Michigan Snakes Species Guide: How to Identify Snakes & Keep Safe

Did you know that, despite its cold, unpredictable climate, Michigan is home to a whopping 18 snake species?

Rest assured, only one of those species poses any threat to humans.

Want to learn about the mystifying Eastern Massasauga Rattler – and Michigan’s other unique snake species?

You’ve come to the right place! We’ve compiled the ultimate guide for identifying the Great Lakes state’s snakes – including some great Michigan snakes images!

In Short

  • There are 18 species of snakes in Michigan.
  • The most common snakes in Michigan are water snakes and garter snakes.
  • Snakes play a critically important role in the ecosystem as predators and prey.
  • Michigan is home to many iconic snakes, like Smooth Green Snakes and Queen Snakes.
  • There’s only one venomous species in Michigan: the Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake, an endangered species.

Snake Identification Basics

Correctly identifying Michigan’s native snake species requires equal helpings of studying and in-field experience.

There’s only one species that poses any threat to people, and luckily, it’s easy to distinguish from the state’s remaining 17 species.

Expert Tip: Taking a photo of snakes you encounter will help you practice your identification skills.

Compare them with our pictures of Michigan snakes to try and “guess the species” later on!

Venomous Snakes in Michigan

Are there any poisonous snakes in Michigan?

Technically, no! Poison is a toxin that is ingested, and none of the Michigan snakes are dangerous to eat. However…

There are venomous snakes in Michigan: Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnakes.

According to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, this species is endangered and federally protected. Let’s learn how to identify it.

How to Identify the Only Venomous Snake in Michigan

It’s easy to identify Michigan’s only venomous serpent.

Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnakes are the only Michigan snakes with:

  • Elliptical, cat-like pupils
  • A rattle on the end of their tail
  • Heat-sensing pits near their nostrils

Never rely on only one of these features for identification purposes – especially if there’s any chance the snake could bite you!

For example, some rattlesnakes lose their rattle. Similarly, a Massasauga’s pupils may dilate and look round, rather than elliptical, in darkness.

The Only Venomous Species in Michigan: The Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake

Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake under twigs
Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnakes are terrestrial and prefer to hide in vegetation near bodies of water.

Scientific name:

Sistrurus catenatus catenatus

Range:

Entire lower peninsula

Size:

18.5 – 39.5 in.

Description:

Thick, stout body

Rough, keeled scales

Elliptical, cat-like pupils

Small, barely noticeable rattle at the end of their tail

Some individuals may be melanistic (solid black)

Black underside mottled with gray, yellow, or white

Light gray or brown body with dark brown rectangular dorsal patches and two or three rows of spots on each side

Habitat:

Damp, lowland areas

Status:

Rare

Federal status: Threatened species

Michigan State Status: Special Concern

Michigan Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) Wildlife Action Plan Status: Species of Greatest Conservation Need

May be confused with:

Eastern hog-nosed snake – lacks rattle, heat-sensing pits, and elliptical pupils

Venomous/non-venomous:

Venomous

Fun Fact: Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnakes, like all other pit vipers, give birth to live young.

Types of Snakes in Michigan

What are the other 17 types of snakes in Michigan?

  • Two species belong to the genus Storeria
  • Two species belong to the genus Nerodia, water snakes
  • Three species belong to the genus Pantherophis, rat snakes
  • Three species belong to the genus Thamnophis, garter snakes
  • The remaining seven species each belong to a unique type and genus

Common Snakes in Michigan

Arguably, the most common snakes here are Michigan water snakes and garter snakes.

The water snakes and garter snakes of Michigan typically live in or near aquatic habitats – which the state has an abundance of.

Gray rat snakes are a close runner up, while their cousins, the fox snakes, have dwindling populations. We’ll learn more about them later on.

Michigan Water Snakes

Northern Water Snake
Like all non-venomous snakes in Michigan, Northern Water Snakes have round pupils.

Scientific name:

Nerodia sipedon sipedon (Northern Water Snake)

Nerodia erythrogaster neglecta (Copper-Bellied Water Snake)

Range:

N. sipedon sipedon – Statewide, except the northwesternmost portion of the upper peninsula

N. erythrogaster neglecta – Isolated populations in the southcentral region of the lower peninsula

Size:

24 – 56 in.

