6 Black Snakes in Michigan

Written by Taiwo Victor
Published: April 19, 2022
Image Credit Breck P. Kent/Shutterstock.com
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Michigan is a nature lover’s heaven, boasting magnificent lakes, waterfalls, and towering forests. If you reside near the Great Lakes, you know that Michigan has a diverse range of animals. You might see rabbits, deer, squirrels, foxes, coyotes, or even wolves when hiking, camping, shooting, or enjoying other outdoor activities. Michigan is also home to a large variety of snakes, with 18 different species, to be exact. While snakes aren’t everyone’s cups of tea, those concerned about snakes will be relieved to learn that most snakes in Michigan are harmless to people. In fact, the massasauga rattlesnake is the only venomous snake found in Michigan. In this article, we will explore the six most prevalent black snake species in Michigan and all you need to know about them.

Scaly, slithery, and snarky. These are snakes, after all, and one of Michigan’s most misunderstood and feared creatures. Snakes are intriguing members of Michigan’s wildlife population that will avoid human contact if given the opportunity. As a result, Michigan is a great place to learn about snakes in their native habitat while being safe. 

6 Black Snakes in Michigan

    6. Northern Ribbon Snake

Northern Ribbon Garter Snake (Thamnophis sauritus septentrionalis)
Northern ribbon snakes are non-venomous.

John Czenke/Shutterstock.com

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In Michigan, the northern ribbon snake is quite common. This snake exhibits comparable striping patterns to numerous different varieties of garter snakes. It does, however, have one distinguishing trait that’s a telltale sign. The northern ribbon snake’s mouth bears black scales on the bottom half and white scales on the rest. If the snake has black scales, it’s a northern ribbon snake, not a garter snake.

Northern ribbon snakes are very slender black or brown snakes with three bright yellow or white stripes running down their backs. They remain small, measuring only a foot and a half in length. They primarily feed on worms and small insects and eat frogs and fish. Ribbon snakes are not dangerous to people because they are non-venomous. Because a northern ribbon snake will most likely escape if humans approach, you will almost certainly never be able to get near this little snake. 

Even though they spend a lot of time in the water, they also like sunbathing on rocks. Between October and April, ribbon snakes hibernate. Shortly after hibernation, they reproduce in spring and give birth in the summer. They have 4 to 27 baby snakes in each litter, which mature in two to three years. The snake thrives all over the Lower Peninsula, and it’s particularly prevalent in areas with suitable wetland habitats.

    5. Copper-bellied Water Snake

Copper-bellied Water Snake (Nerodia erythrogaster neglecta) - Copperbelly Water Snake
Copper-bellied water snakes can grow up to 60 inches long.

Mike Wilhelm/Shutterstock.com

In Michigan, not all snakes live on land. A variety of water-dwelling snakes thrive in the state, including the copper-bellied water snake. They are an endangered species found in southern Michigan near the Indiana border, and their population has been declining, raising concerns about their survival. Due to hunting and habitat degradation, harming a copper-bellied water snake is unlawful. The Michigan Department of Natural Resources Wildlife Division in Lansing will take care of any sightings reported to them.

Copper-bellied water snakes are medium-sized, reaching a length of 36 to 60 inches (91–152 cm). In addition, their bodies are jet black with a bluish tint and a vivid orange underbelly. Their breeding season is in June, and they migrate seasonally throughout their habitat. Copper-bellied water snakes like wetlands, swamps, and vegetation near slow-moving streams as their preferred environment. Fish, frogs, tadpoles, and other amphibians make up the diet of this species.

This species has the strange habit of hanging on tree branches near streams with their mouths open, waiting for prey. The snake hibernates in crayfish burrows in the fall. It’s worth noting that these snakes are in the water for up to two weeks. However, they appear to be unaffected by this, as they emerge unscathed.

    4. Black Racer

Southern black racer curled up
Black racers are not venomous.

Psychotic Nature/Shutterstock.com

The common name for one of the most prevalent snakes in the United States is the black racer (Coluber constrictor). Almost every state in the lower 48 states is home to eleven separate subspecies. Color is a frequent name for most animals, including the Black racer. Blue racers, for example, thrive in abundance throughout the Great Lakes region, including Michigan.

