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Are There Water Snakes in Nebraska?

Rolling hills and prairies that go on for miles are what you’ll find in the great state of Nebraska. This midwestern state has high-rainfall farming land in its eastern half and dry, mesa-like geological formations in its southwest corner.

There are 30 species of snake native to Nebraska, but only one of them is a true water snake. Read on to learn about the kinds of snakes in the state, their habitats, and where to find them.

Water Snakes in Nebraska

For the purposes of this article, water snakes refer only to the true water snakes, which 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 Nebraska is the Common Water Snake. This snake is also known as the Northern Water Snake, but they are the same species. Its favorite habitats are the edges of ponds, lakes, and slow-moving rivers. 

Common Water Snake

Northern water snake basking
Northern water snake basking | image by via Flickr | CC BY 2.0
  • Scientific name: Nerodia sipedon
  • Length: 30” to 48”
  • Venomous: No

Common Water Snakes have nondescript coloring similar to other water snakes. Their backs are dark gray, olive green, or black, and their bellies are whitish or yellowish. Cross-bands and blotches on the edges of their backs occasionally lead to people mistaking them for venomous snakes like copperheads and water moccasins.

The Common Water Snake is different from many other species of snake because it is active during the day and the night. It uses all of its senses, especially its ability to sense vibrations, to hunt nocturnally. They tailor their preferred prey to the right environmental conditions. Terrestrial critters are on the menu during the daytime, while fish are their preferred prey at night.

Spot a Common Water Snake nearby a water source. They like to live along the banks of streams and rivers where they hide among the reeds and aquatic vegetation. They live throughout all of Nebraska except for a small strip in the western edge of the state.

Nebraska can have some pretty cold winters. The Common Water Snake accommodates this by brumating during the months it’s too cold to forage for food. It finds a burrow, lowers its metabolic rate, and gets up only to drink water.

Other Types of Snakes in Nebraska

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 only copperheads are native to Nebraska.

1. Western Hognose Snake

Western Hognose Snake in an aquarium
Western Hognose Snake in an aquarium | image by Heather Paul via Flickr | CC BY-ND 2.0
  • Scientific name: Heterodon nasicus
  • Length: 30” to 48”
  • Venomous: No

The Western Hognose Snakes are brown in color with some light patterning similar to that of a rattlesnake. Unfortunately, their similarity in coloration occasionally leads to them being killed because people mistakenly think they pose a threat.

Find these snakes anywhere there is a semi-regular source of water and a good supply of amphibians. This could be anything from a lakeshore to the irrigation gullies between fields.  Most of their diet consists of toads.

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In cold weather, they brumate in abandoned mammal dens or even dig their own. Look for Western Hognose Snakes throughout Nebraska.

2. Plains Garter Snake

Plains garter snake
Plains garter snake | image by Peter Paplanus via Flickr | CC BY 2.0
  • Scientific name: Thamnophis radix
  • Length: 36” to 41”
  • Venomous: No

The Plains Garter Snakes are a species of non-venomous snake native to Nebraska. Their backs are dark green and gray with a bright yellow stripe extending the full length of the body from nose to tail.

Their diet consists of invertebrates and small amphibians like frogs and salamanders. Some eat birds’ eggs and chicks. They prefer to live in drier areas away from water sources, but some still live near ponds.

They have adapted well to urban development and can be found in empty lots and abandoned buildings. They’re the most common snake in the state and are actually very closely related to water snakes.

3. Gopher Snake

Gopher snake
Gopher snake | image by Joshua Tree National Park
  • Scientific name: Pituophis catenifer
  • Length: 36” to 72”
  • Venomous: No

The Gopher Snake is known by many names. In Nebraska, this snake is often called a Bullsnake. Identify it based on its yellow body color and brownish blotches and stripes.

People sometimes kill Gopher Snakes when they mistake them for the prairie rattlesnake. Tell them apart by way of their tails. The rattlesnake has black and white bands along its tail, while the Gopher Snake does not.

They are opportunistic predators that contribute greatly to reducing pests like mice, rats, and frogs. While they are not venomous, they are still aggressive and can pack a nasty bite.

Look for them throughout Nebraska. They prefer to live near water sources where prey is abundant.

4. Milk Snake

Milk snake resting
Milk snake resting | image by Ashley Wahlberg (Tubbs) via Flickr | CC BY-ND 2.0
  • Scientific name: Lampropeltis triangulum
  • Length: 30” to 48”
  • Venomous: No

The Milk Snakes are easy to spot thanks to their bright red, black, and white stripes. The clear color delineation between the patches will help you tell a nonvenomous milk snake apart from its venomous cousin, the coral snake. Young snakes are often killed because they’re mistaken for copperheads.

These snakes use human infrastructure to shelter, rest, and find prey. Many farmers have seen a milk snake sunning itself outside his barn. Because their diets rely heavily on pest rodents like rats and mice, barns make a great home base. They hunt at night and are more shy than aggressive.

5. Prairie Rattlesnake

source: White Sands National Park
  • Scientific name: Crotalus viridis
  • Length: 36” to 55”
  • Venomous: Yes

The Prairie Rattlesnake is one of the four venomous species of snakes native to Nebraska. It has a gray-green body with tan or brown blotches along its sides and back. Its triangle-shaped head is a characteristic of the pit viper family. Pouches along the sides of its cheeks hold venom.

This venomous snake lives in the drier parts of Nebraska. It likes to reside in canyons and on rocky mesas. They hunt for rodents like mice, rats, and gophers, but they’re not against preying on small birds and lizards if the opportunity arises.

They are aggressive and quickly let you know that they’re not happy by rattling their tails when approached. During cold winters, they bromate in old burrows from ground squirrels and prairie dogs.

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About Anna Lad

Anna is a wildlife biologist who graduated from Texas A&M in 2020. She enjoys studying and learning about wild birds and wildlife of all types.