Description:

Large-bodied snakes

Rough, keeled scales

N. sipedon sipedon

Pattern fades on older animals – may appear uniformly black or brown

Tan, brown, or gray body with black or brown crossbands and blotches on back and sides

Off-white or orangish underside with a pattern of brown half-moon marks, with or without speckling

N. erythrogaster neglecta:

Mouth, chin, and underside are solid orange to red

Uniform black, gray, or brown body with or without a faint blotched pattern

Habitat:

Permanent bodies of water with access to woodlands and sunny basking spots

Status:

N. sipedon sipedon:

Abundant

N. erythrogaster neglecta:

Rare, isolated populations

Michigan State Status: Endangered

MDNR Wildlife Action Plan Status: Species of Greatest Conservation Need

Venomous/non-venomous:

Non-venomous

Copper-bellied water snake on dead grass
Copper-bellied water snakes have distinctive bright-red or orange bellies.
Image Credit: u/H0rridus (via Reddit.com)

Michigan Garter Snakes

Butler's Garter Snake among leaves
Butler’s Garter Snakes have uniquely-shaped heads and more distinct stripes compared to their widespread cousins.
Image Credit: u/bawdyboobies (via Reddit.com)

The Eastern Garter Snake species and the Northern Ribbon Snake species are the most common in Michigan, while the Butler’s Garter Snake is a species of special concern.

An Eastern Garter Snake with a flattened head and its tongue out
Threatened Thamnophis species, like this Eastern Garter Snake, will flatten their heads when they feel threatened.

Scientific name:

Thamnophis butleri (Butler’s Garter Snake)

Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis (Eastern Garter Snake)

Thamnophis sauritus septentrionalis (Northern Ribbon Snake)

Range:

T. butleri: Eastern ⅔ of the lower peninsula

T. sirtalis sirtalis: Statewide

T. sauritus septentrionalis: Entire lower peninsula

Size:

T. butleri: 15 – 29 in.

T. sirtalis sirtalis: 18 – 54 in.

T. sauritus septentrionalis: 6.5 – 9.5 in.

Description:

Large eyes

Rough, keeled scales

Small to medium, slender snakes

T. butleri:

Two small yellow spots on back of head

Mouth and underside are yellow or pale green, with or without spotting

Black, brown, or olive body with three prominent yellow or orange lengthwise stripes

May have two rows of spots between the stripes

T. sirtalis sirtalis:

Some individuals may be melanistic

Significant color variation in this snake species

Underside and mouth are yellow, green, pale blue, tan, or white with or without spotting

Black, brown, gray, or olive body with three light-colored yellow, green, brown, bluish, or white lengthwise stripes

Checkerboard pattern between stripes

T. sauritus septentrionalis:

Most slender Thamnophis species

Underside is solid green, yellow, or white

Dark brown or black body with three yellow or white lengthwise stripes

Habitat:

Moist, grassy areas with abundant fish populations

Frequently inhabits urban and suburban areas

Status:

T. butleri:

Michigan State Status: Special Concern

MDNR Wildlife Action Plan Status: Species of Greatest Conservation Need

T. sirtalis sirtalis:

Abundant

T. sauritus septentrionalis:

Abundant

Venomous/non-venomous:

Mildly venomous (not dangerous to humans)

Eastern ribbon snake lying flat on a boardwalk
This Eastern Ribbon Snake is basking on a boardwalk that goes through its aquatic habitat.

Iconic Michigan Snake Species

There are a handful of popular, viral, or otherwise well-known Michigan snake species, including the:

  • Blue Racer
  • Smooth Green Snake
  • Eastern Hog-Nosed Snake

Keep reading to find out why these snakes are so famous!

Blue Racer

An Olive-Brown
Blue Racers aren’t always blue. This individual is an olive-brown hue with blue undertones.
Image Credit: u/mothingitright (via Reddit.com)

Did you know snakes could be BLUE?! Meet Michigan’s enigmatic Blue Racer.

