17 Snakes In South Dakota

Written by Tracy Graham
Updated: June 15, 2023
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Key Points

  • South Dakota has 17 different kinds of snakes that live in the state, but only one of those types of snakes is venomous.
  • A large portion of the state is made up of rich grassland that is ideal for farming. And another big chunk of the state is composed of the Badlands, rocky areas that canyons, and extremely mineral-rich soil.
  • There is only one type of venomous snake in South Dakota that you should be on the lookout for. That’s the Prairie Rattlesnake.

It’s no wonder that there are many species of animals that call South Dakota home. A large portion of the state is made up of rich grassland that is ideal for farming. And another big chunk of the state is composed of the Badlands, rocky areas that canyons, and extremely mineral-rich soil. There are also a lot of fossils buried in the Badlands. The unique composition of the soil fossilized many of the animals that used to live in that area after they died. Some of the fossilized remains in the Badlands are the ancestors of the 17 different types of snakes in South Dakota today.

17 Snakes in South Dakota

South Dakota has 17 different kinds of snakes that live in the state, but only one of those types of snakes is venomous. It should be a relief that you can hike, fish, and explore the natural world in South Dakota without having to worry about coming across many different kinds of venomous snakes. Among the non-venomous snakes in South Dakota, the ones that you come across include:

Brown Snake

Brown snakes thrive in South Dakota because they are one of the types of snakes that are able to survive the brutal South Dakota winters. Small brown snakes can live in almost any habitat on land. They can even do very well in urban or suburban environments, which means that you may find these snakes in your garages, outbuildings, basements, or in various areas around your property. Brown snakes are totally harmless to humans and don’t grow larger than two feet. So if you see a Brown snake you don’t need to worry. Leave it alone and it will leave you alone.

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Snakes That Look Like Copperheads-Texas Brown Snake

Brown Snakes thrive in South Dakota because they are able to survive the brutal winters.

©Matt Jeppson/Shutterstock.com

Common Garter Snake

Similar to a Brown snake the Common Garter Snake can make a home just about anywhere. Garter snakes are the most common snakes throughout the country. South Dakota is no different.  They are small snakes. A typical Garter snake is only about a foot long to about three feet long. Three feet is the maximum length for a Garter snake.  Common Garter snakes can be found in all parts of South Dakota from the famous Black Hills to the Badlands and in all of the prairies and grasslands in between.

garter snake slithering on rocks

Common Garter Snakes can make a home anywhere and are found in all parts of South Dakota.

©iStock.com/randimal

Fox Snake

Fox snakes are one of the larger types of snakes that you will find in South Dakota. They only live in the very southeastern part of the state. In South Dakota Fox snakes average between three feet and five feet. Fox snakes are a type of Rat snake but they have different coloring from a Rat snake. Most Fox snakes have a light brown or tan body with marking in either a dark brown or black. They have heavier bodies than other types of South Dakota snakes but they are not as heavy-bodied as a rattlesnake.

adult western fox snake

Fox Snakes average between three and five feet and are located in the southeast part of South Dakota.

©Psychotic Nature/Shutterstock.com

Blue Racer Snake

As you may have guessed from the name Blue Racers are very fast snakes. If there’s a Blue Racer near you chances are good it won’t be there for very long. It will be gone in the blink of an eye. Typically these snakes can move up to a maximum speed of four miles per hour.  Blue Racer snakes are very shy around people and prefer to flee from humans rather than risk a confrontation. And since they are very fast they can get away before you even realize that you’re face to face with one. They are typically very thin and about average length. The color of a Blue Racer can vary from a dark gray blue to a light vivid blue.

Blue Racer Snake (Coluber constrictor foxii)

If you see a Blue Racer near you, chances are good it won’t be there for long. They can move up to four miles per hour.

©Psychotic Nature/Shutterstock.com

Northern Red Belly Snake

Northern Red Belly snakes are not very common in South Dakota. They do have a wide variety of habitats including forests and field but in South Dakota you will only find Red Belly snakes in the very eastern corner of the state. You can tell if a snake is a Red Belly snake instantly because will have a bright red or red orange belly and the rest of the body will be dark brown or black. They are also very small and are typically only about a foot long. If you’re hiking, walking, or biking in the forest you may see a Red Belly snake near the path. You also may find them in your mulch or landscaping if you live in a suburban area that is near a forest.

red bellied snake Storeria occipitomaculata in defensive posture showing underside

Red-bellied snakes are cousins to Dekay’s brownsnakes.

©Kevin Collison/Shutterstock.com

Northern Water Snake

Unless you are living in or visiting the very furthest southeast corner of South Dakota you will probably never see a Northern Water snake in the state. They only live in a tiny geographical area in the southeast and they are not very common even there. But you should be aware of the Northern Water snake because it looks like a Cottonmouth snake. If you see it you may immediately freeze thinking that you’ve stumbled into a very dangerous situation but you can relax. There are no Cottonmouths in South Dakota at all, just Northern Water snakes. Like Cottonmouth snakes these snakes have a brown, gray, or olive body with brown or black markings but they do not have the triangular head that a rattlesnake has.

northern water snake in water

The northern water snake reaches up to 4.5 feet in length.

