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A Quick Guide to All 18 Species of Michigan Snakes

Michigan Snakes

This is every species of snake found in Michigan.

The Great Lakes State has a wide variety of wildlife living in its woods and waters. Among the deer, elk, bears, and many different types of birds are several different kinds of snakes.

There are many misconceptions about what snakes are found here. Despite what you may have heard, copperheads are NOT found in Michigan.

We've compiled a quick rundown of these species and what you need to know about each of them, including the one species of venomous snake. We tried to work this list from smallest to largest and by species that are most similar to one another.

1. Eastern Garter Snake

One of the most common snakes in Michigan and the one you're most likely to find in the field, this snake only grows about two to four feet long and features three stripes running the length of its body. The stripes can vary in color from orange to brown or even bluish in color, but are usually yellow.

You're most likely to find these guys hanging around grassy areas, but they can be found just about anywhere. They mainly only eat small things like frogs, mice, and earthworms. They might also eat the occasional fish or bird. This species is non-venomous.

2. Butler's Garter Snake

Michigan Snakes
Wikimedia Commons: Mark Nenadov

This snake is very similar to the eastern garter and it can be easy to get them mixed up. One tell-tale giveaway is that this species doesn't get nearly as large as some eastern garters. The butler's garter usually only grows to a little over two feet. I've found these little guys in grassy and marshy areas, and they're more afraid of you than you should be of them.

Much like the eastern garter it has a row of vertical stripes that can vary in color from orange to brown, but you'll usually see them as yellow. Because of their small size, they mostly eat worms. This species is also non-venomous.

3. Northern Ribbon Snake

This snake is also often confused with garter snakes because the northern ribbon snake also has three rows of vertical stripes. A tell-tale feature of this non-venomous species that might set it apart is some scales under the black-colored mouth which are usually white. The stripes are usually bright yellow but can also appear white.

Much like the butler's garter, this snake doesn't get very big. Most are only a foot and half to two feet in length and they like to hang out in marshes where they feed on frogs, fish, worms, and insects. This is another species that will likely flee at first sight of you.

4. Northern Ring-Necked Snake

This one is a bit harder to find than the garter snakes. The Michigan Department of Natural Resources has had difficulty monitoring this one due to its elusive nature. This snake doesn't get very big, only about 10 to 20 inches in length, but it is easy to identify it when it is seen. The snake is usually solid black or blue/blue gray in color.

The northern ring neck's signature mark however is a brightly colored yellow or orange belly with a similarly-colored ring around its neck. This one likes to hang out in wooded areas, but you're unlikely to run into one because it is a species that mostly likes to come out at night. It is non-venomous.

5. Northern Red-Bellied Snake

Michigan Snakes

This small snake only tops out at about 16 inches at the largest and likes to hang out in a variety of areas including forests, marshes, and grassy fields. The markings on this one are rather mundane. They are usually just brown, red-brown, or gray in color.

The belly on the other hand is usually pink to bright red in color. Some specimens might have a subtle striped pattern on their backs. This non-venomous snake species eats worms or very small slugs. The small size of this snake probably makes it easy for them to elude humans without being noticed.

6. Brown Snake

Another very small snake species for Michigan, the brown snake only gets around 15 inches long at the largest. In many ways, this one closely resembles the various garter snake species, but is much lighter in color. It usually appears as brown or tan, and may have darker stripes and splotches running down its body.

Like many of the other small species of snake in Michigan, this one mostly eats small insects and worms. It is non-venomous and likes to hang out in a variety of areas including grasslands and marshes to wooded areas.

7. Kirtland's Snake

Michigan Snakes
Wikimedia Commons: Don Becker

The Kirtland's snake is one that is hard to find in Michigan, so much so that they are listed as endangered. This small snake only grows to about two feet in length and is characterized by a red, gray, or brown body speckled with darker blotches.

This snake actually has a fairly small range across Indiana, Illinois, Ohio, some parts of northern Kentucky, and a very small range in Pennsylvania. It is listed as threatened or endangered in almost all of those states. It may look dangerous, but this species is non-venomous and likes to hang out in areas where there is water.

8. Queen Snake

The Michigan DNR has the Queen snake listed as a species of special concern. Unfortunately, the queen snake has lost many of its areas of natural habitat. That habitat consists mostly of small streams with rocky bottoms. They may eat minnows, tadpoles, and other small water creatures, but their favorite food is crayfish.

This species is characterized by a mostly dark gray or brown coloration, but they also usually have a yellow stripe on both sides of their bodies. This coloration usually extends to their throats and chins. This non-venomous species generally doesn't get very big; adults generally get about 36 inches long at the largest.

9. Smooth Green Snake

This species will probably be the easiest one to identify of all the Michigan snake species when you come across it. This small snake only gets about two feet long at the largest, but it stands out in a crowd due to its bright green or pale yellow coloration. This is not a species that can be confused with any others in Michigan.

The smooth green snake likes a variety of habitats including grassy areas, forests, and marshy or lake areas. But this non-venomous species is getting harder to find in Michigan and their numbers are being closely watched by wildlife authorities. Smooth green snakes mostly eat insects.

10. Western Fox Snake

Michigan Snakes
Wikimedia Commons: Andrew C

Now we're finally getting to some of the larger species that call Michigan home. The western fox snake grows anywhere from three to five feet in length and is characterized by a lighter-color body speckled with splotches that can vary in color from yellow to dark brown.

Unfortunately this non-venomous species might look dangerous to many people resulting in it being unnecessarily killed. This snake can be confused with rattlesnakes because it sometimes shakes its tail in a similar manner. The snake actually gets its name from a musk it may give off when cornered, similar to a fox.

