There are many snake species in Tennessee. Unfortunately, identifying snakes can be difficult because lots of species are similar in color, pattern, and where they’re found.
Tennessee has 34 species in total. 4 are venomous, the cottonmouth, pygmy rattlesnake, timber rattlesnake, and copperhead. The most common non-venomous snakes include water snakes, garter snakes, ringneck snakes, and rat snakes. Snakes live near cities like Nashville, Memphis, and Knoxville but also out in the country.
During Tennessee snake season, you can expect to find most of these species. Learning to identify snakes in Tennessee will help you avoid the venomous ones so that you can stay safe.
When are Snakes Most Active in Tennessee?
Snake season in Tennessee runs from the early spring, through the summer and up to the fall. That’s when snakes are most active. So, if you want to find snakes, spring or summer is the time to do it.
Snakes are vulnerable to temperature changes because they’re cold-blooded. If they were to stay outside during a freezing winter, they would die. So, they go through the reptile process analogous to hibernation, called brumation.
Like other animals that hibernate, they come out when it’s warm again in the spring. At this time, they’re very hungry, so they hunt a lot. It’s also mating season, so they’re especially active. Mating season runs through to summer.
Snakes will still be active, but not quite as active, through late summer and the fall. They will go back into hibernation when the temperature starts to hit freezing again. Then they’ll do it again next year.
List of Snakes in Tennessee
There are around 34 native species in total, of which 4 are venomous. The exact number depends on whether you count individual species, or the subspecies too, in which case there are more.
Here’s a list of every snake. If you want to identify snakes in Tennessee, we’ve also included a brief description of each one. We’ll look at the most interesting ones in more depth.
|Species Name||Where Found||Description|
|Copperhead||Across the whole state, in a variety of habitats.||Venomous. Has a rusty red head.|
|Timber Rattlesnake||Across the whole state, in forests.||Venomous. Banded brown and gray snake.|
|Western Cottonmouth||In the western third of the state, near water.||Venomous. Has a bright white mouth it shows off in defensive displays.|
|Pygmy Rattlesnake||In the far west of the state, in a variety of habitats.||Venomous. Like a regular rattlesnake but smaller.|
|Brown-banded Watersnake||In the far west of the state, near water.||Non-venomous. An aquatic snake with deep brown coloration. May have lighter brown-red blotches, or deep red bands.|
|Common Watersnake||Across the whole state, near water.||Non-venomous. Brown with darker brown saddles along its back.|
|De Kay’s Brownsnake||Across the whole state, in a variety of habitats.||Non-venomous. Woody brown with darker brown flecks, and a pale cream underbelly.|
|Diamond-backed Watersnake||Only in west Tennessee, near bodies of water.||Non-venomous. Thick for its length of three to four feet. Dull brown with dark brown separated bands along its back.|
|Eastern Coachwhip||Uncommon in Tennessee, but likes dry and open habitats.||Non-venomous. A slender snake that can reach five feet. Half its body is dark brown while half its body (its tail end) is caramel or tan.|
|Eastern Garter Snake||Across the whole state, in a variety of habitats.||Non-venomous. Dark brown or black with a white, cream or yellow stripe along its back. Pale underbelly of the same color.|
|Eastern Black Kingsnake||Across the whole state, in a variety of habitats.||Non-venomous. Black with pale white or yellow flecks along its sides, and a pale underbelly.|
|Eastern Hognose Snake||Across the whole state, often in loose soil or sand where it can burrow.||Non-venomous. A stout average-sized snake with variable color and pattern. Spot one by looking for its upturned snout (hog-nose).|
|Eastern Milksnake||Across the whole state, in fields, woodlands and on rocky hillsides.||Non-venomous. 2-3ft. Looks a little like a corn snake, with bright red saddles bordered by black. But its background color is lighter, tan or white.|
|Eastern Ribbonsnake||Mostly in West Tennessee, near bodies of water.||Non-venomous. Short, at only 16-30 inches long. Three light stripes along their back are contrasted against a mid-brown background.|
|Wormsnake||Eastern wormsnake occurs in the east, Midwestern wormsnake is found in the rest of the state. Found under logs and in leaf litter.||Non-venomous. Only 7.5-11” long. Brown sides with a pink belly. Head is no wider than its neck, so it looks like a big worm.|
|Gray Ratsnake/Chicken Snake||Across the whole state, mostly found in forests.||Non-venomous. Looks like a darker garter snake. Gray or black background with speckles of yellow/cream on its sides. No striped back. 3-6ft.|
