Tennessee Snakes Species Guide (Pics, Safety Tips, & More!)

Tennessee snakes come in many shapes and sizes. Big, small, colorful, bland, this state has them all.

From the harmless rat snake in Tennessee to the venomous (mistakenly called poisonous) snakes in Tennessee.

In this article, we’ll take a look at:

  • Common venomous snakes
  • How to identify Tennessee snakes
  • How to deal with snakes if you find them
  • Iconic snake species that live in Tennessee
Western Ribbon Snake crawling on a large rock
The ribbon snake is one of the many beautiful species in this area.

We’ll also share some pictures of snakes in Tennessee.

Snake Identification Basics

When trying to identify a snake, there are a few things you need to look out for:

  • Length
  • Habitat
  • Location
  • Pupil and head shape
  • Coloration and patterning

Alone, none of these things are likely to give you a concrete result. However, by combining several of them, you should be able to ID the snake.

For example, if you’re trying to identify snakes in East Tennessee, you can easily discount snakes that only live in the Western counties.

If the snake is over five feet long, you can discount species like the worm snake that only reaches short lengths.

Pit vipers like rattlesnakes and copperheads have slit-shaped eyes and broad flat heads.

Closeup of a Garter Snake flicking its tongue
The shape of a snake’s pupil helps to identify the species.

This sets them apart from snake species like the Southeastern crowned snake.

A brightly colored snake like the scarletsnake definitely can’t be a timber rattlesnake.

By following a process of elimination you’ll soon have an identification of what the snake is.

Sites like iNaturalist can help you learn more about identifying native snake species and getting a confirmation for your identification.

Quickly Identifying a Venomous Snake

Identifying venomous snakes in Tennessee is a relatively easy process.

The pit vipers make up all four species, with no other venomous snakes in the region.

Pit viper curled on the ground
Pit vipers have a striking appearance.

Several traits set vipers apart from the non-venomous species in the area, namely:

  • Heat-sensing pits between the eyes and nostrils.
  • Slit-shaped pupils and broad, shield-shaped heads.
  • Modified tale scales (in the rattlesnakes) that make a hissing sound.
  • Stocky bodies, considerably broader than many snakes in the region.

The hog-nosed snake is the only non-venomous snake species that you might confuse for a pit viper.

However, it lacks heat-sensing pits, has different coloration, and its head is much flatter.

Which Snakes Live in Tennessee?

The Tennessee government website lists 32 different snake species in the region. All of the following groups of species occur in Tennessee:

Pit Vipers

    • Pygmy Rattlesnake – Sistrurus miliarius
    • Timber Rattlesnake – Crotalus horridus
    • Eastern Copperhead – Agkistrodon contortrix
    • Northern Cottonmouth – Agkistrodon piscivorus

Kingsnakes

    • Black Kingsnake – Lampropeltis nigra
    • Prairie Kingsnake – Lampropeltis calligaster
    • Scarlet Kingsnake – Lampropeltis elapsoides
    • Eastern Milksnake – Lampropeltis triangulum
    • Eastern Kingsnake – Lampropeltis getula
    • Speckled Kingsnake – Lampropeltis holbrooki

Watersnakes

    • Banded Watersnake – Nerodia fasciata
    • Common Watersnake – Nerodia sipedon
    • Plain-bellied Watersnake – Nerodia erythrogaster
    • Diamondback Watersnake – Nerodia rhombifer

Brownsnakes

    • Red-bellied Snake – Storeria oipitomaculata
    • Dekay’s Brownsnake – Storeria dekayi

Garter Snakes

    • Ribbon Snake – Thamnophis saurita
    • Western Ribbon Snake – Thamnophis proximus
    • Common Garter Snake – Thamnophis sirtalis

Corn and ratsnakes

    • Corn Snake – Pantherophis guttatus
    • Gray Ratsnake – Pantherophis spiloides
    • Eastern Ratsnake – Pantherophis alleghaniensis

The rest of the species are all single representatives of their genera:

  • Mudsnake – Farancia abacura
  • Pine Snake – Pituophis melanoleucus
  • Queensnake – Regina septemvittata
  • Scarletsnake – Cemophora coinea
  • Rough Earthsnake – Haldea striatula
  • Rough Greensnake – Opheodrys aestivus
  • Smooth Earthsnake – Virginia valeriae
  • Ring-necked Snake – Diadophis punctatus
  • Eastern Worm Snake – Carphophis amoenus
  • North American Racer – Coluber constrictor
  • Eastern Hognose Snake – Heterodon platirhinos
  • Southeastern Crowned Snake – Tantilla coronata

