- There are 32 types of snakes in Tennessee with only four being venomous.
- Rough earth snakes often hide in mulch, leaf piles, and brush piles and can only be found in the counties that include and surround Memphis.
- Timber rattlesnakes are the largest of the venomous snakes in Tennessee and also have the most potent venom.
In Tennessee, you can find portions of the Great Smoky Mountains, a number of rivers throughout, and huge swaths of fertile green grassland and forests. With such a range of habitats and a humid climate to boot, it’s really no wonder that Tennessee has more than 30 native species of snakes. That might sound like a lot, but only four of those are venomous, which makes that number a lot less intimidating. The chances that you will have a run-in with a venomous snake in Tennessee are pretty low.
Snakes Found in Tennessee
The 32 types of snakes in Tennessee are quite varied. Some of the snakes in Tennessee are mountain dwellers, while others are most at home in or near rivers. The types of snakes that you will encounter in Tennessee depend largely on where in the state you go. If you’re hiking the Appalachian Trail on your way to or from Georgia, you will see a wide variety of snakes. Read about a number of the snakes found in Tennessee below.
The yellow-bellied kingsnake has a dark olive or black body with a very glossy appearance, and it has a light yellow or cream belly. Yellow-bellied kingsnakes are typically about two and a half to four feet long, but they have wide bodies that can make them seem larger than they really are.
The yellow-bellied kingsnake is found in two varieties in Tennessee. One is the prairie kingsnake, found in central and western parts of the state. The other is the mole kingsnake, found in East Tennessee.
Milk snakes are harmless, but with the same colors and patterns as the highly venomous coral snake, they look frightening. That’s on purpose. Milk snakes use mimicry to protect themselves. Here is one way to be sure that a snake is a milk snake and not a coral snake. While both snakes have wide bands of red on their bodies, thin black bands flank a milk snake’s red bands, with a pattern of black, white, and black between each section of red. Coral snakes have thin yellow bands around the red bands, with a pattern of yellow, black, and yellow between red. So, if you see black and white bands between the red on a snake, it’s a harmless milk snake. In Tennessee, milk snakes can be found in Middle Tennessee and the lower part of East Tennessee.
Coachwhips are striking to see, but you won’t see them often. They are only found in the southwestern edge of Tennessee and even there, they are rare. Coachwhip snakes are very long and thin. They can exceed six feet in length. The front half of the coachwhip snake is black, but the black fades to a brown and light tan color on the lower half of the snake. You might not even notice the color change, though, because the coachwhip is so fast, it will be gone before you can see the entire snake. Coachwhips can travel at a speed of several miles per hour.
Mississippi Green Watersnake
The Mississippi green watersnake is a rare snake in Tennessee that’s only found at the very edge of West Tennessee. If you want to see this snake, try going to Reelfoot Lake and hanging out around the edges of the lake. This aquatic snake prefers the still waters of slow streams and ponds, and its color and pattern help it blend into the grass along the water. Mississippi green watersnakes are deep green in color, with lighter green markings, light green bellies, and yellow half-moons on their bellies.
The northern watersnake is another aquatic snake, but unlike the Mississippi green watersnake, the northern watersnake is very common in Tennessee. You can find this snake in many of the ponds, marshes, and streams throughout the state. Northern watersnakes are long and have heavy bodies that are gray to tan in color with dark gray or dark brown markings. They are not venomous, but they will bite if cornered. So, if you’re fishing or kayaking in still water in Tennessee keep a weather eye open for a northern water snake in or near the water.
Common Garter Snake
Common garter snakes are exactly that – common. You can find these snakes in most states across the country and Tennessee is no exception. Garter snakes are relatively friendly and don’t mind being around people. You may see common garter snakes in your yard, near your mulch or landscaping, or at the edge of wooded areas. Common garter snakes are small, usually fewer than two feet long. They are dark olive or black with two long, thin, yellow stripes running down the length of their bodies. They’re not a threat and won’t hurt you.
Rough Earth Snake
The rough earth snake is a dull-looking olive or dark tan snake that fades into the background of the plains areas very well. In Tennessee, rough earth snakes are only found in the counties that include and surround Memphis. They often hide in mulch, leaf piles, and brush piles, so be careful that you don’t disturb a rough earth snake when you are doing yard work.
Venomous Snakes In Tennessee
There are only a few types of venomous snakes in Tennessee, but these venomous snakes have some potent venom, so you should always be extremely cautious if you see one. Always keep your movements slow and controlled. Resist the urge to panic and run. Any swift movement could cause the snake to attack. It’s better to calmly and slowly back up until you are well away from the snake. The venomous snakes you can find in Tennessee are detailed below.
In Tennessee, northern copperhead snakes live throughout the entire state. Copperheads prefer areas with lots of trees or rocks where they can hide. They don’t usually live in open fields or farm fields. Despite that, they may congregate on the edges of fields, under mulch or leaf piles in the fall, or in the mountainous areas in and around the Great Smoky National Park. The distinctive features that a copperhead snake has are the unique coppery color, for which it’s famous, and distinct hourglass markings down the length of the body.
Cottonmouth snakes are aquatic. In Tennessee, you will only find them near water in the western part of the state. These snakes have a dull green or black color, with one white patch around and inside the mouth. That’s from where the name “cottonmouth” comes. These snakes are also called water moccasins. Cottonmouth snakes are venomous, but they prefer to be left alone. If not provoked or bothered, they will usually leave people alone.
Timber rattlesnakes are the largest of the venomous snakes in Tennessee. They also have the most potent venom. Those bitten by a timber rattlesnake must seek medical help immediately. Timber rattlesnakes are very long and heavy. They can be up to 60 inches in length, and their wide bodies make them look extremely heavy and intimidating. Despite their size and the potency of their venom, they are not aggressive; however, they will not hesitate to bite if they feel cornered or threatened.
Don’t let the small size of the pygmy rattlesnake fool you into thinking it’s not dangerous. It’s a venomous snake that can give you a nasty bite just like any other rattlesnake. Pygmy rattlesnakes are under two feet long, so you may not even see one until you are right next to it. Typically, they are brown or tan with dark brown markings. In Tennessee, these venomous snakes can be found in and around Stewart County, stretching to the western border of the state.
A Complete List of 32 Snakes In Tennessee
|3||North American Racer Snake|
|5||Red Corn Snake|
|6||Gray Rat Snake|
|7||Red-bellied Mud Snake|
|8||Eastern Hog-nosed Snake|
|13||Mississippi Green Watersnake|
|18||Rough Green Snake|
|23||Southeastern Crowned Snake|
|24||Western Ribbon Snake|
|25||Eastern Ribbon Snake|
|26||Common Garter Snake|
|27||Rough Earth Snake|
|28||Smooth Earth Snake|
The photo featured at the top of this post is © Matthew L Niemiller/Shutterstock.com
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- State of Tennessee, Available here: https://www.tn.gov/twra/wildlife/reptiles/snakes.html