|Kirtland’s Snake||According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, this snake has uncertain distribution. May be extinct in Tennessee. Mostly lives in moist soil underground.||Non-venomous. 12-18 inches, gray-brown with a double series of large black spots. Brick red underbelly to scare away predators.|
|Mississippi Green Watersnake||Only found in the extreme west of the state. Lives near bodies of water.||Non-venomous. 30-45”, dark green-brown background with low-contrast dark markings.|
|North American Racer||Across the whole state, in a variety of habitats.||Non-venomous. A glossy black snake that looks like a kingsnake. 2-5ft in length. Common in Tennessee.|
|Northern Red-bellied Snake||Across the whole state, but is most common in woodland.||Non-venomous. A very small snake, just 8-16” long. Have a brown or gray background with a bright brick stripe along its back. Has a red belly.|
|Northern Pinesnake||Rare in Tennesee, but may be found in forests with well-drained and sandy soils.||Non-venomous. A long snake at 48-90 inches long, and thick around the middle. Has a bright background of white, yellow or gray and dark brown saddles plus flecks along its sides.|
|Plain-bellied Watersnake||Found near the lower Cumberland River and Tennessee River.||Non-venomous. 24-40” long. A deep gray or black. Has a cream or yellow underside that fades into its dark sides.|
|Queensnake||In central and western Tennessee. Always found near bodies of water.||Non-venomous. Only 15-24” long. Looks like a garter snake. Olive to gray or brown, with peach/yellow stripes along its length. Has four dark ventral (belly) stripes too.|
|Red Cornsnake||Across the whole state, but is most common in woodland.||Non-venomous. Three to five feet long. A deep brick red, with slightly darker saddles along its back. Saddles lined with darker brown. Has a pale underbelly.|
|Ring-necked Snake||Across the whole state, but prefers wooded areas.||Non-venomous. Typically reach about 20”. A uniform deep gray color, apart from a peach/orange ring around its neck. According to Toxicon, may have a slight venom that can’t harm people, but can kill its prey.|
|Rough Earthsnake||Appears in only a few counties in the southwestern corner of the state. Can be found around Memphis in a variety of habitats.||Non-venomous. 7-10” and slender. Varied color, either brown, gray or reddish. Has no pattern. Color fades into a lighter tan or white on the belly.|
|Rough Greensnake||Across the whole state. Lives in vegetation along the edges of water sources, hanging down from trees.||Non-venomous. 22-32” long, slender and light green. Has a white, yellow or pale green belly.|
|Scarlet Kingsnake||Across the whole state, in a variety of habitats.||Non-venomous. 16-20”. The scarlet kingsnake looks like a coral snake, but isn’t venomous. It has a long red band, then a short black band, a short yellow band, and another short black band. Then the pattern repeats. “Red touch yellow, kills a fellow. Red touch black, friend of Jack!”|
|Scarletsnake||Across the whole state, prefer forests with loose soils.||Non-venomous. 14-26”. Looks like a mix between a milksnake and a corn snake. Its light pattern can range from pure white to tan, while its saddles are bright red.|
|Smooth Earthsnake||Found in east and west, but not central, Tennesee. Likes a variety of habitats.||Non-venomous. Looks a lot like a rough earthsnake. 7-10”. The only difference is that its scales aren’t keeled.|
|Southeastern Crowned Snake||Found in the southern two-thirds of the state, as well as Stewart County. Likes areas with sandy soils.||Non-venomous. 8-10” and slender, looks like a ringneck snake but a lighter brown color. The ring around its neck is black.|
|Western Mudsnake||Found in the west of Tennessee, but it only infrequently seen. Semi-aquatic.||Non-venomous. 40-54” and smooth, glossy and black. Has a red and black checkered belly. Its red belly fades into its black sides and creates a roughly triangular pattern.|
|Western Ribbonsnake||Only found in four counties in the far west of the state. Semi-aquatic.||Non-venomous. Only the orange-striped ribbonsnake subspecies occurs here. 20-30”, with three light orange stripes along its back and sides. Has a black or dark gray body.|
|Yellow-bellied Kingsnake||Occurs in all of western Tennesee, and most of the far southeast. Likes forests and fields.||Non-venomous. 30-32” long with shiny, smooth gray scales. May also appear brown or reddish. Has blackish blotches along its back and a yellow belly.|
Any Invasive Species of Snake in Tennessee?
In many states, there are invasive snake species. These are species that aren’t native to the state, or even to the U.S. They are introduced by pet owners who accidentally or purposefully release them into the wild. Or, they may have escaped from research facilities.
