Discover 7 Snakes That Live in America’s Forests

Written by Brandi Allred
Updated: August 31, 2023
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With the exception of Alaska and Hawaii, every state in America is home to at least a few snake species. Some of those snakes live semi-aquatic lives in rivers and lakes, while others spend their days in the desert sands. Here, we’ll discover a few of the snakes that live in America’s forests. We’ll start with the venomous species before moving on to a few of the more ubiquitous snakes that live in America’s forests.

Keep reading to learn more about seven incredible snakes living in the forests of America! 

Infographic of 7 Snakes That Live in the Forests of America
Northern cottonmouths, eastern copperheads, and mud snakes can be found in forests in the U.S.

1. Timber Rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus)

Timber rattlesnake coiled in a loop
Unlike desert-dwelling rattlesnakes, timber rattlesnakes live in forested areas.

©Frode Jacobsen/

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Timber rattlesnakes in America’s forests aren’t quite as big as eastern diamondback rattlesnakes, but they’re pretty close. These venomous rattlers grow up to six feet long, with typically heavy pit viper bodies. Aside from their rattles and broad, leaf-shaped heads, their most distinguishing feature is their pattern. Timber rattlesnakes are pale tan, with hexagonal bands of darker scales running down their bodies like thin stripes.

These snakes have large, hinged fangs at the front of their mouths. When extended, the fangs are used to deliver venom from large venom glands located just behind their eyes. Some timber rattlesnake populations have neurotoxic venom, while others don’t. As pit vipers, timber rattlers also have heat-sensing pits and cat-like eyes. Their main prey is small mammals, including squirrels, mice, rats, and rabbits.

2. Northern Cottonmouth (Agkistrodon piscivorus)

Northern cottonmouth (Agkistrodon piscivorus) is one of the world's few semiaquatic vipers and is native to the southeastern United States. Individuals may bite when feeling threatened.
Northern cottonmouths grow up to four feet on average.

©Danny Ye/

Also known as water moccasins, these snakes live in America’s forests usually grow up to four feet long but have been recorded in excess of six feet. Northern cottonmouths have heavy bodies and wide heads, and their mouths hide a secret weapon. When cottonmouths coil up in their “threat” display, they open their mouths wide, displaying a cottony white interior. This snowy mouth is thought to scare would-be predators — it certainly works to warn humans off.

Cottonmouths have potent venom; any bite necessitates immediate medical attention. Luckily, as with all venomous snakes in America, with prompt medical care, chances of death are very slim. These snakes spend a lot of time either in or near the water. They hunt just about everything, but prefer fish and amphibians.

3. Eastern Copperhead (Agkistrodon contortrix)

Eastern copperhead snake
Eastern copperhead snakes hide in piles of vegetation and bushes.


Like the timber rattlesnake and cottonmouth, the eastern copperhead is one of the venomous snakes that live in America’s forests. These snakes grow up to 40 inches long and have heavy bodies with relatively small heads. All copperheads have a base tan color, with a copper-colored head. Their unique pattern is made up of medium to dark brown hourglass markings spaced across their bodies like stripes.

Copperheads are responsible for many bites in America every year, but their bites rarely lead to serious complications. They like to hide under out-buildings, building debris, piles of vegetation, and bushes. These snakes eat anything they can catch, which generally includes birds, snakes, lizards, small mammals, and even insects.

4. Milk Snakes (Lampropeltis triangulum)

Eastern Milksnake on moss, Lampropeltis triangulum
There are around 24 species of milk snakes, including the eastern milk snake.

©Nathan A Shepard/

Technically, milk snakes that live in America’s forests are a type of kingsnake in the Lampropeltis genus. There are about 24 species of these non-venomous slitherers. Some species grow up to six feet long, though most top out around four feet. They have slim bodies designed for both climbing trees and slithering through the grass. Milk snakes’ primary color is red, punctuated by cream-colored bands bordered by thinner black bands. Unfortunately, they bear a superficial resemblance to coral snakes and are consequently often killed by fearful humans.

Milk snakes are nocturnal hunters that primarily eat mice, shrews, and moles. But, never one to pass up a meal, they also hunt lizards, snakes, insects, and even birds and fish. Lacking venom, they pose no threat to humans.

5. Mud Snake (Farancia abacura)

mud snake
Mud snakes are common in the forests of the southeastern United States.

©Jason Patrick Ross/

Mud snakes that live in America’s forests typically grow up to five feet long. They have medium-heavy bodies with narrow heads and short snouts. Their most distinguishing feature is certainly their coloring, which shades towards true black on the back and sides. However, the belly, and parts of the sides, have bright orange to red colors. When threatened, these snakes coil to expose their brightly colored undersides.

Mud snakes like to hunt in the dark, particularly in sources of fresh water, like rivers and lakes. They primarily eat amphibians, such as toads, frogs, and salamanders. These snakes lack venom and pose no threat to humans. 

6. Garter Snakes (Thamnophis spp.)

Head shot of a garter snake flicking its tongue
One of the most recognized snakes in the world, the garter snake is common throughout most of the continental U.S.

©Natalia Kuzmina/

Garter snakes that live in America’s forests are very well known to many people. These snakes are just as common in the forests of the United States as they are in people’s backyards. Garter snakes are slim, with heads slightly larger than their bodies, and grow up to four feet long. There are many variations in their coloring. But, in general, they have dark bodies with thin, light stripes running from head to tail.

Garter snakes are small and non-venomous, which means they’re pretty restricted in the type of prey they can hunt. These snakes eat earthworms, insects, tadpoles, and baby rodents.

7. Gopher Snakes (Pituophis spp.)

gopher snake
Gopher snakes live in the western half of the U.S. and are common in forests as well as grasslands.


Gopher snakes in America’s forests are ubiquitous. Some species grow up to nine feet long and, unfortunately for them, bear a striking resemblance to rattlesnakes. Unlike rattlesnakes, gopher snakes have round pupils, narrow heads, and no rattles. They’re non-venomous and have proven valuable to human society as controls on rodent populations.

Gopher snakes mainly eat mice, rats, squirrels, rabbits, and other small mammals. They’re typically tan, with dark brown blotches, and a single brown bar across their face. They pose no threat to humans but will bite in self-defense if necessary.

Summary of 7 Snakes That Live in America’s Forests

Here’s a recap of the seven snake species that inhabit the forests of the United States

NumberSnake SpeciesScientific NameTypeLength
1Timber RattlesnakeCrotalus horridusVenomousUp to 6 feet
2Northern CottonmouthAgkistrodon piscivorusVenomousUp to 4 feet
3Eastern CopperheadAgkistrodon contortrixVenomousUp to 40 inches
4Milk SnakesLampropeltis triangulumNon-venomousSome grow up to 6 feet; most top out about 4 feet
5Mud SnakeFarancia abacuraNon-venomousUp to 5 feet
6Garter SnakesThamnophis spp.Non-venomousUp to 4 feet
7Gopher SnakesPituophis spp.Non-venomousSome species grow up to 9 feet

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garter snake vs rattlesnake
Garter snake

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About the Author

Brandi is a professional writer by day and a fiction writer by night. Her nonfiction work focuses on animals, nature, and conservation. She holds degrees in English and Anthropology, and spends her free time writing horror, scifi, and fantasy stories.

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