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5 Water Snakes in Oklahoma (Pictures)

Oklahoma has diverse habitats that host a range of aquatic and terrestrial wildlife, making it the perfect environment for mysterious water snakes. The wetlands, lakes, and streams throughout the state provide ideal habitats for these unique reptiles, allowing them to thrive in their natural environment.

And while these aquatic snakes are not as prevalent as other wildlife in the state, there are a few species that call Oklahoma home. Let’s dive into the different types of water snakes you can find in Oklahoma and learn more about them.

Collage photo water snakes in Oklahoma

5 Water Snakes in Oklahoma

There are five major species of water snakes in Oklahoma today. These include the plain-bellied water snake, green water snake, common water snake, banded water snake, and diamond-backed water snake.

All these species differ in size, coloration, and behavior — making them unique and fascinating creatures. Let’s look at each species individually.

1. Plain-Bellied Water Snake

Plain-bellied water snake
Plain-bellied water snake | image by Northeast Coastal & Barrier Network via Flickr | CC-SA 2.0
  • Scientific name: Nerodia erythrogaster
  • Size: Adults are between 30-48 inches (76-122 cm) in length, while the young are 7-12 inches.
  • Color: Dark gray with a light tan belly
  • Behavior: This species is active during the day and spends most of its time searching for prey.
  • Diet: Primarily eats fish, amphibians, and small mammals.
  • Predators: Hawks, largemouth bass, egrets, and larger snakes.

The plain-bellied water snake is the most common water snake in Oklahoma, thriving in slow-moving streams, floodplains, rivers, and other permanent waterbodies throughout the state. This species is non-venomous, preferring to use its sharp teeth and powerful grip to capture prey.

Unlike most snakes in Oklahoma, plain-bellied water snakes don’t use constriction when hunting prey. They often submerge their bodies in the water, then wait for prey to approach them. After spotting the prey, they will lunge and grab it with their mouth, swallowing it alive.

Interestingly, female plain-bellied water snakes often give birth in August and September — making them one of the few species in Oklahoma to reproduce via live birth.

They can also reproduce through parthenogenesis, a type of asexual reproduction where an unfertilized egg develops into an embryo and, eventually, a baby snake without being fertilized by a sperm.

When captured, these snakes are quick to bite. They also release a foul-smelling musk from their cloaca, which can be quite powerful.

2. Green Water Snake

Green water snake
Green water snake | image by Glenn Bartolotti via Wikimedia Commons | CC BY-SA 4.0
  • Scientific name: Nerodia cyclopion
  • Size: Adults are between 30- 55 inches (76-140 cm) in length, while the young range between 6 to 10 inches.
  • Color: Olive green with a light yellow or white belly
  • Behavior: Generally active during the day and prefers to hang out in shallow water.
  • Diet: Primarily eats frogs, small fish, tadpoles, and insects.
  • Predators: Hawks, owls, raccoons, and other snakes.

The green water snake is a relatively common species found throughout Oklahoma’s waterways. As its name suggests, this species has a bright green coloration, which helps it blend in with its aquatic environment.

These snakes are relatively docile and tend to avoid contact with humans — preferring to stick to the water’s edges or submerge under the surface when disturbed. They also have a firm grip, closing their jaws around whatever prey they can get their mouth on.

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Green water snakes are mainly active during the day and use their keen eyesight to spot potential prey. They often lie on a rock or log in shallow waters, waiting for frogs and other small animals to come close enough for them to strike.

Unlike the plain-bellied water snakes, green water snakes are ovoviviparous. This means they produce a shelled egg that is incubated inside the mother’s body until hatching. They typically give birth to between 10 and 20 young per litter in July and August

3. Common Water Snake

common water snake hissing
Common water snake hissing | image by icelandgull via iNaturalist | CC BY 4.0
  • Scientific name: Nerodia sipedon
  • Size: Adults range from 25-48 inches (63-122 cm) in length, while young ones are about 7-12 inches.
  • Color: The colors vary based on the subspecies but are generally brown or gray with dark crossbands on the back, while the belly is usually yellow or white.
  • Behavior: Generally active during the day and prefers to stay in still waterbodies with heavy vegetation.
  • Diet: Primarily eats frogs, fish, tadpoles, small mammals, and other aquatic prey.
  • Predators: Hawks, foxes, owls, opossums, snapping turtles, raccoons, and other bigger snakes.