The most famous example is the Burmese python. It’s from Burma, now known as Myanmar, in Southeast Asia. It’s now common in the Florida Everglades after specimens escaped from a zoo during a hurricane.
Fortunately, there are no known invasive snake species in Tennessee. That’s a good thing, because invasive species attack native species, or eat all of their prey. This can make native species go extinct.
Is It Illegal to Kill Snakes in Tennessee?
In Tennessee, you’re not allowed to harm, kill or collect native snakes from the wild. You’re only allowed to if you have a permit from the state. Contact the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency for more information.
But what a lot of people don’t appreciate is that you don’t need to kill wild snakes. The vast majority of snakes you’ll encounter will be non-venomous. These snakes are harmless to people, although their bites might hurt if you threaten them.
Even better, these snakes are helpful to people. They kill rodents, which are agricultural pests as well as a nuisance. Without them, the rodent population in suburban areas could get out of control. And the impact on farming would be awful.
And while there are venomous snakes in the state, it’s better not to kill these, too. That’s because you’re far safer trying to avoid the snake than trying to attack it. Even venomous snakes don’t seek out fights with people. They’d much rather avoid you, too.
Venomous Snakes in Tennessee
Of the thirty-four snake species in Tennessee, only four are venomous. But even though Tennessee isn’t known for its deadly snakes, these species do pack a punch. Some of them can even kill if you don’t receive prompt medical attention.
They get their name from their rusty red head. The front half of their body has lots of red pigmentation, too.
Their venom isn’t as potent as that of a rattler, but does still hurt and should be treated by a medical professional. A copperhead won’t kill you unless you have a severe reaction.
But people are far more afraid of copperheads than they need to be. They aren’t aggressive unless you antagonize them. That doesn’t stop this snake from being the leading cause of snakebite in the U.S. But according to the Journal of the American College of Surgeons, bites aren’t as serious as those of, say, rattlesnakes.
Where is the Copperhead Snake Found?
Copperheads are common in woodlands across the entirety of Tennessee. They’re a regular sight for anyone that takes lots of trails and long walks. They’re also frequently found in most states along the eastern seaboard, and as far west as West Texas.
2) Timber Rattlesnake
Timber rattlesnakes are the most dangerous snake in Tennessee. Like all rattlesnakes, timber rattlesnakes are pit vipers. This places them in a family of the most dangerous snakes in the world.
Their deadliness is down to two things. The first is their potent venom. Their venom can destroy muscle tissue immediately after it’s injected. The trouble is that it affects muscles like the heart and lungs, stopping both from working. That’s obviously deadly.
But as well, timber rattlesnakes have lots of venom. Have you ever looked at how wide their jaw is compared to its neck? That’s because that’s where snakes have their venom glands. A timber rattlesnake’s venom glands are huge, so it has lots of venom. This makes it even deadlier.
As for spotting one, that’s easy. They have a distinctive banded pattern of dark brown on light brown or gray. But their most obvious feature is their rattle, which makes a loud buzzing sound.
Where Is the Timber Rattlesnake Found in Tennessee?
Most snakes get their name either from a distinguishing feature, or from where you’re likely to find them. As you can imagine, the timber rattlesnake can be found in forests.
As for their range, you can find them all across Tennessee. They compete for the same habitats as copperheads.
3) Western Cottonmouth
Cottonmouths spend most of their time near water, and are adept swimmers. They’re exceptionally fat for a snake, with short, stout-looking bodies.
But it’s their defensive display that gives them their names. Cottonmouths got their name because they open their mouths wide when threatened. The lining of their mouth is a bright white, the point of which is to dazzle and confuse potential predators/threats.
Where Is the Cottonmouth Found in Tennessee?
Cottonmouths have a smaller range than copperheads. They can be found only in the western third of Tennessee.
4) Pygmy Rattlesnake
Pygmy rattlesnakes are in the same family as other rattlers. The only difference is that they’re a lot smaller, as the name suggests. They reach an average length of 16 to 24 inches, so may not even reach two feet. The biggest is two and a half feet.
Its coloration is unique among rattlesnakes. The pygmy rattlesnake has a light blue-gray background color with black blotches along its back. Between these black blotches, linking them, is a red stripe running along their back.
And like all other rattlers, the pygmy rattlesnake has a rattle. It’s smaller, but it still makes a loud buzzing noise.
Where Is the Pygmy Rattlesnake Found in Tennessee?
This snake likes a range of habitats, including flatwoods, forests, and marshes. But despite being comfortable in many different ecological systems, you’ll only find it in the far west of the state.
