Snake season in Tennessee runs from the early spring, through the summer, and up until the fall. That’s when snake activity is at its highest. There are a wide variety of snake species in Tennessee. Unfortunately, identifying snakes can be difficult as some of them look quite similar.
Tennessee has 32 species of snakes, but just 4 are venomous. These include the cottonmouth, pygmy rattlesnake, timber rattlesnake, and copperhead snake. The most common nonvenomous snakes are water snakes, garter snakes, and ringneck snakes.
Here we learn about many of the species of snake you can find in Tennessee. We will talk about how you can identify these snakes by their appearance, and in what habitats you should watch out for these snakes. Then we will find out when Tennessee snakes are most active.
What Snakes Live In Tennessee?
Understanding what species of snake you will find in Tennessee, how to identify them, and where and when you will find them is key to your safety.
Complete List of Tennessee Snakes
- Coachwhip snake (Masticophis flagellum)
- Common garter snake (Thamnophis sirtalis)
- Common kingsnake (Lampropeltis getula)
- Copperhead (Agkistrodon contortrix)
- Cottonmouth (Agkistrodon piscivorus)
- DeKay’s brownsnake (Storeria dekayi)
- Diamond-backed watersnake (Nerodia rhombifer)
- Eastern hognose snake (Heterodon platirhinos)
- Eastern ribbon snake (Thamnophis sauritus)
- Eastern worm snake (Carphophis amoenus amoenus)
- Gray rat snake (Pantherophis spiloides)
- Milksnake (Lampropeltis triangulum)
- Mississippi green watersnake (Nerodia cyclopion)
- North American racer (Coluber constrictor)
- Northern watersnake (Nerodia sipedon)
- Pinesnake (Pituophis melanoleucus)
- Plain-bellied watersnake (Nerodia erythrogaster)
- Pygmy rattlesnake (Sistrurus miliarius)
- Queen snake (Regina septemvittata)
- Red-bellied mudsnake (Farancia abacura)
- Red-bellied snake (Pseudechis porphyriacus)
- Red corn snake (Pantherophis guttatus)
- Ring-necked snake (Diadophis punctatus)
- Rough earthsnake (Haldea striatula)
- Rough green snake (Opheodrys aestivus)
- Scarletsnake (Cemophora coccinea)
- Smooth earthsnake (Virginia valeriae)
- Southeastern crowned snake (Tantilla coronata)
- Southern watersnake (Nerodia fasciata)
- Timber rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus)
- Western ribbon snake (Thamnophis proximus)
- Yellow-bellied kingsnake (Lampropeltis calligaster)
Nonvenomous Tennessee Snakes
Most of the snakes in Tennessee are not venomous. Let’s take a closer look at some of these snakes.
Eastern Worm Snake
This snake has a small, pointed head, perfect for burrowing in crevices or cracks in the ground. As a result, this is a very secretive snake, preferring to remain underground or under cover such as rocks, rotten logs, or leaf litter.
You can identify eastern worm snakes by their small size and shiny color. These snakes only grow to around 11 inches in length. Their bark brown back and light pink belly often have an iridescent sheen to their scales.
These smooth-scaled snakes eat soft-bodied prey. This includes earthworms, grubs, and insect larvae.
Worm snakes are thought to be common in Tennessee, though this is difficult to assess due to how adept they are at hiding. According to the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, you are most likely to find one of these snakes underneath a rotten log in the Unaka Mountains.
Common Garter Snake
Garter snakes are one of the most common species of snake you’ll find in Tennessee. This is a medium-sized snake with various color patterns.
Usually, a common garter snake has 3 light stripes on its body. One stripe is on the snake’s back, and the other two are on each side of the snake. These stripes may be yellow, brown, green, blue, or even white.
Every now and then you will find a garter snake without these stripes. The area between these stripes usually contains two rows of alternating dark spots, like a checkerboard.
You will find common garter snakes in a variety of habitats. They prefer locations near water, such as wetlands, ponds, streams, or drainage ditches. That’s where they find the fish, tadpoles, and frogs they mainly eat. You will also find these snakes in vacant city lots, parks, old farms, and cemeteries.
This slender snake looks a lot like an eastern wormsnake. The difference between them is the yellow or orange band around the snake’s neck, which gives the ringneck snake its name. The ringneck snake also has a bright yellow belly.