Scientific name:

Coluber constrictor foxi

Range:

Southern ⅔ of the lower peninsula

Size:

35 – 75 in.

Description:

Long, slender snake

Bluish or off-white underside

Large eyes with pronounced brow ridges

Smooth, unkeeled scales with a shiny appearance

Uniform gray, blue-gray, turquoise, olive, or brown body

Habitat:

Dry, sunny habitats

Status:

Common, declining populations

MDNR Wildlife Action Plan Status: Species of Greatest Conservation Need

Venomous/non-venomous:

Non-venomous

Smooth Green Snake

Smooth Green Snake crawling on fallen twigs
Smooth Green Snakes bring a lot of emerald beauty in a tiny package!
Image Credit: u/justaguest12 (via Reddit.com)

First a blue snake… now green?! Clearly, Michigan is home to a rainbow’s array of colorful serpents. Identifying these emerald beauties is fairly straightforward, but just in case…

Scientific name:

Opheodrys vernalis

Range:

Entire upper peninsula, scattered populations on the north, east, and west sides of the lower peninsula

Size:

12 – 26”

Description:

Small, slender snake

Smooth, unkeeled scales

Head slightly wider than neck

Underside and mouth are yellow or white

Body is bright green, or sometimes brown, tan, or bronze

Body turns blue shortly after death

Habitat:

Moist, grassy habitats

Status:

Declining populations

Michigan State Status: Special Concern

MDNR Wildlife Action Plan Status: Species of Greatest Conservation Need

Venomous/non-venomous:

Non-venomous

Eastern Hog-Nosed Snake

Eastern hog-nosed snake flicking its tongue while on fresh grass
Here’s a great example of the feistiness – and occasional melanism – seen in Eastern Hog-Nosed Snakes.

Hog-Nosed Snakes are known amongst the reptile community as the drama queens of the snake world.

If you’re hoping to witness their infamous cobra impressions and death-feigning antics first-hand, you’ll have to learn to identify them first.

Scientific name:

Heterodon platirhinos

Range:

Entire lower peninsula

Size:

20 – 45.5 in.

Description:

Thick-bodied snake

Rough, keeled scales

Upturned rostral (nose) scale

Some individuals may be melanistic

Underside yellow, off-white, or pinkish with dark mottling

Large head, occasionally flattened (cobra-like) neck

Gray, brown, tan, olive, orange, yellow, black, or pinkish body with or without dark blotches and spots

Habitat:

Virtually all terrestrial Michigan habitats

Status:

Common in undisturbed habitats

MDNR Wildlife Action Plan Status: Species of Greatest Conservation Need

Venomous/Non-Venomous:

Mildly venomous (not dangerous to humans)

Other Snakes Native to Michigan

Of course, there are many more elusive and underrated snakes native to Michigan.

From the widespread queen snake species to the odd milk snake of Michigan, keep reading to learn more about these cool critters.

Brown Snake

Two Brown Snakes crawling on top of a person's hands
Brown Snakes are surprisingly tiny!

Scientific name:

Storeria dekayi dekayi

Range:

Entire lower peninsula and southern parts of the upper peninsula

Size:

9 – 21”

Description:

Tiny snake

Small head

Rough, keeled scales

Brown, gray, or tan body with a light brown dorsal stripe that’s bordered on each side by dark brown spots

Habitat:

Habitats with moist soil

Frequently inhabits agricultural, suburban, and urban areas

Status:

Common

Venomous/non-venomous:

Non-venomous

Queen Snake

Queen Snake curled up on grass
At first glance, the Queen Snake closely resembles several other native Michigan species. It takes a trained eye to accurately identify them.

Scientific name:

Regina septemvittata

Range:

Southern ⅔ of the lower peninsula

Size:

13.5 – 36.5 in.