Black racers are large, slender, solid black snakes that can grow up to 60 inches (152 cm) in length. Smooth scales, huge eyes, and white coloring under the chin are their characteristics. Adult racers can be confused with any of the state’s other massive black snakes, such as black rat snakes or black-phase eastern hognoses. Racers are habitat generalists that thrive in a wide variety of environments. Edge habitats, such as forest edges, old fields, and wetland edges, are where they are most abundant. 

Racers hunt by sight, and they frequently forage during the day. Insects, lizards, snakes, birds, rodents, and amphibians are among the prey they consume. Predatory birds, animals, and snakes, such as kingsnakes and bigger racers, prey on them. But the good thing is that racers are faster and more agile than any other snake, and they escape when confronted, often climbing into small trees or shrubs. They will bite without hesitation if cornered, but they are not venomous.

    3. Ringneck Snake

Ringneck Snake (Diadophis punctatus)
Northern ringneck snakes have venom that’s harmless to humans.

Tom Fenske/Shutterstock.com

The Northern Ringneck Snake is a snake that’s a little more difficult to find in Michigan. Even the Michigan Department of Natural Resources has trouble keeping track of their numbers because they are highly elusive. These are little snakes typically solid black, blue, or gray with a distinctive brilliant yellow ring around their neck. Ringneck snakes are small and thin, ranging in length from 9 to 15 inches, and youngsters look very similar to adults. Other larger animals, such as the black racer and domestic cats, prey on this little snake, but roadkill is a common cause of death.

Ringneck snakes can be found all around Michigan, but they’re most prevalent on bigger islands within the state. They favor wet, shady woodlands, although they frequent open areas near woods like clear-cuts, old pastures, grassy dunes and beaches, and rubbish dumps. Smaller salamanders, earthworms, and slugs make up the ringneck snake’s diet, but it also eats lizards, frogs, and young snakes of other species. Ringnecks’ saliva contains a mild poison that they utilize to subdue their victims. They do have venom, but it’s not fatal to humans. They are rarely aggressive toward larger predators, and their venom is harmless to humans.

    2. Butler Garter Snake

Butler’s garter snakes are solitary animals but will hibernate in groups.

Michiel de Wit/Shutterstock.com

Another snake species found in Michigan is the Butler’s garter snake. These are small snakes that can grow between 15 and 27 inches long. Their bodies are stout and dark or black, with three yellow, orange, or cream-colored stripes spanning the length of their backs. They most commonly live in moist habitats like meadows, marshes, and lake borders in the eastern and southern Lower Peninsula. Butler’s garter snakes are most active during the day, when they are out sunning on rocks or the ground, and they prefer to hide behind rocks, logs, garbage, and boards. They are usually solitary, but they will hibernate in groups, frequently with other garter snake species.

Butler’s garter snakes are carnivores. Earthworms are their primary food, but they will also consume leeches, tiny frogs, and salamanders. Milk snakes, American crows, hawks, owls, raccoons, skunks, weasels, shrews, foxes, and cats are among the predators that hunt Butler’s garter snakes. To escape predation, they will release a foul-smelling substance. They may also violently thrash their bodies from side to side to confuse predators and scare them.

While exploring the state, keep an eye out for the Butler’s Garter Snake. When threatened, they are known to bite. However, their bite is non-venomous, causing only minor swelling, itching, and a bit of shock.

    1. Black Rat Snake

Black Rat snake in Virginia's Caledon State Park. These are large, non-venomous snakes between 3.5 and 7 feet (one and two meters) long.
Black rat snakes are large, non-venomous snakes that can grow up to 6 feet long.

Realest Nature/Shutterstock.com

In Michigan, two types of rat snakes thrive: black and gray. Both rat snakes are enormous; they are Michigan’s largest snakes! They have a broad, hefty body and can grow to be six feet long or longer. Their breeding season begins in May, with females laying 12 to 20 eggs five weeks later, hatching after 65 days. When they’re young, they’re gray with brown spots. They turn a dark glossy black as they mature. One way to tell them apart from their gray counterparts is how their color changes as they grow. Their underbelly is white, and it spreads to their chin and lips.

These snakes are imposters as they like to move their tails quickly to imitate a rattlesnake’s rattle. Rat snakes also contract their bodies to appear scarier than they are. They are non-venomous and will not harm you unless you startle them by approaching them too closely. Rat snakes are curious snakes that may not retreat from humans straight away, but once they realize you’re not a threat, they’ll slink away. They feed on rats and mice, which is beneficial to humans so don’t be scared by these phonies. They won’t harm you, and they’ll assist keep mice and rats away from your home.

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