There are two sub-species of ringneck snake. The northern ringneck snake is found in the eastern half of Tennessee, and it has a complete ring all the way around its neck. The southern ringneck snake, found in the western half of Tennessee, has an incomplete ring as well as black spots along its belly scales.
Ringneck snakes love to hide, though they are seen more often than the eastern wormsnake. You will find these snakes under rocks and logs in almost any moist woodland area.
This snake is not very dangerous. When threatened, the ringneck snake will flip itself over and coil its tail, revealing its brightly colored belly. This coiling behavior has given it the nickname of “corkscrew snake.”
This is a small snake, only 10 inches long at the most. As you might be able to guess from the name, it has a red belly.
Red-bellied snakes have a range of body colors besides their distinctive belly. They are usually gray or reddish-brown, and occasionally black. Their back may have 4 narrow, dark stripes on it as well, and light spots on the neck which form a kind of collar.
These snakes have a habit of curling up their upper lip, which may help them eat their slimy prey of earthworms, snails, and slugs.
You will find these snakes throughout Tennessee, living under rotten logs, leaf litter, and rocks in forests. Some of these snakes have found home in human habitats, including vacant lots full of trash to hide under.
The milksnake includes 3 subspecies: the eastern milksnake, the red milksnake, and the scarlet kingsnake. All 3 subspecies’ ranges overlap in East Tennessee.
This snake grows to be between 2 and 3 feet long and has very bright, beautiful color patterns. The eastern milksnake has a tan or gray body with red, black-bordered blotches on its back. Red milksnakes have a lighter white or yellow body with orange or red black-bordered blotches.
Scarlet kingsnakes have alternating bands of red, black, and yellow along their body. The red bands touch the black bands, but not the yellow bands. This is a vital distinction between this snake and more dangerous snakes.
While these snakes’ bright colors may make you think that they are venomous, they do not have venom. Their colors serve as a deterrent to predators which may mistake them for a snake that is more harmful.
You will find milksnakes in hardwood or pine forests with rocky outcroppings. They prefer to live under rocks and logs. Female milksnakes usually lay their eggs in rotten stumps. They are often found in barns as well, feeding on rodents. This is where the milksnake gets its name, from finding them near barn cows.
Pinesnakes are known for their unusually loud hissing noise, which they make whenever someone comes near. This snake is a large constrictor, reaching up to 5.5 feet in length. They also have the largest eggs of any North American snake.
You can recognize this snake for its keeled scales, with a pale body covered by dark brown or reddish blotches. These blotches are darker near the snake’s head and lighter near its tail. The blotches near the tail may form rings around the tail as well.
Pinesnake populations are in decline. You can find them in pine forests in western Tennessee, especially in areas with sandy soil. They hunt small rodents but will eat ground-nesting birds and bird eggs if they can get them.
Female pinesnakes build communal nests, sharing the space with other pinesnakes. They will dig out a long chamber in an open sandy area for the mother snakes to lay their eggs in. These eggs hatch in late summer or early fall. The hatchlings can already be a foot long when they are born.
Though these snakes are not venomous, they are often mistaken for venomous snakes. This is due to their habit of vibrating their tail against the ground when they are threatened, mimicking the rattle of a rattlesnake.
Eastern Hognose Snake
Also known as the puff adder or hissing viper, hognose snakes are most easily identified by their distinctive upturned snout.
These snakes come in a variety of colors. Juvenile hognose snakes are usually more colorfully patterned than adults, with scales either orange, yellow, brown, gray, or black.
By the time the snake is an adult, it may have turned completely black or gray. Its belly is a much lighter color than the rest of its body.
You will find hognose snakes in a variety of habitats throughout the state of Tennessee. These snakes like to burrow, so they will usually be found in areas with loose or sandy soil that they can more easily dig through.
Hognose snakes may not be venomous, but they are known for an elaborate, almost theatrical defensive display. When threatened, this snake will flatten its head and neck, mimicking the hood of a cobra.
It will hiss loudly, raise its upper body, and strike out without biting. Then the snake will roll over to play dead, releasing a foul-smelling musk.
North American Racer
This snake gets its name from its speed. When attacked by a predator, it will rapidly slither out of reach.
This is a large, long snake, growing to between 3 and 5 feet long. North American racers are solid black on their smooth, shiny dorsal scales. Their bellies are either dark gray or dark blue. In some individuals, the snake’s throat and chin are white.