Description:

Small, slender snake

Rough, keeled scales

Off-white, striped underside

Head slightly wider than neck

Old adults may become uniformly black or dark olive

Brown, olive, or gray body with white or yellow stripe on each side of the body

Habitat:

Shallow, rocky-bottomed bodies of water with healthy crayfish populations

Status:

Declining populations

Michigan State Status: Special Concern

MDNR Wildlife Action Plan Status: Species of Greatest Conservation Need

Venomous/non-venomous:

Non-venomous

Gray Rat Snake

Gray Rat Snake crawling on a fallen tree bark
It’s apparent why Gray Rat Snakes used to be called Black Rat Snakes.

Scientific name:

Pantherophis obsoleta obsoleta

Range:

Southern half of the lower peninsula

Size:

40 – 101 in.

Description:

Largest snake in Michigan

Slightly keeled, rough scales

Juveniles have a blotched pattern

White underside with checkerboard pattern

Adults have uniform black or dark brown body with or without white, yellow, or orange flecking

Habitat:

Open habitats with adjacent woodlands

Frequently inhabits suburban areas

Status:

Uncommon to rare

Michigan State Status: Special Concern

MDNR Wildlife Action Plan Status: Species of Greatest Conservation Need

Venomous/non-venomous:

Non-venomous

Kirtland’s Snake

Kirtland's Snake being held in a person's hand
The Kirtland’s Snake has a striking appearance that makes it easy to identify.
Image Credit: u/EmeraldGirl (via Reddit.com)

Scientific name:

Clonophis kirtlandii

Range:

Southernmost regions of the lower peninsula

Size:

14 – 24.5 in.

Description:

Medium-bodied snake

Rough, keeled scales

Small head, sometimes with a mottled pattern

Characteristic pink, orange, or red underside

Red- to gray-brown body with four rows of alternating round, dark blotches along the back and sides

Markings may fade with age

Habitat:

Moist, grassy habitats

Status:

Rare

Michigan State Status: Endangered

MDNR Wildlife Action Plan Status: Species of Greatest Conservation Need

Venomous/non-venomous:

Non-venomous

Eastern Milk Snake

Eastern Milk Snake on the ground
The black borders surrounding the Eastern Milk Snake’s dorsal saddles are the easiest way to distinguish them from other Michigan snakes.

Scientific name:

Lampropeltis triangulum triangulum

Range:

Entire lower peninsula and eastern tip of upper peninsula

Size:

24 – 52 in.

Description:

Slender, small snake

Smooth, unkeeled scales

Y- or V-shaped mark on back of head

Off-white underside with irregular checkerboard pattern

Gray or tan body with reddish-brown saddles that are outlined in black

Habitat:

Virtually all terrestrial Michigan habitats

Frequently inhabits suburban areas

Status:

Common

Venomous/non-venomous:

Non-venomous

Northern Red-Bellied Snake

Redbelly Snake on top of a large brownish-orange leaf
Can you tell that the Northern Red-Bellied Snake belongs to the same genus as the Brown Snake?

Scientific name:

Storeria occipitomaculata occipitomaculata

Range:

Statewide except the southernmost regions of the lower peninsula

Size:

8 – 16 in.

Description:

Tiny, slender snakes

Bright red or orange underside

Uniform reddish-brown or gray body

May have two to four thin, dark stripes along the length of their back

Habitat:

Habitats with moist soil, open areas, and woodlands

Sometimes inhabits urban and suburban areas

Status:

Common

Venomous/non-venomous:

Non-venomous

Northern Ring-Necked Snake

Northern Ring-Necked Snake on the ground among fallen leaves
Even though this Northern Ring-Necked Snake’s colors are dulled because it’s getting ready to shed, you can still see its pretty “ring”!

Scientific name:

Diadophis punctatus edwardsii

Range:

Statewide

Size:

10 – 27.5 in.

Description:

Tiny, slender-bodied snake

Orange or yellow underside

Smooth, shiny, unkeeled scales

Solid black, gray, or brown body

Distinctive orange or yellow ring around their neck

Habitat:

Moist, shaded woodlands, and adjacent habitats

Status:

Secretive

Common to rare, depending on region

MDNR Wildlife Action Plan Status: Species of Greatest Conservation Need

Venomous/non-venomous:

Non-venomous

Western and Eastern Fox Snakes

Western and Eastern Fox Snakes crawling on pebbles
Western and Eastern Fox Snakes are difficult to differentiate based on appearance. Luckily, their ranges don’t overlap.
Image Credit: u/stumblingzen (via Reddit.com)

Scientific name:

Pantherophis gloydi (Eastern Fox Snake)

Pantherophis vulpina (Western Fox Snake)

Range:

P. gloydi: southeastern lower peninsula

P. vulpina: western half of the upper peninsula

Size:

35.5 – 61 in.