Most Common Snakes in Tennessee

We’ve combed websites like iNaturalist to find the most common snakes in Tennessee. The most commonly observed snakes include:

  1. Gray Ratsnake – Pantherophis spiloides
  2. Common Watersnake – Nerodia sipedon
  3. Common Garter Snake – Thamnophis sirtalis
  4. Ring-necked Snake – Diadophis punctatus
  5. Black Kingsnake – Lampropeltis nigra

We’ll take a closer look at these non-venomous snakes, and their close relatives, in the next few sections.

Rat Snakes and Corn Snakes – Pantherophis

Rat snakes are some of the most common non-venomous snakes found in this region.

Several pet snakes, including the corn snake, are rat snakes. These snakes take well to living alongside humans and have calm personalities.

A corn snake raising its head and upper body while looking away from the camera
Corn snakes are a popular pet species.

Scientific Name:

Genus: Pantherophis

Species:

  • Corn Snake
    Pantherophis guttatus
  • Gray Ratsnake
    Pantherophis spiloides
  • Eastern Ratsnake
    Pantherophis alleghaniensis

Range:

Throughout Tennessee

Adult Size:

Averaging three to six feet

Description:

Long slender snakes with a wide array of colors and patterns

Colors range from brown to black and red

Elongated heads and round pupils

Habitat:

Complete generalists, preferring areas with plenty of cover

Venomous/Non-Venomous:

Non-venomous

Water Snakes in Tennessee – Nerodia

The water snake is a common non-venomous snake found near swamps and other water sources.

Water snakes in Tennessee feed on fish, frogs, and other animals attracted to the water. They’re completely harmless.

A Northern Water Snake curling up
Water snakes live near marshes and other water-rich areas.

Scientific Name:

Genus: Nerodia

Species:

  • Common Watersnake
    Nerodia sipedon
  • Banded Watersnake
    Nerodia fasciata
  • Diamondback Watersnake
    Nerodia rhombifer
  • Plain-bellied Watersnake
    Nerodia erythrogaster

Range:

Throughout Tennessee

Adult Size:

Averaging three to five feet

Description:

Robust snakes with prominent heads that feature many glossy scales

Diamond-shaped scales and round pupils

Habitat:

Anywhere near fresh water

Often found near swamps and marshes

Venomous/Non-Venomous:

Non-venomous

Garter Snakes – Thamnophis

Garter snakes are common visitors to homes and gardens. They’re entirely harmless, and help to control pest populations.

These animals are attracted to the rodent populations that invariably spring up around human habitations.

They accidentally enter homes through windows and often find themselves trapped there.

Common Garter snake on grass and surrounded by fallen leaves
Garter snakes are highly inquisitive.

Scientific Name:

Genus: Thamnophis

Species:

  • Ribbon Snake
    Thamnophis saurita
  • Common Garter Snake
    Thamnophis sirtalis
  • Western Ribbon Snake
    Thamnophis proximus

Range:

Throughout Tennessee

Adult Size:

Averages 18 to 26 inches

Description:

Long thin snakes with bright orange tongues and round pupils

These snakes are usually brown with a vertebral stripe, or several vertebral stripes, in shades of brown or black

Habitat:

Generalists, invading any food-rich habitat

Often enters houses accidentally

Venomous/Non-Venomous:

Non-venomous

Kingsnakes – Lampropeltis

Kingsnakes are harmless snakes with placid personalities. Several of them, like the milk snake and black kingsnake, are popular pet snakes.

They’re habitat generalists, and it’s not uncommon to see them around human habitations.

A milksnake being held in a person's hand
The milksnake is also a type of kingsnake.

Scientific Name:

Genus: Lampropeltis

Species:

  • Black Kingsnake
    Lampropeltis nigra
  • Eastern Milksnake
    Lampropeltis triangulum
  • Scarlet Kingsnake
    Lampropeltis elapsoides
  • Prairie Kingsnake
    Lampropeltis calligaster
  • Eastern Kingsnake
    Lampropeltis getula
  • Speckled Kingsnake
    Lampropeltis holbrooki

Range:

Throughout the state

Adult Size:

Averages 36 to 60 inches

Description:

Long snakes with relatively muscular bodies

Colors range from brown to black or red

Bullet-shaped heads with round pupils

Habitat:

Habitat generalists that will live in just about any habitat where food is abundant

Often prairies or forests near swamps and marshes

Venomous/Non-Venomous:

Non-venomous

Ring-necked Snakes – Diadophis punctatus

Monterey Ring-necked snake exposing its orange belly
The shocking belly of the ring-necked snake serves to frighten predators.

