With stunning lakes, waterfalls, and majestic forests, Michigan is a nature-lovers paradise. The Midwestern state has a great variety of interesting wildlife – from moose and bears, to birds and deer. There’s also a significant number of snakes in Michigan – 18 different species to be precise.
While these slithering creatures certainly aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, snake-phobes will be pleased to hear that the vast majority of snakes in Michigan are completely harmless to humans. In fact, Michigan is home to just one species of venomous snake, the massasauga rattlesnake.
Whether you’re fascinated by snakes, or would rather give them a wide berth, it’s worth knowing what sorts of slithering species to look out for during your trip to Michigan. Join us as we run you through 11 snakes you might come across in Michigan.
Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake
The Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake is the only venomous snake found in Michigan. These small, thick-bodied rattlesnakes reach two to three feet in length. They are typically grey or tan color with a row of large, rounded, brown, or black spots down the center of the back, with three smaller rows of alternating spots down each side. You can find them in a variety of wetland habitats, such as bogs, fens, shrub swamps, wet meadows, marshes, moist grasslands, wet prairies, and floodplain forests.
The massasauga rattlesnake feeds on a diet of small mammals such as voles, moles, jumping mice, and shrews, as well as other snake species, birds, and frogs. It kills its prey by injecting it with cytotoxic venom, which causes tissue necrosis, i.e. the death of tissue cells.
The venom of a massasauga is more toxic than that of most other rattlesnakes, but the amount it injects is relatively small compared to other snakes. While bites from the massasauga can be very painful, they are rarely fatal to humans. It’s also extremely rare to be bitten by this species of snake due to their elusive and shy behavior – Michigan reports around 1 to 2 massasauga bites each year. And with populations declining, these snakes are becoming increasingly rare – biologists have confirmed that less than half of the eastern massasauga’s historical populations still exist
Butler’s Garter Snake
The Butler’s Garter Snake is another species of snake found in Michigan. These are small snakes, reaching between 15 and 27 inches in length. They have stout bodies that are usually brown, or black in color, with three yellow, orange, or cream-colored stripes running along the length of their body. They are typically found in the eastern and southern Lower Peninsula in moist habitats like meadows, marshes, and the edges of lakes. They feed on a diet consisting mostly of earthworms, but they will also eat leeches, small frogs, and salamanders.
One of the most common species of snake in Michigan, be sure to keep an eye out for the Butler’s Garter Snake while out exploring the state. But don’t fear, the Butler’s Garter Snake is completely harmless. They have been known to bite when threatened, but their bite is non-venomous, so it only causes minor swelling and itching, and perhaps a bit of a fright.
Eastern Hognose Snake
Next on our list of snakes in Michigan is the Eastern Hognose Snake. These striking-looking snakes are also known as ‘puff adders’ due to their proclivity to suck in air and puff up the skin around their head and neck when threatened. These snakes get their name from their easily recognizable upturned snouts. Their color varies. The eastern hognose has a background color that can be yellow, gray, brown, green, or black, often patterned with large, rectangular spots down the middle of the back that may resemble eyespots. They are between 20 and 40 inches in length.
The Eastern Hognose Snake is found throughout the Eastern states of the United States from Florida to New England. In Michigan, they are most commonly found throughout the Lower Peninsula and the southern tip of the Upper Peninsula. They live in woodlands with sandy soil, fields, farmland, and coastal areas. They prey on frogs, salamanders, small mammals, birds, and invertebrates; but toads are their favorite.
Like most of the snakes in Michigan, The Eastern Hognose is non-venomous and poses very little threat to humans. In fact, they tend to play dead when aggravated by lying on their back with their mouths open – it makes for a fairly comical sight!
Eastern Milk Snake
With vibrant red markings, you can’t miss The Eastern Milk snake. These brightly-colored critters have a white, yellow, or tan body with red or orange banded blotches rimmed in black. They grow to between 2 and 4 feet in length. They are often confused with their much more dangerous doppelgangers, copperheads, and coral snakes, but milk snakes pose no threat to humans. According to University of Michigan’s Animal Diversity Web (ADW), milk snakes get their name from a folktale that describes a snake sneaking into a barn and drinking the milk from nursing cows.
Milk snakes are incredibly adaptable creatures that can survive in a great diversity of habitats. They actually have the biggest range of any snake in North America, living just as happily in Mexico as in Quebec! They like forested places but are also found in fields, rocky outcroppings, agricultural areas, and barns.
They feed on a balanced diet of rodents, lizards, bird eggs, and occasionally their lookalikes, coral snakes. They kill their prey by constricting their bodies until their heart stops from lack of blood flow. Once the prey is dead, the milk snake swallows it whole. And while often mistaken for very dangerous snakes, milk snakes are non-venomous, nocturnal and reclusive in nature, meaning that they have very little contact with humans and pose no threat.
There are two varieties of fox snakes in Michigan – the eastern and the western fox snake. The eastern fox snake is boldly patterned with a row of large dark brown or black blotches down the middle of the back and smaller, alternating blotches on the sides on a yellowish to light brown background. They range in length between 3 to 5.5 feet. The western fox snake is similar in appearance but is smaller in length with fewer blotches on its back. Their habitats do not overlap: 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.
Both varieties of fox snakes feed on small mammals, frogs, birds, and occasionally bird eggs. They are constrictors, meaning they kill by wrapping their bodies around the chest of their prey and squeezing until the prey suffocates. As non-venomous snakes, fox snakes don’t pose any threat to humans, but they are sadly often killed by humans who mistake them for dangerous snakes. As such, eastern fox snakes are currently listed as a threatened species in the state of Michigan.
