Discover Tennessee’s 4 Largest And Most Dangerous Snakes This Summer

Written by Emmanuel Kingsley
Updated: June 24, 2023
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Key Points

  • Copperheads are venomous, and you don’t want a bite, but they’re not as dangerous as they look.
  • Timber rattlesnakes are the ones you most want to avoid while outdoors in Tennessee during the summer.
  • Aside from delivering venomous bites, timber rattlesnakes can grow up to 60 inches long.

Tennessee, known for country music and the great Elvis, is home to 32 species of snake, according to the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency. Since summer is fast approaching, Tennesseans can expect snakes to accompany the lovely summer weather, some of which are large and/or dangerous snakes.

Luckily, of Tennessee’s 32 species, only four are venomous. If you’re afraid of snakes or even curious about these reptiles, you’ll probably want to know just what species to expect. Here’s a preview:

This article uncovers Tennessee’s four largest and most dangerous snakes, including size, habitats, and prey. Read on for more information.

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4. Copperhead Snake

The Copperhead’s scales are keeled, and their eyes have vertical pupils that make them resemble cat’s eyes.

Copperheads are venomous pit vipers found in the southern and northern parts of Tennessee.

©Creeping Things/

Copperheads are venomous pit vipers. They are skilled, deadly hunters and are dangerous to humans and animals. They are rather heavy snakes and grow to a maximum length of 36 inches. Like all pit vipers, they have triangular heads and cat-eyes or elliptical pupils.

The easiest way to identify them is to look for hourglass crossbands that run along their backs and sides. Their crossbands are narrower at the back, get wider along the sides, and are usually gray or brown in color.

The venom from a copperhead is dangerous to their prey, but not to humans. It contains hemotoxins that damage the tissue in the area of the bite. A single bite from the copperhead is often enough to weaken and kill their prey.

Two subspecies of copperheads live in Tennessee; the southern and northern copperheads. These subspecies breed where the northern and southern zones meet. You can spot copperheads on wooded and rocky hillsides. They generally avoid open places. Copperheads also spend a lot of time near stream edges and wetlands. They prey on cottontail rabbits, mice, lizards, frogs, and swamp rabbits. They also hunt other snakes and baby turtles.

What to Do If You See a Copperhead Snake (Large, but Not Tennessee’s Most Dangerous Snake)

If you spot a copperhead, do not panic. A copperhead will be glad to leave you alone if it doesn’t feel threatened. Do not kill, attack, or frighten it. Avoid making sudden movements. Instead, take a calm breath and back away slowly. Generally, copperheads are more active at night, although it is common to stumble upon one sunning. They are not aggressive but do not hesitate to strike if they feel endangered.

3. Pygmy Rattlesnake

Tennessee’s pygmy


is Tennessee’s and America’s smallest and most venomous snake.

©Gerald A. DeBoer/

Let’s move on to one of Tennessee’s more dangerous snakes, who you probably don’t want to meet on a hike this summer.

The pygmy rattlesnake is another species of rattlesnake you can find in the state of Tennessee. These snakes are colorful and small-sized. They are usually orange to brown colored and have thin tails and even thinner rattles.

On average, they measure anywhere from 16 to 20 inches and weigh around 5.4 ounces. Pygmy rattlesnakes are recognized as the smallest venomous snakes in Tennessee and the United States. The venom in their bites contains hemotoxins that affect cells and tissue.

So how dangerous are these somewhat large snakes native to Tennessee? In humans, the bites aren’t usually fatal- especially if the victim gets immediate, proper treatment. Usually, the bitten area turns black and swells. Their bites are excruciatingly painful. However, the pain should reduce and the black skin should fall off as the skin heals.

Pygmy rattlesnakes have keeled scales and dark markings or blotches that run down their backs as well as one or two rows of dark spots along each side of their bodies. Their bellies are cream and have dark bars marking them. Young pygmy rattlesnakes are easily identifiable by a bright-yellow tip on their tails.

