The 5 TRUE Water Snakes in Oklahoma (with Pictures)

A variety of snakes live throughout the state of Oklahoma in just about every kind of environment, but there are several species that prefer to live in or near the water. It’s these snakes that we’re focusing on for this article, the water snakes in Oklahoma.

All snakes are capable of swimming in water. While some rarely visit water, others are considered semi-aquatic. For the purposes of this article we are covering the Genus Nerodia, as they are what’s referred to as water snakes. These snakes are in the Family Colubridae and are non-venomous. Water snakes often have large, heavy bodies and are commonly mistaken for venomous snakes. While they can bite if threatened, they are quite harmless if left alone.

With that being said, let’s have a look at Oklahoma’s 5 types of water snakes.

5 Types of water snakes in Oklahoma

The 5 species of water snakes found in Oklahoma are the northern water snake, diamondback water snake, midland water snake, plain-bellied water snake, and the broad-banded water snake.

1. Northern water snake

Common water snake | source: ALAN SCHMIERER via Flickr

Scientific NameNerodia sipedon
Length: 22 – 53 in

The Northern Water Snake, a subspecies of the common water snake, can be found throughout northern-central and northeastern North America. In Oklahoma, this subspecies only found in northeastern areas of the state, since the midland water snake subspecies is more common throughout the state. These snakes enjoy living as close to water as possible. Often, they’ll live in beaver lodges or muskrat houses, as they prefer living in sticks and plants near the water.

The Common Water Snake lives near rivers, lakes, ponds, canals, and marshes. Often, you may see these types of snakes basking in the sun on logs, rocks, or on land beside the water. These snakes may be active anytime, but tend to lounge around in the day and prefer to hunt at night. Their diet mainly consists of small fish, frogs, and worms. They’ll also eat small mammals and birds, though, when they hunt outside of the water.


2. Midland Water Snake

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

Scientific Name: Nerodia sipedon pleuralis
Length: 22-40 inches

The midland water snake is only found in far eastern and southeastern parts of Oklahoma. Their main prey items are frogs, fish, and even other snakes. Their coloration is very similar to the copperhead and the cottonmouth, so they’re often mistaken for these two species.

Like all other snakes in the Genus Nerodia, midland water snakes are non-venomous and kill their prey with constriction. They often mimic the behaviors of venomous cottonmouths, though, because their similar color patterns can fool potential predators into thinking they’re more dangerous than they really are.


3. Broad-banded Water Snake

banded water snake | image by Dan Mooney via Flickr | CC BY-ND 2.0

Scientific Name: Nerodia Fasciata
Length: 24-42 inches

The banded water snake inhabits the swamps, rivers and lakes in southeastern Oklahoma. They are known to sometimes interbreed with midland water snakes. Although they are harmless and non-venomous, they have a wide, flat head and dark coloration which makes them look very similar to a cottonmouth, a species with which they often share habitat.

Like the midland water snake, the banded water snake favors frogs and fish for prey. Banded water snakes can sometimes behave aggressively, counting on their venomous appearance to deter potential predators. This aggressive behavior is likely the source of the many myths about cottonmouth snakes, which actually tend to be quite reclusive.


4. Diamondback water snake

diamondback water snake | source: USFWS Midwest Region via Flickr

Scientific Name: Nerodia rhombifer
Length: 3-5 feet

The diamondback water snake is predominantly brown, dark brown or dark olive green, with a black pattern along the back, each spot being diamond-shaped. Their scales are a very rough texture and they typically grow to be about 3-4 feet long, though in some cases bigger. The underside is often a yellow or light brown color.

This snake is often confused for a venomous snake, but like all other water snakes diamondback water snakes are not venomous. They are an aggressive snake though and will release musk and fecal matter if provoked.

They are common in Oklahoma, though not as much in the panhandle portion of the state. The diamondback water snake enjoys basking on tree limbs above the water and hunting for its prey which includes small amphibians, lizards, mice, etc.


5. Plain-bellied Water Snake

red-bellied water snake | image by Ryan Somma via Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

Scientific Name: Nerodia erythrogaster
Length: 24-40 inches

Red-bellied water snakes are named for their bellies that are often red, but can also be a very plain color which is why they are also called the plain-bellied water snake.

These snakes live in most of Oklahoma, especially in lakes and swamps but also in rivers. They’re unusual for water snakes in that they will frequently travel long distances over land to a new body of water.

They’re also largely nocturnal, preferring to hunt during the night and spending the whole day basking in the sun. Like other water snakes, they will bite repeatedly to defend themselves, even though they aren’t venomous.

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