©iStock.com/manuellacoste


Venomous Snakes In South Dakota

There is only one type of venomous snake in South Dakota that you should be on the lookout for. That’s the Prairie Rattlesnake. The Prairie Rattlesnake is a common venomous snake in the West. They live in many states.

Prairie Rattlesnake

The Prairie Rattlesnake is not a large snake. Typically it’s only about five feet long. However, this snake is very wide and thick-bodied so it can eat larger prey. Prairie Rattlesnake colors change according to where they live. Their colors are different to help them blend into their habitat. Because of that desert dwelling Prairie rattlesnakes will be light-colored with only slightly darker markings. But a Prairie rattlesnake in a more forest-heavy habitat will have a darker body color and markings that will help hide it from view.

There are not a lot of Prairie Rattlesnakes in South Dakota so it’s unlikely that you will ever come across one. But if you do happen to surprise one on a trail as you’re hiking or biking or you cross paths with one the most important thing to remember is not to panic. The snake will most likely coil itself up and rattle at you and maybe hiss as well to warn you to leave. Take that warning and get back, slowly. Retrace your steps and back away from the snake with slow and deliberate movements and you should be fine.

Prairie Rattlesnakes change their colors according to where they live but you are unlikely to find one in South Dakota. Sightings of this thick-bodied venomous snake are rare.

©Creeping Things/Shutterstock.com

Summary Of Snakes In South Dakota 

All but one of the 17 snakes in South Dakota are harmless, so you really shouldn’t worry too much about seeing snakes in the wild when you’re enjoying the beautiful but rugged terrain in South Dakota. The full list of snakes that you might see in South Dakota is:     

Common NameScientific NameSize
Brown Snake     Pseudonaja textilis6-13 in. (17-33 cm)
Bull Snake Pituophis catenifer sayi8 ft. (2.5 m)
Common Garter SnakeThamnophis sirtalis23 and 30 in. (58 and 76 cm)
Eastern Hognose Snake Heterodon platirhinos20-33 in. (51-84 cm)
Fox Snake                   Pantherophis vulpinus3 to 5 ft. (91 to 152 cm)
Lined Snake                      Tropidoclonion lineatum8–12 in. (20–30 cm)
Milk Snake         Lampropeltis Triangulum24 – 36 in. (61 – 90 cm)
Plains Garter Snake  Thamnophis radix3 ft. (0.91 m)
Plains Hognose Snake            Heterodon nasicus15-25 in. (38-63.5 cm)
Prairie RattlesnakeCrotalus viridis36–50 in. (91–127 cm)
Blue RacerColuber constrictor foxii23-50 in. (58-127 cm)
Black Hills Red Belly SnakeStoreria occipitomaculata10–12 in. (25–30 cm)
Northern Red Belly SnakeStoreria occipitomaculata occipitomaculata4 – 10 in. (10 – 25 cm)
Ringneck Snake       Diadophis punctatus10 – 15 in. (25 – 38 cm)
Smooth Green Snake         Opheodrys vernalis14-20 in. (36-50 cm)
Wandering Garter Snake    Thamnophis elegans vagrans18 – 43 in. (46 – 109 cm)
Northern Water Snake          Nerodia sipedon24 to 55 in (61-140 cm)

Other Reptiles In South Dakota

The false map turtle, also known as the sawback turtle, weighs around 2.42 to 4 pounds and reaches lengths of 3.54 to 10.6 inches. Its top shell, or carapace, is brown to olive in color with markings of light yellow and its lower shell is dark brown but can have dark lines along the scales. The body, or skin color, is greyish brown to black and has stripes of yellow, brown, or white. These turtles can be found in streams and rivers, and have highly webbed hind feet, which allow them to form paddles when swimming and assists them in rough currents. These are generally non-aggressive turtles and don’t bite, preferring to bask in quiet comfort.

Ornate box turtles are terrestrial turtles that can live up to 40 years of age. These omnivores have fancy-looking shells that have a dark background with a yellow radiating line on each individual shell. Average shell lengths can be from 2 to 6 inches and weights are 0.5 to 1.5 pounds. While this is not normally an aggressive turtle, they do bite when they feel threatened and males have been known to show aggression although it is only toward each other. With a hinged shell, this reptile is able to retract all of its limbs and head inside its “home” to protect itself.

The photo featured at the top of this post is © Ken Griffiths/Shutterstock.com

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FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

Are there any venomous snakes in South Dakota?

All but one of the snakes in South Dakota are harmless, so you really shouldn’t worry too much about seeing snakes in the wild when you’re enjoying the beautiful but rugged terrain in South Dakota. The Prairie Rattlesnake is venomous but are rare to see.

What makes it hard for most snakes to survive in all parts of South Dakota?

South Dakota has brutal winters and there are only a handful of snakes who are able to survive it. The Brown Snake is one example.

How fast can a Blue Racer snake travel?

A Blue Racer snake travels at 4 mph.

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