These snakes aren’t overly picky about their Tennessee habitats and live in a wide range of places close to water. Some of their common favorites are flood plains, wetlands, moist fields, rocky uplands, pine woods, and glades.

What to Do If You See a Pygmy Rattlesnake

If you come across a pygmy rattlesnake, remain calm and exit slowly. Pygmy rattlesnakes will not attack humans. They feed on small mammals, lizards, and smaller snakes. Their venom helps them digest these animals easily.

2. Western Cottonmouth

Western cottonmouths are venomous and heavy snakes found around Tennessee’s waters.

©Psychotic Nature/

A type of pit viper, western cottonmouths are heavy snakes and measure about 30 to 42 inches in length. Like most pit vipers, they have triangular heads and elliptical pupils, as well as keeled scales. They are easily identified by their black or brown colored backs. The species is also known to have brown or gray bellies. However, their most prominent feature is their white and puffy lining which shows when they open their mouths defensively.

Compared to other venomous snakes, the western cottonmouth’s venom is mild. Their venom kills the fish, salamanders, frogs, birds, lizards, and rodents which they eat but it cannot kill a human. However, this doesn’t mean they will not bite if they feel threatened. The species is notorious for having painful bites.

Generally, western cottonmouths like to stay close to water. In Tennessee, they can be found in swamps, sloughs, riverbanks, and wetlands. It is also common to spot them swimming in rivers and lakes.

What to Do If You See a Western Cottonmouth

If you see a western cottonmouth in Tennessee, remain calm, back away slowly, and reach out to the authorities. Western cottonmouths will not follow you and are not known to bite humans unless they feel threatened. 

1. Timber Rattlesnake– Avoid this Large, Dangerous Snake in Tennessee this Summer

Timber rattlesnaake coiled in a loop

Timber rattlesnakes are found near Tennessee’s heavy forests.

©Frode Jacobsen/

The timber rattlesnake, like most rattlesnakes, has a large and heavy body. They are usually 36 to 60 inches in length. The species features various colors such as yellow, tan, brown, pink, and black.

Timber rattlesnake bites are a medical emergency. This is because they have venom strong enough to kill a human. They have long solenoglyphous fangs and high venom yields. Luckily, timber rattlesnakes hardly bite humans.

If you’re out to spot a timber rattlesnake, it might be a bit difficult as they’re experts at camouflaging. Their body coloration is also highly variable, but they usually have black tails. You can also look out for their keeled dorsal scales and a pattern of black or dark crossbands along their backs.

In Tennessee, timber rattlesnakes are often found near heavy forests. They can be found around hillsides and swamps. It is common to find a timber rattlesnake hiding beneath logs or lazing about on rocks in sunny weather.

How to Avoid Encountering a Timber Rattlesnake

Remember the specific areas these snakes spend time. Watch out where around logs, brush, and rocks. Watch your step by these objects and perhaps use a walking stick to disturb areas up ahead so you and a rattler don’t surprise each other. If you’re picking up rocks or sticks while camping, use caution and wear thick gloves. And of course, listen for that distinctive rattling noise.

What to Do If You See a Timber Rattlesnake

Remain calm and slowly exit, before calling the appropriate authorities. Timber rattlesnakes are often referred to as aggressive. For that reason, it is better to avoid contact with one. If this is not possible, do not do anything to frighten or agitate it.

Summary Of Tennessee’s 4 Largest And Most Dangerous Snakes

1Timber Rattlesnake36-60 inchesVenom strong enough to kill a human.
2Western Cottonmouth30-42 inchesThe species is notorious for having painful bites.
3Pygmy Rattlesnake16-20 inchesBites are excruciatingly painful. However, the pain should reduce and the black skin should fall off as the skin heals.
4Copperhead Snakemaximum length of 36 inchesVenom contains hemotoxins that damage the tissue in the area of the bite.

The photo featured at the top of this post is ©

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