The common water snake is relatively widespread in Oklahoma, with two main subspecies occurring in the state. These include:

The Midland Water Snake (Nerodia sipedon pleuralis)

Midland water snake
Midland water snake | image by Peter Paplanus via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Midland water snakes are pale dark brown to grey with black to dark brown (sometimes reddish) bands down their backs. The belly is usually yellow or white with black spots. As these snakes mature, the adults become darker, and the bands are almost non-existent, appearing almost plain dark-brown and black.

The Northern Water Snake (Nerodia sipedon sipedon)

Northern water snake on log
Northern water snake on log | image by Peter Paplanus via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

N. s. Sipedon snakes are typically gray, with some individuals showing reddish or bright brown coloration. Their backs usually have distinct black crossbands near their heads, with lighter borders, and their bellies are whitish-yellow, sometimes with a few scattered spots. The crossbands become dark-colored square blotches as you go down the snake’s body.

Common Water Snakes are found in the northeast and east Oklahoma, often in slow-moving and stagnant water bodies such as lakes, slow-moving rivers, ponds, marshes, streams, and vernal pools. You can often see them on logs and rocks, basking in the sun or swimming around searching for food.

These beautiful water snakes are mainly active during the day and often hide in heavy vegetation when threatened. Sometimes, they dive underwater to escape predators or release nasty-smelling musk, which helps deter potential predators.

While these snakes’ population is considered stable and sturdy in Oklahoma, they face habitat loss and degradation due to human activity. Deforestation and pollution are some of the significant factors that have significantly impacted their populations, especially in urban areas.

4. Banded Water snake

Banded water snake resting
Banded water snake resting
  • Scientific name: Nerodia fasciata confluens
  • Size: Adults can range from 24-48 inches (61-106.7 cm) in length, while young 6-10 inches.
  • Color: The colors vary based on the subspecies but generally have dark brown to black back with irregular yellowish bands and a white or cream belly with some spots
  • Behavior: Generally active during the day and prefer slow-moving streams, rivers, lakes, and ponds with heavy vegetation.
  • Diet: Primarily eats frogs, fish, tadpoles, small mammals, and other aquatic prey.
  • Predators: Hawks, foxes, owls, opossums, snapping turtles, raccoons, and other larger snakes.
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The banded water snake, also known as the southern water snake, is native to Oklahoma and is closely related to the common water snake. These non-venomous and colubrid snakes are found in the southern half of Oklahoma, along the Red River drainage and near most freshwater bodies, such as rivers, lakes, ponds, wetlands, marshes, and streams.

You can often spot these stunning creatures in the mornings, sunning themselves on tree branches, overhanging fresh waterbodies. Being primarily nocturnal, these snakes spend most of their time hunting for small fish and frogs along the shoreline. And just like other water snakes, they often grab their prey and swallow them whole underwater.

Southern water snakes are non-venomous and docile and have a painful bite that they use as their primary defense against predators. These snakes may appear scary due to their size and coloration but are actually harmless if left undisturbed.

Unfortunately, humans often kill them due to fear or misunderstanding about these harmless creatures, so it’s essential to be aware of their habitat and behavior to help protect them.

5. Diamond-Backed Water snake

Diamondback Water Snake
Diamondback Water Snake | k.draper | Flickr | CC BY-ND 2.0
  • Scientific name: Nerodia rhombifer
  • Size: Adults can range from 30-48 inches (76-122 cm) in length, while young 6-12 inches.
  • Color: Olive greenish, yellowish, or dark-brown body with diamond or chain-shaped markings on the back and a yellow belly with black half-moon-like spots.
  • Behavior: Primarily active during the day, although they can also be seen at night, and prefer slow-moving streams, lakes, ponds, marshes, and swamps.
  • Diet: Predominantly eats frogs and fish.
  • Predators: Hawks, foxes, owls, opossums, snapping turtles, raccoons, and other larger snakes.

The diamond-backed water snakes are found in numerous freshwater habitats throughout Oklahoma, including the state’s wetlands and rivers. They are one of the most common species of water snake in the region and can usually be seen basking on overhanging branches near water bodies, often looking for prey.

After grabbing their target prey, they drag it to the water shore, then wait for it to die before they eat it, unlike other water snakes that consume their prey alive. Although they may seem intimidating, diamond-backed water snakes are quite docile when left alone and pose no serious threat to humans.

Sadly, they are often killed by humans out o ignorance because they are mistaken for rattlesnakes and cottonmouths.