Known as the ‘state of 10,000 lakes,’ Minnesota has prime habitat for water-loving animals. It’s home to forests, hundreds of miles of lakes and lakeshore, and northern prairies. Long, snowy winters give way to bright, mild summers in this northern state. There are 16 species of snake that call Minnesota home, but only one of those snakes is a true water snake. Read on to learn more about water snakes in Minnesota.
Water Snakes in Minnesota
For the purposes of this article, water snakes refers to only true water snakes. True water snakes are members of the genus Nerodia. They spend most of their time in and around a water source. Water snakes live in bodies of water and hunt for prey in and around aquatic environments.
The one species of water snake present in Minnesota is the Common Water Snake. The subspecies is the Northern Water Snake in this region, but there are other subspecies in other areas of the country. Its favorite habitats are the shorelines of ponds, lakes, and slow-moving rivers.
Northern Water Snake
- Scientific name: Nerodia s. sipedon
- Length: 30” to 48”
- Venomous: No
Common Water Snakes, subspecies Northern Water Snake, have nondescript coloring similar to other water snakes. Their backs are dark gray, olive green, or black, and their bellies are whitish or yellowish. Patterns along the edges of their backs – cross-bands and blotches – occasionally lead people to mistake them for copperheads or water moccasins.
Unlike many other types of snake, the Northern Water Snake is active throughout the day and night. It takes advantage of its ability to sense vibration to hunt creatures even when it is dark outside. During the day, Common Water Snakes hunt for animals that live along the edges of bodies of water. At night, they change their hunting strategy and look for fish in the water.
Spot a Common Water Snake nearby a water source. They prefer to live along the banks of streams and rivers where they hide among the reeds and aquatic vegetation. In Minnesota, Common Water Snakes live from north of Minneapolis south through Rochester to the southern border with Nebraska.
Minnesota has very cold winters which stay below freezing for weeks at a time. The Common Water Snake is ectothermic, or cold-blooded, so it goes dormant during the winter months. This form of hibernation is called brumation. Instead of sleeping in one uninterrupted stretch all winter, it slows its metabolism, doesn’t eat, and awakens regularly to drink water.
Other Types of Snakes in Minnesota
The Common Water Snake’s coloration and markings often lead people to confuse it with other types of snakes. These nonvenomous snakes are usually mistaken for water moccasins or copperheads, which are venomous. The good news is that neither of those snake species lives in Minnesota.
Here are some snakes you will see in the state:
1. Common Garter Snake
- Scientific name: Thamnophis sirtalis
- Length: 22” to 54”
- Venomous: No
The Common Garter Snake is darkly colored with a bright yellow stripe pattern along its back. While they are not venomous to humans, their saliva has enough toxins to kill frogs, lizards, and small mammals.
Common Garter Snakes are mostly terrestrial, but they do like to live near water sources. Lakes, rivers, and ponds are hospitable to prey species and provide them with abundant food sources. Garter snakes are also more closely related to water snakes than some of the other species found in this state.
Their main food sources are frogs, slugs, and earthworms, but they also eat fish and tadpoles. This snake is active throughout the state of Minnesota, but populations are higher in the south.
2. Red-bellied Snake
- Scientific name: Storeria occipitomaculata
- Length: 8” to 10”
- Venomous: No
The Red-bellied Snakes are small snakes shorter than a person’s forearm. While small, they are easy to spot because of their bright red bellies. Identify them thanks to three spots on the neck and a light back stripe.
The Red-bellied Snake lives in the leaf litter of the forest throughout the state of Minnesota. They eat small invertebrates like earthworms, slugs, and grubs. Larger snakes prey on salamanders too. They can even slurp snails out of their shells!
Because they are so small, they take advantage of hiding places other snakes can’t use. Vacant ant mounds are one such refuge! In an environment as cold as Minnesota, the Red-bellied Snake lives in them because they are well-insulated and stay warm during cold months.
3. Eastern Hognose Snake
- Scientific name: Heterodon platirhinos
- Length: 20” to 35”
- Venomous: No
Identify an Eastern Hognose snake based on its shape as opposed to its color. These snakes come in a variety of patterns and shades of gray, orange, black, and even red. Some have darker blotches, but others are a single color. Regardless of color their bellies are usually yellow or white.
The best way to make sure it’s an Eastern Hognose Snake is by way of its head shape. It has little distinction from the body, which can spread very flat. Their noses are upturned like a pig’s snout.
Eastern Hognose Snakes prefer to live in sandy soil near riparian areas. Most of their diet consists of toads, which they find by nosing around in leaf litter and soil. In Minnesota, these snakes live along the Mississippi River and the St. Croix River.
4. Gopher Snake
- Scientific name: Pituophis catenifer
- Length: 36” to 72”
- Venomous: No
The Gopher Snake, also known as the Bullsnake, is usually light in color with dark blotches and half-stripes across its back and sides. Its belly is light except for a set of dark squares. While they aren’t venomous, they mimic the aggressive posturing and tail-shaking of a rattlesnake in an effort to scare away predators.
Gopher Snakes are opportunistic hunters, meaning they eat just about anything they can fit in their mouths. In the plains and open woodlands of Minnesota, gophers are a favorite food source. Other rodents, birds’ eggs, and small reptiles are also on the menu.
Because of habitat destruction and urban growth, the Gopher Snake’s potential habitat is very limited. Populations currently live around Minneapolis and south along the Mississippi River.