18 Snakes in Michigan: Identification Guide & Which are Venomous

Written by Tracy Graham
Published: February 14, 2022
Image Credit Psychotic Nature/Shutterstock.com
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Think You Know Snakes?

Michigan is known for having a huge variety of wildlife. If you’re out hiking, camping, hunting, or having fun doing other outdoor activities you could see rabbits, deer, squirrels, foxes, coyotes, or even wolves. And you also may come across some snakes. Michigan is home to 18 different varieties of snakes. That might seem like a lot of snake but almost all of the snakes that you would see in Michigan are harmless to humans. There’s only one venomous type of snake in Michigan so your chances of getting hurt by a snake while you are enjoying the beautiful outdoor areas of Michigan are very small.

Non-Venomous Snakes In Michigan

There are 18 different types of snakes in Michigan that occupy different parts of the state depending on what type of habitat they prefer. Some of the snakes that you might see often are:

Kirtland’s snake

Kirtland's snake (Clonophis kirtlandii)

Mike Wilhelm/Shutterstock.com

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Kirtland’s snake is a small snake that not too many people ever see even though it likes water which can bring it into contact with boaters, swimmers, and hikers throughout Michigan. This is listed as a threatened breed of snake in almost every state where it appears including in Michigan. Kirtland’s snake has a dark brown or black body and dark markings which make it look intimidating but like so many of the snakes in Michigan, it poses no threat to humans at all. It’s non-venomous and prefers to hide rather than be around humans.

Kirtland’s snakes are found in the southern part of the state, generally within 75 miles of the borders of Indiana and Ohio. Their range extends further north along Lake Michigan.

Rat snakes

Where Do Snakes Live
Black rat snakes are the largest snake species in Michigan.

Realest Nature/Shutterstock.com

There are two varieties of rat snake that you might see in Michigan: black and gray. Both types of rat snakes are massive, in fact, they are the largest snakes in Michigan! They have wide heavy bodies and can be six feet long or more. Rat snakes are imposters. These snakes also like to mimic the rattle of a rattlesnake by moving their tails very fast.

Rat snakes also mimic constricting their bodies to make themselves seem scarier than they are. They are non-venomous and won’t hurt you unless you startle them and get too close. Rat snakes are curious snakes and may not flee from humans right away but after they have figured out you’re no threat they will usually just slink away. They primarily eat rats and mice, which can be a good thing for humans. So don’t let these fakers scare you. They won’t hurt you and they actually will help keep mice and rats out of the area. Rat snakes are found in the southern half of the Lower Peninsula.

Northern Ribbon Snake

Northern Ribbon Garter Snake (Thamnophis sauritus septentrionalis)

John Czenke/Shutterstock.com

The northern ribbon snake is quite common in Michigan. This snake looks very similar to several types of garter snakes and has similar striping patterns. But it has one distinctive feature that is a dead giveaway. The northern ribbon snake has black scales on the bottom part of the mouth, and the rest of the mouth is white. When you see black scales you can be sure it’s a northern ribbon snake and not a garter snake.

Northern ribbons snakes stay small and usually measure just a foot to a foot and a half in length. They eat mostly worms and small insects but they have been known to eat frogs and fish too. Chances are high that a northern ribbon snake will immediately flee if humans if come around so you will probably never get the chance to get close this tiny snake.

Queen Snake

Queen Snake (Regina septemvittata)
Queen snakes live along streams and hunt mostly crayfish.

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The queen snake is a water snake that likes a very specific type of habitat. Queen snakes prefer small rivers with rocky bottoms where they find lots of small fish, crayfish, and insects to eat. Crayfish are a particular treat for them but they will eat any small fish that they find in the river. The queen snake has a unique coloring of dull browns and yellows that allows them to blend in with their surroundings. They tend to be small and usually grow to a length between two and three feet. You may see a queen snake if you are fishing in a river but because they prefer small rivers even avid Michigan fishermen may never see one!

Eastern Milk Snake

Snakes That Look Like Copperheads-Eastern Milk Snake
Eastern milk snake

Jay Ondreicka/Shutterstock.com

Eastern milk snakes have very unique and beautiful coloration but you’ll probably never see one in person because they are nocturnal snakes who almost always only hunt at night. They eat insects and small rodents, so they prefer to be active when their prey is active which is at night. Even though they prefer to move in the dark these snakes have pale white or light yellow bodies with bright orange, light brown, or red markings. Those distinctive markings should make it harder for them to hunt at night because their light color is easily seen but they don’t seem to have any trouble maintaining their nocturnal lifestyle.