The ring-necked snake is a beautiful red-bellied snake with a black or brown dorsal surface.

These nonvenomous snakes trick predators into thinking they’re dangerous by flashing the bright colors on their undersides.

Scientific Name:

Diadophis punctatus

Range:

Throughout Tennessee

Adult Size:

Averages 10 to 15 inches

Description:

A relatively small, stocky snake

Black with a red or orange belly

Rounded head with circular pupils

Habitat:

Areas with soft, moist soil

Venomous/Non-Venomous:

Non-venomous

Venomous Snakes in Tennessee

There are very few venomous snakes in Tennessee, and all four species are pit vipers. Let’s take a closer look at each of them.

Timber Rattlesnakes

The timber rattlesnake is the largest rattler in Tennessee. It gets its name from its preferred habitat of forests and woodlands.

Timber Rattlesnake resting on top of fallen leaves
The timber rattlesnake is the largest rattler in the region.

Scientific Name:

Crotalus horridus

Range:

Throughout Tennessee

Adult Size:

Averages 30 to 60 inches

Description:

Large, robust snakes with broad heads and slit-shaped pupils

Alternating dark brown and light brown blotches

Habitat:

Deciduous forests and other woodlands

Venomous/Non-Venomous:

Venomous

Pygmy Rattlesnakes

Pygmy Rattlesnakes are the smallest pit vipers in Tennessee. Despite their small size, their bite can be lethal.

Pygmy rattler crawling on the ground
Pygmy rattlers are the smallest rattlesnakes in the region.

Scientific Name:

Sistrurus miliarius

Range:

Western Tennessee

Adult Size:

Averages 16 to 24 inches

Description:

Relatively short, stocky snakes with vibrant chestnut brown, dark brown, or black blotches

Typical shield-shaped head with slit-shaped pupils

The last scales of the tail are adapted to form a “rattle”

Habitat:

Diverse: especially forests, flatlands, and sandhills

Venomous/Non-Venomous:

Venomous

Eastern Copperhead – Agkistrodon contortrix

Copperhead snake on top of fallen wooden bark
The copperhead truly has a copper-colored head.

The Eastern Copperhead snake gets its name from its vibrant coppery color. These snakes are lethal and rely on camouflage for protection.

In some states, it may be easy to confuse this species with the Northern copperhead snake, but it doesn’t occur in Tennessee.

Scientific Name:

Agkistrodon contortrix

Range:

Throughout Tennessee

Adult Size:

Averages 24 to 40 inches

Description:

Large, thick-bodied snakes with chestnut or dark brown markings on a tan or light gray background

Copper-colored head with a shield-like shape and elliptical pupils

Habitat:

Rocky or hilly forests and woodlands

Venomous/Non-Venomous:

Venomous

Northern Cottonmouth – Agkistrodon piscivorus

Sideview of a Northern Cottonmouth snake's head
The northern cottonmouth looks every inch as dangerous as it is.

Scientific Name:

Agkistrodon piscivorus

Range:

Western Tennessee

Adult Size:

Averages 26 to 74 inches

Description:

A stout-bodied snake colored dark grey or brown

May have irregular blotches or markings

Typical, broad pit viper head with elliptical pupils

Habitat:

Prefers habitats around freshwater, most common near swamps and marshes

Venomous/Non-Venomous:

Venomous

Non-Venomous Snakes in Tennessee

There are many species of non-venomous snakes in Tennessee. Below, we’ll share about one or two of our favorite species.

Hognose Snakes

Eastern Hognose snake against a black background
The Eastern Hognose snake has large eyes which make it seem innocent.

The hog-nosed snake is a harmless species with a snout that resembles the nose of a pig.

Hognose snakes, or hog-nosed snakes, can resemble pit vipers. However, the hog-nosed snake has a flattened nose and snout which sets it apart.

If you’re fortunate enough to see a hog-nosed snake, you’re unlikely to confuse it with another species.