Description:

Rough, keeled scales

Large, heavy-bodied snakes

Off-white underside with square-shaped markings

Yellowish- or grayish-brown body with brown or black blotches

Yellow, red, brown, or orange broad heads with stripe between eyes

Habitat:

P. gloydi: Grassy shoreline habitats

P. vulpina: Open, grassy habitats

Status:

Common to rare, depending on species and region

P. gloydi:

Michigan State Status: Threatened species

MDNR Wildlife Action Plan Status: Species of Greatest Conservation Need

Venomous/non-venomous:

Non-venomous

What You Need to Know

While tropical Florida is home to over 60 lizard species and nearly 50 snake species, chilly Michigan probably doesn’t seem like it’d make an ideal home state for reptiles.

The truth is that many snake species thrive in the abundant wetlands – so much so that they’ve even evolved to survive Michigan’s harsh winters!

If you’re an outdoors enthusiast in Michigan, you’re bound to come across one of these snakes eventually.

Remember to stay calm. The only venomous snake in Michigan is so rare that you should consider yourself lucky if you encounter one!

All snakes in Michigan play vital and beneficial roles in the ecosystem.

They serve as an essential food source for predators, such as birds of prey and foxes.

Perhaps even more importantly, some snakes consume rodent or insect pests, keeping their populations in check.

Coexisting With Michigan Snakes

If you encounter a snake in Michigan, we encourage you to admire it from a safe distance and maybe even try to figure out the snake species!

Unless absolutely necessary, refrain from handling wild snakes, or any Michigan wildlife. Remember that some snakes are protected by law, and others could put you in the hospital!

The best way to coexist with Michigan’s snakes is by treating them with respect and admiration and without fear or disgust.

Snake Safety 101

The first and most important rule of snake safety is to keep your distance and avoid handling wild snakes unnecessarily.

If there’s an unwanted, perhaps venomous, snake on your property, you have three options:

  1. Ignore it – The snake will eventually leave manicured yards in search of food, water, and adequate shelter.
  2. Call a professional – There are snake removal professionals across the country, including in Michigan. For more information, check out the “Useful Resources” section.
  3. Encourage it to leave – You can encourage wild snakes to leave your property by gently spraying them with a water hose.

Remember that snakes are an integral part of our ecosystem and don’t want to harm you. Harassing or injuring some snake species can even result in a fine – or jail time!

In the rare event that a venomous Massasauga Rattlesnake bites you:

  • Stay calm and move as little as possible.
  • Call 911 or get the victim to a hospital as soon as possible.
  • Remove any tight clothing or jewelry before swelling occurs.
  • Don’t attempt any treatment yourself. Wait for a professional.
  • Raise the bite above heart level to slow the distribution of venom.
  • Remember as many details about the snake as you can. Take a picture of the snake if possible. A proper ID is essential for receiving the correct antivenom.

Useful Resources

If a rattlesnake bites you or someone you’re helping, contact the Michigan Poison Center at (800) 222-1222.

They’ll direct you to a local medical facility that can appropriately treat snake envenomations.

If a rattlesnake bites your pet, immediately take your furry friend to your local emergency veterinary hospital.

You can also contact the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center at (888) 426-4435.

If you need a snake removed from your property, check out this Facebook group for a free snake relocation directory.

You can find out more about Michigan’s snakes, and other wildlife, on their Department of Natural Resources website.

We hope you have some great knowledge about the snakes of Alabama now. Find out more articles about the snakes of Hawaii, South CarolinaCalifornia, ArizonaPennsylvaniaFloridaMissouriGeorgiaVirginia, Tennessee here.

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