of rat snakes in Iowa

 

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Adults range from 36 to 50 inches in length.
  • Coloration is gray, tan, or light brown with large dark brown or reddish-brown blotches down the length of the black and smaller blotches down each side.
  • The head is often rust or copper-colored with faded markings, and the underside is off-white or light-yellow with black checkerboard markings.

 

Western Fox Snakes occupy various habitats in Minnesota.

 

Look for them in agricultural areas, grasslands, wetlands, and woodlands near water. They’re often found in or around barns and abandoned buildings where rodents and places to hide are abundant. They’re fairly bold snakes and will often travel near humans or other animals.

Foxsnake Range Map

Map depicting the approximate distributions of the two foxsnake mtDNA lineages as hypothesized from this study. The light shaded area represents the range of Pantherophis ramspotti, and the dark shaded area represents the range of P. vulpinus. The Mississippi River is a historical barrier yet either side has haplotypes from the other side (the hatched area).

The light shaded area represents the range of WESTERN FOXSNAKES, and the dark shaded area represents the range of EASTERN FOXSNAKES. The Mississippi River is a historical barrier, yet either side has individuals from the other.

 

These rat snakes primarily feed on rodents, birds, and bird eggs but will also consume frogs. They’re constrictors and use their coils to suffocate larger prey before consuming it. However, smaller prey may be swallowed whole without constriction.

 

If disturbed, Western Foxsnakes will often coil and vibrate their tail, producing a noise that sounds like a rattlesnake when it’s in dry leaves. They’re generally non-aggressive but may release a foul-smelling musk and strike if grabbed. Some sources indicate this musk is how these snakes got their name, which was thought to be similar to the scent given off by Red Foxes.

 


Do you need additional help identifying snakes in Minnesota?

 

Try this field guide!

 


Which of these SNAKES have you seen before in Minnesota?

 

Leave a comment below!

 

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