Most Common Snakes in Tennessee
These four venomous snakes aren’t the most common in the state, though. Non-venomous snakes usually outnumber venomous snakes. Usually, when you see a snake out in the wild, it’s not a dangerous one.
The eight species below are the most common. As stated above, there are 30 total non-venomous species. But some are far less commonly encountered than others, or are only present in isolated and select parts of the state.
None of the species below has venom. It’s not that each species only has a little, or that it doesn’t affect people. It’s that each species doesn’t have venom glands, or fangs capable of delivering venom. They can’t kill you.
But that doesn’t mean that a bite from one of these species won’t hurt!
1) Common Watersnake
The common water snake, also known as the northern water snake, loves water. If you want to find one, head to your nearest lake or pond. If there are any there, you’ll spot them basking on rocks or tree stumps.
This snake isn’t anything special when it comes to color. Each one is a shade of brown with darker brown saddles that run along its back. It looks almost like it’s covered in brown camo.
If you’re lucky, you might see this snake swimming or hunting. It hunts among plants on the water’s edge, looking for prey like:
- Tiny fish
- Frogs and toads
- Worms and leeches
It will also eat small birds and mammals, like many other snakes of a similar size. But don’t get too close. If you do, it will dive into the water and swim away as quickly as it can. It doesn’t like confrontation with bigger animals like people, but its bite is painful if you corner it.
Where Can You Find Watersnakes in Tennessee?
It might make sense to rename this snake—it’s less a ‘northern’ snake and more an ‘eastern’ snake. It’s found across the entirety of Tennessee. But more broadly speaking, it’s found in almost every state along the eastern seaboard, and most states east of the Midwest.
So, if you want to find one, head to your nearest pond or lake. They’re everywhere across Tennessee.
2) De Kay’s Brownsnake
Dekay’s brownsnake is an earthy, woody brown color. Its underside is a paler cream color, but isn’t very high contrast. It has the occasional fleck of darker brown in its scales. Sometimes these are high contrast flecks that are much darker, sometimes they’re less noticeable.
It’s also got a slightly lighter stripe running along its back, flanked by two thinner, darker stripes. You may not see these until you get up close. Again, its pattern isn’t supposed to be of high contrast. But what does distinguish this snake is that it’s tiny, usually shorter than a foot long.
One of the ways to identify a Dekay’s brownsnake is that they musk when threatened. Musking is a defense mechanism whereby the snake secretes (or even shoots out) a foul-smelling fluid from an anal gland. It smells as pleasant as it sounds.
Where Can You Find De Kay’s Brownsnake in Tennessee?
Again, these snakes are common across the entirety of Tennessee.
They are native all across eastern North America, and you can even find some in Canada. And if you want to go traveling, you can find it throughout Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, and maybe El Salvador. It’s a common snake.
If you want to go out and find one, check in a variety of habitats. They like grassland and forest, and can often be found lounging at the side of water sources.
3) Eastern Garter Snake
Unlike De Kay’s brownsnake above, this snake is immediately noticeable and striking to look at. It’s highly variable in color, but most garter snakes are black and yellow or black and white. They exhibit:
- A pale cream stripe along their back
- An underside of the same color
- The background color of a darker brown shade
- Flecking of various degrees along their background color, of the same pale cream color as before
The contrast between their stripes, as well as the flecking they have, makes them high contrast. They’re immediately obvious even to a beginner (except when they’re somewhere they can camouflage themselves).
The garter snake clocks in at between one and a half and two and a half feet, so it’s an average-to-short size for a snake.
Where Can You Find Garter Snakes in Tennessee?
This snake is exceptionally common. Like the other species in this list, it’s found all across Tennessee.
It’s one of the most common snakes in North America. Garter snakes are found in almost every one of the continental United States. The eastern garter snake, which we have in Tennessee, is found in every state east of Texas (as well as Canada).
Because they’re so common, garter snakes are often people’s first experience with snakes. They’re also a common first pet snake. If you want to find one, check all the regular habitats, like grasslands, woodlands, and next to water sources.
4) Eastern Black Kingsnake
This is another snake that’s beautiful to look at. It’s a glossy black snake with a paler underbelly. Where the underbelly and sides meet, the pale color turns into diffuse and irregular flecks. The overall effect is striking.
Like many snake species, juvenile specimens have a brighter pattern and color combination. A juvenile eastern black kingsnake has pale white or yellow banding that will fade to black as it matures.
Where Can You Find Kingsnakes in Tennessee?