Unlike other snakes which prefer to hide under cover, North American racers prefer wide open spaces. You will find them at the edges of forests as well as in pastures and agricultural fields. There these snakes hunt a variety of prey, including rodents, birds, frogs, insects, and other snakes.
While most snakes are ambush predators, hiding close to the ground to avoid being seen by their prey, North American racers have a different strategy. These snakes perform an activity called periscoping. The racer lifts its upper body off of the ground and looks around for its prey, looking a bit like a submarine periscope.
Venomous Tennessee Snakes
There are 4 species of venomous snakes in Tennessee. Let’s learn about these snakes so that you can identify them and keep yourself safe.
Copperhead snakes can be found all across the state of Tennessee. They have coppery-red colored scales on their large, triangular-shaped heads. The rest of their body is usually a light brown or gray color, with dark brown crossbands in a shape like an hourglass on their back.
These snakes grow to be between 2 and 3 feet in length. They do not like open areas such as fields and will seek out areas with more cover to hide under. You will find these snakes in forested habitats or on rocky hillsides with plenty of logs and stones to use as cover.
Sometimes copperheads can be found in urban environments. While they eat small animals such as mice, lizards, and other snakes, they will bite a human if threatened. Copperhead snake venom is not very potent to humans. It is rare for people to die from a copperhead bite.
However, this does not mean that the venom is harmless. According to Clinical Toxicology, even after treatment, venom effects from a copperhead bite such as pain and swelling can persist for up to 2 weeks after the bite. In some cases, the limb can still be affected for months.
The timber rattlesnake is the largest venomous snake in Tennessee. It is also the most dangerous to humans.
These snakes are between 3 and 5 feet long, with black chevron-shaped crossbands all across its body. The rest of its scales can be yellow, black, or various shades of brown. It may also have a rust-colored stripe running down the center of its back.
Timber rattlesnakes can be found throughout the state of Tennessee, though their numbers are decreasing due to loss of habitat. They mainly live in heavily-wooded forests and on rocky hillsides, though they can also be found near swamps, mountains, streams, and rural areas. You will usually find a timber rattlesnake sunning itself on a rock or coiled near a fallen log.
According to Animal Diversity Web, timber rattlesnakes brumate for up to 7 months each year. They return to the same den every year, and each den may house between 15 and 60 snakes.
The cottonmouth snake (water moccasin) is usually between 2 and 3 feet long. You can identify it by its keeled brown, gray, or black scales, which often have dark crossbands as well.
This snake has a very dark brown or black top to its head and a white upper lip. It gets its name from that white color on its lip, which extends to the puffy lining of its mouth.
These snakes live mainly in aquatic habitats in western Tennessee. You will find them in swamps, wetlands, and drainage ditches. Sometimes they turn up around lakes and rivers as well.
Cottonmouths can slither on land and swim in the water. While they are not overly aggressive, choosing to flee rather than fight, they do not have a great sense of direction. A threatened cottonmouth will flee in a random direction, potentially straight towards you.
The smallest and least well-known venomous snake in Tennessee is the pygmy rattlesnake. This colorful snake only grows to be 20 inches long. It has a very thin tail with a tiny rattle at the end. This rattling sounds more like the faint buzz of an insect than a stereotypical rattlesnake rattle. It can only be heard around 3 feet away.
Pygmy rattlesnakes have gray or tan scales with dark bar-shaped blotches running along its back. It also has 2 rows of dark spots along the sides of its body, and often an orange-brown stripe down the middle of its back as well. Its head has another wide, black stripe starting at its eyes and ending at the corners of its mouth. You can identify this snake by these dark stripes.
These rattlesnakes are relatively rare, considered a threatened species by local governments. It is usually found near water, such as in wetlands, flood plains, and moist fields. That’s where it hunts its prey of frogs, lizards, and other small animals.
When Are Tennessee Snakes Most Active?
Most species of snake in Tennessee are most active during the night. They use the darkness of the night to help them hide from predators. Snakes depend more on senses such as smell and touch to find their prey, rather than sight which requires daylight.
You will see fewer snakes in the wild during the winter. As ectotherms, snakes cannot maintain an internal temperature. They will go to their dens and brumate through the colder months to survive.
Show caution once spring returns. As the weather warms up, the snakes will wake up and be at their most active. This is also the time when a lot of small mammalian species that serve as snakes’ prey – such as mice, rats, and rabbits – have babies. When there is a lot of food and comfortable weather, snakes have higher levels of activity.