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July 28, 2020

Michigan Snakes

By Lauren Hogarth

We have no shortage of snakes in Michigan. Precisely speaking, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources lists 17 separate species that live within our state. Let’s get to know them! (Spoiler alert: Most of them are harmless.)

Black Rat Snake

The black rat snake is found in the southern lower peninsula, typically living in or near woodlands, often near water. They can reach anywhere from 3.5 to 8 feet in length! State law protects black rat snakes, citing them as a Michigan DNR species of particular concern. These non-venomous snakes are harmless to human,  though it is the largest snake you will find in Michigan.

Blue Racer

Blue Racer snakes live throughout most of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula and the southern tip of the Upper Peninsula, inhabiting a variety of areas from open woods to meadows, marshes, and the other regions. They can reach anywhere from 4 to 6 feet in length. Once a common species, the number of Blue Racer snakes is decreasing. They have light-colored bellies and will shake their tails when they feel threatened. While they might bite in these cases, these snakes are not venomous.

Brown Snake

Brown snakes live throughout the Lower Peninsula and the southern tip of the Upper Peninsula in many areas, both residential and rural. They are small snakes, reaching only 9 to 15 inches in length. Brown snakes are common throughout the state; they rarely bite and are non-venomous. Brown snakes are shy and like to hide under objects or below the ground.

Butler’s Garter Snake

This widespread species lives in the eastern and southern Lower Peninsula, typically inhabiting moist areas like meadows, marshes, and the edges of lakes. While they can bite, it is unlikely, and they are non-venomous. Many say their teeth feel similar to velcro! Earthworms are a favorite food for the Butler’s Garter Snake.

Eastern Garter Snake

The most common snake in the state, the Eastern Garter snake, can be found everywhere, including urban areas! They have red tongues with a black tip and can reach 2 to 4 feet in length. They can bite but are non-venomous.

Copper-bellied Water Snake

You can only find the copper-bellied water snake in the southern area of the Lower Peninsula. Reaching 4 to 5 feet in length, these snakes do not lay eggs. Instead, they are one of the very few types of snakes that give birth to live offspring. Copper-bellied water snakes are endangered and protected by state law. They will bite if threatened but are non-venomous.

Eastern Hognose Snake

The Eastern hognose snake lives in the Lower Peninsula and the southern tip of the Upper Peninsula. However, they are most common in the western and northern Lower Peninsula, mostly in sandy woodland areas. While once prevalent, this medium-sized species is declining in numbers due to an irrational fear by humans who will kill the snake.  They cannot harm you and will even play dead if threatened.

Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake

This authentic rattlesnake reaches 2 to 3 feet in length and can be found in the Lower Peninsula, inhabiting wetlands during the spring and drier areas in the summer. While this species will try to avoid confrontation, they will bite if in danger, and they are venomous— however, the Massauga is the smallest and least venomous rattlesnake. It is important to note that this is the only species of poisonous snake throughout the state of Michigan, which means that the Upper Peninsula is void of any harmful snakes.

Eastern Milk Snake

The Eastern milk snake is common in the Lower Peninsula but rare in the Upper Peninsula.  They survive in a variety of environments and reach 2 to 4 feet in length. They are harmless to humans, though these snakes got their name by lingering around farm buildings, eating mice and rats.

Fox Snake

The western fox snake is found in woods, fields, and dunes in the Upper Peninsula, while the eastern fox snake spends its time in the marshes and wet meadows of the Lower Peninsula. These snakes reach 3 to 5 feet in length and are classified as “threatened” and protected by state law. They are harmless to humans. In the U.P, the western fox snake goes by the “pine snake.”

Kirtland’s Snake

The Kirtland’s snake lives in the Southern Lower Peninsula in damp meadows, vacant lots, and open woodlands. This snake flattens its body when threatened and is endangered and protected by state law. They rarely bite and are non-venomous.

Northern Ribbon Snake

Common in wetland habitats throughout the Lower Peninsula, the Northern Ribbon snake, reaches anywhere from 18 to 38 inches in length. They are great swimmers and harmless to humans.

Northern Water Snake

One of the least pleasant on the list is the Northern water snake. These snakes can reach between 2 to 4 feet in length and live throughout the Lower Peninsula and the eastern Upper Peninsula, mostly near bodies of water. The Northern water snake can have up to 48 young per litter! While not a threatened species, human aggression has eliminated water snakes from many areas. They will bite if threatened but are non-venomous.

Queen snake

The Queen snake is a generally uncommon species that live near bodies of water in the Southern Lower Peninsula. They range from 15 to 36 inches in size and are not only unlikely to bite; they are non-venomous as well. Their diet primarily consists of crayfish.

Red-bellied snake

You can find red-bellied snake throughout Michigan, in fields and woods. They are common and like to hide beneath objects in trash dumps, reaching only around 15 inches in length. They are utterly harmless to humans.

Ring-necked Snake

Throughout Michigan but most common on the state’s larger islands, the ring-necked snake typically lives in moist woodlands. Spotting one is rare, and receiving a bite by one is even more unusual— though they do have slightly poisonous saliva. Despite only reaching 10 to 24 inches in length, they sometimes feast on smaller snakes.

 

Smooth Green Snake

Measuring at 12 to 20 inches in length, the smooth green snake can be found throughout lower Michigan in grassy areas. They are a common species that likes to chow down on insects. They rarely bite humans and are non-venomous!

 

As with most pests, proper identification is key when dealing with any sort of wildlife situation. If any of these snakes are an unwanted presence around your home, you know who to call!


“Michigan’s Snakes.” DNR – Michigan’s Snakes, 12 June 2019, www.michigan.gov/dnr/0,4570,7-350–61219–,00.html.

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