Scientific Name:

Heterodon platirhinos

Range:

Throughout Tennessee

Adult Size:

Averages 26 to 48 inches

Description:

Medium-sized snakes with a recurring pattern of dark brown spots on a tan background

An upturned snout reminiscent of a pig’s nose, and large googly eyes

Habitat:

Any location with sandy or mixed sandy soils

Venomous/Non-Venomous:

Non-venomous

Queen Snake

The queen snake or queensnake is a robust snake with a long thin tail.

They’re pretty distinctive, and you’re unlikely to confuse them for any other species in the region.

If anything, a water snake is the most likely candidate for confusion with these snakes.

Queen Snake curled up on a patch of dry grass
The queensnake is a harmless, but formidable-looking, snake.

Scientific Name:

Regina septemvittata

Range:

Central and East Tennessee

Adult Size:

Averages 15 to 24 inches

Description:

Long brown snakes with robust bodies

The underside is invariably a lighter brown

Rough scales, a long tail, and a slightly squared head with round pupils

Habitat:

Semi-aquatic; lives near rivers and other water sources

Venomous/Non-Venomous:

Non-venomous

What You Need to Know

When dealing with Tennessee snakes, there are only a few essential things you need to know:

  • Always watch from a safe distance
  • Snakes don’t want to eat or chase you
  • Snakes consider you a dangerous predator
  • There are only four venomous species in the area
  • NEVER try to catch, kill, move, or otherwise tease a snake
  • Treat the snake with respect and it will treat you with respect

If you respect the snake and stick to these guidelines, you’re unlikely to have any problems.

Coexisting with Tennessee Snakes

As we mentioned above, the key to coexisting with snakes is to treat them with respect. The other key concept is to get over your fear of them.

Once you understand what snakes are, and how they live, you won’t fear them. This type of insight prepares you to handle any snakes you find.

About Venomous Snakes

All the venomous snakes in Tennessee are pit vipers, so they may behave differently from other snakes.

Rather than fleeing from danger, as most snakes do, pit vipers rely on camouflage to keep them safe.

As a result, it’s pretty easy to step on these snakes.

To make sure this doesn’t happen, you have to practice some safety actions. We’ll discuss them in the next section.

Treading Carefully in Snake Habitat

When walking in any place where you might meet a snake, vigilance is key.

Here’s how to keep safe in snake habitats:

  • Wear sturdy shoes
  • Stick to well-worn paths and trails
  • Keep your pet on a leash at all times
  • Use a hiking cane to help you assess every step if you need to walk in overgrown areas

If You Encounter a Snake

If you encounter a snake, there’s no need to do anything.

Unless it’s in a place where it might hurt someone, or get hurt, it’s best to leave the snake alone.

Of course, you can observe it from a safe distance, and even take photos from that distance.

However, you shouldn’t poke, prod, or otherwise bother the snake. If it needs to be relocated, contact a professional.

If you find a snake in your home, you should also contact an experienced wildlife handler.

When to Call for Help

There are only two instances when you’ll usually need to call for help:

  1. If a snake bites you
  2. If you need a snake relocated

Even if a harmless snake bites you, it’s a good idea to get medical attention. You may be allergic to the proteins in its saliva.

Unless a snake is in danger or poses danger to others, there’s usually no need for relocation.

If you need to have a snake removed, you’ll find the appropriate contact information in the resources below.

Useful Resources

We’ve compiled a list of resources that may be useful if you run into a snake.

Below you’ll find the information you need if you get bitten by a snake, need to relocate one or want to learn more about them.

Emergency Poisoning Advice

  • ASPCA Poisoning Hotline: 1-888-426-4435
  • Poison Control Center’s national hotline: 1-800-222-1222

Snake Relocation Services

Educational Resources

iNaturalist is an excellent resource for connecting with people who love snakes, getting identifications, or learning more about native species.

The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Center offers plenty of learning opportunities for anyone interested.

From watchable wildlife streams to fact sheets, the learning center offers plenty of valuable information.

We hope you’ve enjoyed this article about Tennessee snakes. Feel free to check out related content like our Wisconsin, LouisianaHawaii, South Carolina, Arizona, CaliforniaPennsylvania, Texas, FloridaNorth CarolinaAlabamaMissouriGeorgiaVirginiaMichigan snake identification guides. 

Which of the snakes in Tennessee is your favorite? Let us know in the comments.

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