Meet Michigan’s snakes: There are 18 species of snakes found in Michigan and only 1 is venomous

Eastern massasauga rattlesnake is Michigan’s only venomous snake

Massasauga Rattlesnake (Michigan Department of Natural Resources)

There are 18 species of snake found in Michigan and only one of them is venomous.

The Eastern massasauga rattlesnake is Michigan’s only venomous snake. They are shy and try to avoid humans whenever possible.

Michigan’s largest snake is the gray rat snake, which can grow more than 8 feet long. They are the largest snakes in the Great Lakes region.

I think Michigan’s coolest snake is the Eastern hog-nosed snake. When threatened, this snake will pretend to be a cobra. If that fails, it will actually play dead by rolling onto its back, sticking its tongue out of its mouth and producing a foul smell.

Want to help snakes? Snake fungal disease is an infectious disease found in numerous species of snakes and is caused by the fungus Ophidiomyces ophidiicola. Symptoms include localized thickening or crusting of the skin, ulcerated skin, abnormal bumps under the skin, abnormal molting, opaque cloudiness of the eyes and facial disfiguration. Click here to learn more.

Eastern massasauga rattlesnake

Massasauga Rattlesnake (Michigan Department of Natural Resources)

This shy guy is Michigan’s only venomous snake.

Eastern massasauga rattlesnakes will avoid humans whenever possible. They spend most of their time in year-round wetlands hunting mice.

Their population has been declining due to fragmentation and loss of wetland habitat. They are listed as a threatened species.

If you do see a massasauga you should keep your distance. Rattlesnake bites are extremely rare in Michigan, but if you are bitten you should seek medical attention immediately.

Eastern hog-nosed snake

These mildly venomous snakes live in sandy pine forests, old fields and the edges of forests.

Bites from these snakes are very rare. Since they don’t produce much venom, their bites usually don’t cause significant symptoms in humans.

When one of these snakes feels threatened it will flatten its neck and raise its head off the ground -- like a cobra. It might hiss and strike the threat with its mouth closed. If that fails, it will roll onto its back and play dead with its tongue hanging out of its mouth.

Blue racer

Blue racers are among Michigan’s largest snakes. (Michigan Department of Natural Resources)

Blue racers are among some of Michigan’s largest snakes and have been recorded at 6 feet.

Blue racers usually have creamy white ventral scales, dull grey to brilliant blue lateral scales and pale brown to dark grey dorsum. They also have black masks, and large eyes and often have brownish-orange snouts.

These snakes are foragers. Younger snakes might eat crickets and other insects but adults primarily eat rodents, songbirds and other snakes.

They have been documented in Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin and Iowa. Blue racers like semi-open habitats, savanna, old field shorelines and edge habitats.

Brown Snake

  • Names: Storeria dekayi, De Kay’s brown snake, De Kay’s snake
  • Venomous: No
  • Helpful links: More information

Brown snakes usually appear brown to gray in color with a lighter center stripe bordered by small black spots.

Adults usually grow to less than 12 inches long. These snakes primarily eat slugs, snails and earthworms. They have specialized jaws that allow them to remove snails from their shells.

They prefer wetlands and terrestrial habitats.

Butler’s garter snake

Butler's Garter Snake (Michigan DNR)

Butler’s garter snakes are small, slender snakes that only grow to an average of 15 to 20 inches long.

These snakes have three yellow-to-orange stripes along the length of their bodies. Their primary colors range from olive brown to black.

Their heads tend to be unusually small for a Garter snake. When excited, they might trash in place instead of running away.

They live in moist, grassy, open-canopy areas. They can often be found under rocks, logs, trash and boards. They mainly eat earthworms, but they also eat leeches, salamanders and frogs.

Eastern garter snake

Eastern garter snake average between 18 to 26 inches long. They are greenish-brown or black in color. They have a distinct yellow or white stripe.

The females are larger than males and give birth to live young. These snakes prefer grassy or shrubby fields including abandoned farmland, outbuildings and trash dumps.

They like to hide under logs, stones and other debris so they can enjoy the sunlight and quickly seek shelter if a predator approaches. They eat toads, frogs and worms -- or anything they can overpower.

They are considered nonvenomous, but they do have a Duvernoy’s gland which may be chewed into prey during bites. The gland is known to cause hemorrhaging in mice. In at least one bite on a human, it caused non-allergic symptoms.