Again, this snake is common to every county in Tennessee. It’s easy to find across all of the south-eastern U.S.
Like most species, this snake lives in forests, agricultural lands, and near water sources (snakes need water too). You can find some in suburban areas around big cities like Nashville, Memphis, and Knoxville too.
The only difference is that on the Kentucky border, the snake may have interbred with the speckled kingsnake. This snake isn’t considered a subspecies, but may be in the future if interbreeding continues. This is the only place that this unique king of kingsnake exists.
5) Gray Ratsnake/Chicken Snake
The gray rat snake looks a little like a darker garter snake specimen. It has a dark gray or black background color, with speckled lighter yellow or cream on its sides. The main difference between the two snakes is the lack of a striped back.
Another difference, though, is in size. This is one of the large snakes in Tennessee, as it can reach between three and six feet. The longest ever found and recorded, though, was over eight feet long.
Where Can You Find Chicken Snakes in Tennessee?
If you work on the land, you might find this snake in your chicken coop. It’s known for being crafty and finding its way into chicken coops, to feed to its heart’s content.
As for its habitat, this snake is most common in forests. You can find it all throughout the eastern and central United States, and all across Tennessee.
6) North American Racer/Eastern Racer
The eastern racer is a species of snake that varies in appearance. That’s because it has eleven subspecies, dotted around the country. Two of these subspecies are found in Tennessee: the Northern black racer and the Southern black racer.
Ironically, you won’t find these species in the north and south of the state respectively. Rather, you’ll find the Northern black racer in the eastern half of Tennessee, and the Southern black racer in the west.
Either way, these two subspecies look exactly the same. The only way to tell them apart is through internal anatomical differences. Both species are a glossy black snake, just like the black kingsnake. It can be difficult to tell these species apart as well. They reach between two and five feet in length.
Where Can You Find Racers in Tennessee?
It’s found throughout the United States almost everywhere east of the Rocky Mountains. You can also find it as far north as Canada, and as far south as Mexico and Central America. As you might imagine, then, this snake can be found almost anywhere in Tennessee.
7) Red Corn Snake
The red corn snake, or just the corn snake if you prefer, is another common snake. It’s a deep brick red color, with saddles along its back that are slightly darker. These saddles are ringed with a thin dark brown line.
Their underside is paler, contrasting nicely with the deeper, brighter color of their sides.
Where Can You Find Corn Snakes in Tennessee?
These snakes have been common in Tennessee for centuries. They get their name from their behavior: they were historically found near grain or corn stores, where there were lots of rodents. So if you live in an agricultural area, you may expect them to live nearby.
If you don’t, you’re still in luck. These snakes are mostly found in the western half of Tennessee. Head out to any forest or grassland and see if you can find one.
Aside from that, corn snakes are found all across the southeast United States. They’re a common first pet because of their pleasant disposition and easy care routines.
Are There Water Snakes in Tennessee?
There are plenty of water snakes in Tennessee. The two most common species are the cottonmouth and the common water snake. The cottonmouth is venomous while the common water snake is not.
However, other snake species hang around near water too. All snakes need to drink water, like any other animal. You’ll therefore frequently find most species near ponds, lakes, and rivers.
Snakes that live in water in Tennessee include the common water snake and the cottonmouth.
Are There Snakes in Tennessee Lakes?
While there are lots of Tennessee snakes near water, and can swim, that doesn’t mean they live in lakes. The only snakes that permanently live in water are sea snakes, and there are no species on the east coast of the United States (let alone inland in Tennessee).
Rather, these snakes spend their time at the water’s edge. Cottonmouths and common water snakes like to sun themselves on logs and rocky outcrops next to water. Then, when they want to hunt, they may skirt the water’s edge for a while and see what they can find.
Where to Find Snakes in Tennessee?
So, if you’re interested in searching for snakes in Tennessee, you’ll probably have lots of luck. There are many species that you can find all across the state. If you do decide to go looking for some, follow these tips:
- Ideally, you’ll want several pieces of kit: a snake hook and bag, as well as protective equipment like thick leather boots and snake gaiters.
- When searching under rocks and logs, use a stick or snake hook instead of your hands. You could disturb a venomous snake and get bitten.
- If you find one venomous snake, there are likely to be others nearby too. Rattlesnakes live in loose groups near a communal den.
- Search in different habitats to find different species. Try forests, grassland, and near water sources.
- If you find a snake and it gets defensive, leave it alone. It won’t chase you to attack you.
Other than that, use your common sense and you’ll be fine.