The western fox snake is one of special concern to Michigan authorities as it faces habitat destruction of the woodlands and prairie lands it calls home. It is too bad, too. This snake is a helpful species that likes to feed on mice and other rodents that can be a nuisance to humans. This snake's name is sometimes used interchangeably with the next snake on the list, the eastern fox snake.

11. Eastern Fox Snake

This species is nearly identical to the western fox species. It is also probably one of the reasons you'll hear conflicting statements on the number of snakes that call Michigan home. It also grows between three and five feet long and also is usually characterized by dark splotches on a lighter body. This one is found mostly in marshes and wetlands. The eastern fox snake does face some threats, mostly because they are popular as pets and are often taken from the wild.

But this non-venomous species also helps with controlling rodent populations. Unfortunately, their habit of coiling up and sometimes shaking their tails may lead to them being killed after someone mistakes them for a rattlesnake.

12. Eastern Milk Snake

Michigan Snakes
Wikimedia Commons: Will Brown

A harmless species that can get up to four feet long, the eastern milk snake (lampropeltis triangulum) is a particularly beautiful species. This one is usually characterized by a gray or tan body with brown splotches over the length of its body. They usually have a belly that is pale in coloration.

You're not likely to run into one of these while out and about on your outdoor adventures. These non-venomous predators mostly hunt at night for the insects that consist of their primary diet.

13. Eastern Hog-Nosed Snake

Michigan Snakes
Wikimedia Commons: Barry Giles

The eastern hog-nosed (heterodon platirhinos) is one of the more interesting snake species in the state of Michigan. This one is often confused with venomous species because of the way it acts. This snake has a tendency to flatten out its head and neck when it is cornered. It almost gives off the appearance of a cobra's hood.

The other interesting behavior the hognose exhibits when threatened is rolling onto its back and playing dead. They do have venom, but it is only dangerous if you are a frog, toad, or salamander, which are their preferred meals.

They grow to about 40 inches in length, and can be solid in color or are marked with irregular spots or patterns. The unique coloring and behaviors often leads to this species being mistaken as dangerous and results in them being needlessly killed.

14. Blue Racer

The blue racer may be the most beautiful snake species in Michigan. This species is usually dark blue to bluish-gray with a lighter-colored belly and often grows quite large, from four to six feet in length. But good luck getting a good look at this species, as they don't particularly like humans. In fact, if you see one, you'll immediately know where the "racer" part of the name comes from. They tend to quickly zip out of the area at first sight of a human.

This species can be helpful to humans by feeding on rodents, but it also will cannibalize smaller snake species. You'll generally find this snake hanging out in drier areas.

15. Black (or Gray) Rat Snake

Michigan Snakes
Wikimedia Commons: Stephen Lody Photography

Easily the largest snake species in Michigan, the black rat snake can reach lengths of eight feet. These snakes are pretty easy to spot because of their large size and black or dark brown coloration. Younger snakes might have slight patterning. Adults are sometimes mistaken for blue racers, but a racer will likely run from you immediately. Rat snakes are a little bolder.

This is another species which sometimes constricts itself and shakes its tail when cornered. This is probably because it hopes you'll think it's a rattlesnake. But these snakes are non-venomous and actually kill their prey by constricting them like a python or boa.

This species is another that is helpful to humans because it preys on pests like mice and rats. Cut this snake a break if you come across it, especially since the DNR is becoming concerned with how these snakes are becoming less and less common. Interestingly enough, the DNR considers the black rat snake and the gray rat snakes as pretty much one and the same these days.

16. Northern Water Snake

This species (nerodia sipedon), is commonly found in rivers and streams and also leads to it being mistaken for a water moccasin, which doesn't even live in Michigan. They grow from two to four feet in length and are usually dark in color with splotches that are usually rectangular in shape. They also have a "half-moon" shape on their bellies.

This species can get quite defensive when cornered, which likely leads to many of them being killed because people mistake them for something dangerous. But this non-venomous species likes to eat minnows, frogs, and other amphibians.

As the name suggests, they are amazingly talented swimmers. I usually see these in wetlands habitat on river kayaking trips. Sometimes they can be found basking in the sun in the branches of river side trees.

17. Copper-Bellied Water Snake

Another species often found in water-logged areas, this snake can grow quite large, up to five feet long and is usually solid in color, either black or gray. Sometimes they have a pattern, but it is usually quite light in coloration. The easiest way to tell this apart from something like the northern water snake is the belly. A copper-bellied water snake usually has a distinctive bright orange belly with no markings.

This non-venomous species likes to eat frogs, small fish, and salamanders. Unfortunately, this species is endangered in Michigan and can be very hard to find.

18. Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake

Michigan Snakes
Wikimedia Commons: USFWSmidwes

This is the ONLY venomous snake species living in Michigan. Don't listen to your crazy friend who swears he saw a cottonmouth that one time. They were likely mistaking it with another species. That being said, the eastern Massasauga (sistrurus catenatus), is very uncommon snake. I've lived here my whole life and have never once run across one. Which is not surprising considering it is an endangered species.

Massasaugas are one of the smaller rattlesnake species here in the United States, only growing to about three feet at the largest. It is usually gray or tan and covered with dark splotches over most of its body. The Michigan DNR describes them as being similar in shape to a bow tie or video game controller. And of course, it has a distinctive rattle at the end of its tail which should be a dead giveaway.

While this species is venomous, your odds of being bitten are quite rare. Much like the blue racer, they try to shy away from humans as much as possible. Massasaugas are a threatened species in Michigan mostly due to habitat loss. As a result, they fall under a number of protections. The species is seen so little that Michigan DNR encourages the public to report all sightings of this snake immediately.

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A Quick Guide to All 18 Species of Michigan Snakes