Milk snakes are found across Michigan and have been spotted in both the Upper and Lower Peninsulas.

Blue Racer Snake

Blue Racer Snake (Coluber constrictor foxii)

Psychotic Nature/Shutterstock.com

Blue racers are another tough to find breed of snake, but if you ever do see one you’ll remember it. These snakes are long, many get to be around six feet long. And they have a unique light blue or blue-gray color that really stands out. But like other subspecies of racer snakes, they really don’t like being around humans and will quickly take off as soon as there is a human around. If you come across one in the wild you’ll quickly find out why they call these snakes racers. Often they will speed off at the very first sign of a human entering the area.

Venomous (Poisonous) Snakes In Michigan

There is only one type of venomous snake in Michigan, the eastern massasauga rattlesnake. This rattlesnake prefers to be in or near the water or in forests so unless you are a frequent hiker or spend a lot of time on the water you may never see one of these snakes.

Eastern Massasauga

Iowa Snakes - Massasauga Rattlesnake
Eastern massasauga snakes are found throughout Michigan’s Lower Peninsula.

fivespots/Shutterstock.com

Like most rattlesnakes, the eastern massasauga has a heavy body and is fairly wide, although the Eastern Massasauga is one of the smallest species of rattlesnake and usually doesn’t grow longer than five feet. It will use its rattle to let you know that you’re getting too close before it strikes. So if you hear a rattle you should back away slowly and not make any sudden movements. However, this rattlesnake will almost always flee instead of attacking. It is very shy and not aggressive unless you startle it or intentionally try to provoke it. If bitten by a massasauga, you’ll want to seek immediate medical attention, however.

Massasaugas are found throughout the Lower Peninsula of Michigan. So if you’re in the outdoors and concerned about poisonous snakes, this is the snake to commit to memory and avoid if you hear any rattling!

Water Snakes in Michigan

If you’re outdoors and enjoy water sports in Michigan, you may wonder which snakes are aquatic. Of Michigan’s 18 snakes, there are six that inhabit the water and marshlands to be aware of.

  1. Kirtlan’s snake
  2. Northern water snake
  3. Copperbelly water snake
  4. Easterm massasauga rattlesnake
  5. Northern ribbon
  6. Queen Snake

We’ve described the Kirtland’s, eastern massasauga, northern ribbon, and queen snake above. In addition, you can be on the lookout for the following water snakes.

Copperbelly Water Snake

Copper-bellied Water Snake (Nerodia erythrogaster neglecta) - Copperbelly Water Snake

Mike Wilhelm/Shutterstock.com

Copperbelly water snakes have a distinctive red-orange marking around their mouth that helps them standout when compared to other snake species. They can grow quite large, sometimes reaching nearly 5 feet in length. The snake is protected in Michigan as its population has been in decline. Today copperbelly snakes are found in isolated areas near the Indiana border.

Northern Water Snake

Snakes in Maine - Northern Water Snake / Lake Erie Watersnake (Nerodia sipedon insularum)
Northern water snakes are found in both the Upper and Lower Peninsula

Michiel de Wit/Shutterstock.com

Northern water snakes have a much broader distribution in Michigan when compared to the copperbelly snake. These snakes are often confused with cottonmouth snakes, but are nonvenomous. They can reach up to about 5 feet in length and are often found basking in the sun near water sources

Safely Enjoy All That Michigan Has To Offer

Since all but one type of snake in Michigan is non-venomous and almost all of the snakes in Michigan including the eastern massasauga prefer to avoid people rather than interact with them no matter what outdoor activities you enjoy you should be able to enjoy them without worrying about any of the snakes in Michigan. 

A Full List of The 18 Snakes In Michigan

  • Kirtland’s snake
  • Blue Racer         
  • Northern Ring-Necked snake     
  • Eastern Fox snake          
  • The Eastern Hog-Nosed snake           
  • Eastern Milk snake         
  • Smooth Green snake     
  • Copperbelly water snake            
  • Northern Water snake  
  • Black Rat snake
  • Gray Rat snake
  • Queen snake    
  • Eastern Massasauga rattlesnake              
  • Brown snake     
  • Red-Bellied snake          
  • Butler’s Garter snake     
  • Northern Ribbon snake
  • Eastern Garter snake

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Blue Racer Snake (Coluber constrictor foxii)

Psychotic Nature/Shutterstock.com
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