Copper-bellied water snake

Copperbelly water snake (Michigan Department of Natural Resources)
  • Names: Nerodia erythrogaster neglecta
  • Status: Endangered in Michigan (legally protected)
  • Venomous: No
  • Helpful links: More information

These medium-to-large stout-bodied snakes average 30 to 40 inches in total body length.

Adults are solid black or dark brown on top with a plain, unmarked pale orange, bright orange, red or yellow belly.

They live in forested floodplains and shrubby wetlands near small, shallow lakes and ponds. When seasonal ponds begin to recede, these snakes will go through forested corridors to move to more permanent bodies of water.

Eastern milk snake

These snakes are mostly nocturnal, especially during the summer months. They are able to climb and swim but seem to prefer the ground, where they try to blend in with the ground litter.

Eastern milk snakes prefer to remain hidden. When threatened, they usually first try to escape but if cornered or harassed they might vibrate their tails and try to bite. They are nonvenomous and only have tiny teeth. Their tail does not rattle.

When they feel safe these snakes move slowly and are often docile. They live in forested areas but can also be found in swamps, prairie, farmland, rocky slopes and beaches.

Northern red-bellied snake

A northern redbelly snake is shown from Delta County in August 2017. These Michigan snakes are non-poisonous. ((C) 2017)
  • Names: Storeria occipitomaculata occipitomaculata
  • Venomous: No
  • Helpful links: More information

These snakes live in moist flowerbeds, gardens and moist woodlands. They often rest under logs and rocks near a forest. They primarily eat slugs and earthworms.

Adult Northern red-bellied snakes have solid olive-brown, tan-brown, chestnut-brown, grey-brown, grey or even black dorsal colorations. They have three yellow spots on the back of the head. Their undersides are coral-red to brick-red. Their colors are usually made up of three different shades, which form a striped pattern.

Northern ribbon snake

  • Names: Thamnophis saurita septentrionalis
  • Venomous: No
  • Helpful links: More information

These snakes are found along the edges of ponds, bogs, streams and marshes. They prefer sunny areas.

The northern ribbon snake has three yellow, greenish-yellow, or white stripes on a dark brown or black background. The central stripe is sometimes brown or tan. They also have light side stripes and a brown stripe, a light bar in front of their eyes and along their mouth.

They are long and slender with a very long tail that is at least a quarter to sometimes one-third of their total length. Their heads are wide than their necks and they have large eyes.

Northern ring-necked snake

The northern ringneck snake has a bluish-grey to black body with a complete narrow yellow or orange ring around its neck and underside matching the ring. They can grow more than 2 feet long.

These snakes are nocturnal and like to hide and travel under rocks, fallen logs and leaf litter. They are not often seen by people. They live in moist, wooded areas but will also use the edges of wetlands or open areas. They are also found in moist, humid basements.

Northern water snake

Northern Water Snake, Livingston County (2014 State of Michigan)
  • Names: Nerodia sipedon, banded water snake, black water adder, black water snake, brown water snake, common water snake, common northern water snake, eastern water snake, North American water snake, northern banded water snake, northern water snake, spotted water snake, streaked snake, water pilot, and water snake
  • Venomous: No
  • Helpful links: More information

Northern water snakes can grow up to 5 feet in total length. They can be brown, gray, reddish or brownish-black. They have dark crossbands on their necks and dark blotches on the rest of their bodies. Because of their coloring, these snakes are often mistaken for the venomous cottonmouth.

As they age, their color darkens and the pattern becomes obscure. Some snakes become almost completely black. Their bellies also vary in color and can be white, yellow or gray.

These snakes are nonvenomous and harmless to humans. People tend to kill these snakes out of fear if they mistake them for a cottonmouth. A watersnake has a longer, more slender body and a flattened head the same width as their neck. They also have round pupils and no heat-sensing pits.

The cottonmouth has a fatter body, a wedge-shaped head with prominent venom glands that are wider than the neck, cat-like pupils and heat-sensing pits between the eyes and nostrils. Cottonmouth snakes are not found in Michigan.

Queen snake

Queen Snake (Regina septemvittata) (New York State Department of Environmental Conservation)
  • Names: R. septemvittata, banded water snake, brown queen snake, diamond-back water snake, leather snake, moon snake, North American seven-banded snake, olive water snake, pale snake, queen water snake, seven-striped water snake, striped water snake, three-striped water snake, willow snake, and yellow-bellied snake
  • Venomous: No
  • Helpful links: More information

Queen snakes look similar to garter snakes. The queen snake is olive to gray or dark brown in overall coloration with peach or yellow stripes that run down its length. They also have four ventral stripes that are darker and has stripes running down the length of its belly.