Ring-necked snakes are another species of harmless snake in Michigan. They have olive, brown, bluish-grey, or smoky black bodies, broken with a distinct yellow, red, or yellow-orange band across their necks. The ring-necked snake is fairly small: Typically, adults measure 10–15 in length. They have shiny and smooth scales.
Ring-necked snakes can be found throughout Michigan and are most common on the state’s larger islands. They prefer moist, shaded woodlands, but also occupy open habitats near woods such as clear-cuts, old fields, grassy dunes and beaches, and trash dumps.
The diet of the ring-necked snake consists primarily of smaller salamanders, earthworms, and slugs, but they also sometimes eat lizards, frogs, and some juvenile snakes of other species. Ringnecks have weak venom in their saliva which they use to subdue their prey. But while venomous, they are not dangerous to humans. They seldom show aggressiveness against larger predators, and their venom is totally innocuous to humans.
Red-bellied snakes are very small snakes found throughout Michigan. As their name would suggest, they are brown or grey in color with red, pink, or orange bellies. Red-bellies are typically between 8 and 16 inches in length and skinny. They tend to live in fields and woods. But you won’t find them easily. As a secretive species, redbellies like to hide under logs, between rocks, or in leaf piles. They’re also fond of rubbish dumps, where they like to hide beneath objects.
Red-bellied snakes feed nearly exclusively on slugs. They pose no threat to humans.
Copper-bellied water snake
Not all snakes in Michigan are found on land. The copper-bellied water snake is one of a range of water-dwelling snakes in Michigan. They have solid dark – usually black – backs with a bright orange-red ‘copper’ belly. They grow to between 2 and 4 feet. Copper-bellies live exclusively in the southern area of the Lower Peninsula, where they lurk in shallow wetlands or floodplain wetlands surrounded by forested uplands. During the winter – between the months of October and April, they hibernate underground in crayfish burrows.
The copper-bellied water snake loves to eat frogs and tadpoles. It hunts on land and in shallow water and favors seasonal wetlands where frogs, toads, and salamanders lay their eggs. Owing to factors such as hunting and habitat destruction, copper-bellies are extremely rare and are listed as endangered. They are non-venomous, posing no threat to humans.
The Kirtland’s snake is a small species of snake found in Michigan’s southern Lower Peninsula. This diddy creature usually grows to between 14 and 25 inches in length, with reddish to dark brown bodies and four rows of alternating dark, round blotches on the back and sides. They have bright red, orange, or pink underbellies. Kirtland’s snakes occupy moist, open meadow or wet prairie habitats, and old fields.
Kirtland’s snakes prey on earthworms, slugs, and terrestrial leeches. When threatened, these snakes flatten their bodies and strike repeatedly. However, they are non-venomous and aren’t known to bite humans, even when handled. Sadly, Kirtland’s snakes are facing extinction due to habitat loss from logging, climate change, and pollution.
Northern Ribbon Snake
The ribbon snake is a common species of garter snake native to Eastern North America. They are striking to look at, with dark brown bodies and bright yellow stripes which stretch from their necks to the tip of their tails. They average between 16 and 35 inches in length.
The ribbon snake hibernates between the months of October and April. When active, they can be found in wet climates such as creekbeds, streams, lakes, wet woodlands, and marsh areas throughout the Lower Peninsula of Michigan. They don’t eat warm-blooded creatures, preferring to feast on newts, salamanders, frogs, toads, tadpoles, small fish, spiders, and earthworms. As non-venomous snakes, ribbon snakes are not dangerous to humans.
Northern Water Snake
Finally, on our list of snakes in Michigan is the Northern water snake, which is also known as the common water snake. As their name suggests, they are the most common species of water snake in the United States. Their bodies range between grey, brown, and tan in color, and reach between 2 and 4.5 feet long. Northern water snakes can be found in a wide variety of aquatic habitats. They particularly like slow-moving or standing water near places where they can bask in the sun, such as ponds and lakes.
The northern water snake feeds heavily on fish and amphibians, such as trout, bass, catfish, frogs, and toads. The Northern water snake is extremely defensive when it feels threatened, and will bite repeatedly if handled. Its saliva contains a mild anticoagulant, which can cause the bite to bleed more but poses little risk to humans.
Are there any poisonous snakes in Michigan?
Michigan is home to just one species of venomous snake – the massasauga rattlesnake. They are found in a variety of wetland habitats, such as bogs, marshes, and floodplain forests in the state’s Lower Peninsula. Massasauga rattlesnakes carry cytotoxic venom that causes tissue damage when injected. This makes for a painful bite, but human fatalities are extremely rare. Whatsmore, as shy and elusive creatures, massasauga rattlesnakes tend to avoid contact with humans, making it fairly unlikely that you’ll encounter one while in Michigan.
What snakes are common in Michigan?
The most common snake in Michigan is the Butler’s Garter Snake. They are typically found in the eastern and southern Lower Peninsula in moist habitats like meadows, marshes, and the edges of lakes. The Northern Watersnake is also fairly common and can be found curled up on rocks, basking in the sun by slow-moving bodies of water such as lakes and ponds.
What is Michigan’s largest snake?
The grey rat snake is the largest snake in Michigan. It reaches between 3.5 to 8 feet in length. They typically occur in the southern half of the Lower Peninsula but are rare and declining.
Are there copper-head snakes in Michigan?
Contrary to popular belief, copper-head snakes are not found in Michigan. Often, the Eastern rat snake is mistaken for copperheads, it’s more dangerous lookalike. Copperheads are typically found in northern Georgia, Alabama, Massachusetts, and Illinois.
Interested to learn more about what creatures you will find lurking in Michigan? Check out our guide to spiders in Michigan!