They are only found in areas that have clean, running streams and watersheds with stony and rocky bottoms. The water temperature needs to be a minimum of 50 degrees Fahrenheit in the snake’s active months.

Queen snakes eat freshwater crayfish and eats newly-molted crayfish, which cannot defend themselves. Crayfish are believed to make up more than 90% of the snake’s diet. They also eat frogs, tadpoles, newts, minnows, snails, and fairy shrimp.

Smooth green snake

These slender snakes only go to about 20 inches as adults. They are found in marshes, meadows, open woods and along stream edges. They are light green on their back and have yellow or white bellies.

Smooth green snakes are not aggressive. They seldom bite and usually flee when threatened. They will often bob their heads in order to mimic grass blowing in the wind. They use their tongues, flicking them in and out of their mouths, to smell what is around.

Eastern fox snake

  • Names: Pantherophis gloydi
  • Status: Threatened in Michigan
  • Venomous: No
  • Helpful links: More information

The Eastern Fox Snake can grow up to 5.5 feet long. They have bold patterns with large dark brown or black blotches down the middle of their back. They hae smaller, alternating blotches along the sides of their yellowish-to-light-brown bodies.

This snake’s underside is yellowish and checkered with dark squarish spots. Their heads can be yellow. light brown to reddish brown and is usually unmarked except for a dark band between the eyes on the top of the head and a few dark bands extending from the eye down to the mouth.

They live in wetlands along Great Lakes shorelines and are associated with large rivers and impoundments. They prefer habitats with vegetation such as cattails. They will live in drier habitats, such as dunes, beaches, old fields and open woodlands.

They also use farm fields, pastures, woodlots, vacant urban lots, rock riprap, ditches, dikes, and residential properties. They are usually found near water and can swim long distances.

Western fox snake

These snakes are found in a variety of habitats but prefer forest, shrubland, grassland, and freshwater wetlands. They are constrictors and usually feed on mice and other small rodents. They also eat young rabbits, frogs and eggs.

They aren’t shy and will live close to humans and animals if they aren’t being bothered. When confronted, these snakes will “rattle” their tails to imitate a rattlesnake. It will also go into an “S” position and snap rapidly.

Gray rat snake

Black Rat Snake (© 2018 State of Michigan)
  • Names: Pantherophis spiloides, central ratsnake, chicken snake, midland ratsnake, or pilot black snake
  • Status: Special concern in Michigan
  • Venomous: No
  • Helpful links: More information

These are the largest snakes in the Great Lakes region and can grow more than 8 feet long.

Adult Gray Ratsnakes are black or dark brown in color often with remnant dark blotches from their juvenile color pattern. The belly is white or yellow with dark checkerboard markings on the forward part of the body becoming gray or brown toward the mid-body or tail.

They are often found in forested areas but will also use shrubby fields, prairies, marshlands and bog edges. They can be found around barns, outbuildings, old foundations and trash dumps.

These snakes are great climbers and often climb trees to eat birds or eggs. They hibernate in mammal burrows, root networks, rock crevices or other burrows or crevices that provide refuge from freezing temperatures.

Kirtland’s snake

Kirtland's Snake (Clonophis kirtlandii) from the University of Kentucky. (Todd Pierson)
  • Names: Clonophis kirtlandii
  • Status: Endangered in Michigan (legally protected)
  • Venomous: No
  • Helpful links: More information

These snakes only grow between 14 to 24.5 inches long.

They are reddish to dark brown in color and have four rows of alternating dark, round blotches on the back and sides. Sometimes there is a visible stripe along the middle of the back.

Kirtland’s snakes have a bright red, pink or orange belly which is bordered by two parallel rows of black spots. The head is mostly black or dark brown above with light cream-colored, white or yellow labial scales, chin and throat.

They are usually found in open wetlands but they can also be found in openings or along the edges of forested wetlands and floodplains. They are often found in burrows or under leaf litter, logs, boards, rocks or other cover objects

Want to learn more about these snakes? Click here to find more resources on Michigan’s website.

Read: Let’s talk about Michigan spiders: Some to fear and one to keep as a house guest

About the Author:

Kayla is a Web Producer for ClickOnDetroit. Before she joined the team in 2018 she worked at WILX in Lansing as a digital producer.