If you’re unfamiliar with Michigan’s wilderness, now is the best time to get there. Today, we will discuss the 18 most common and, maybe, unexpected snakes you can encounter in Michigan, should you ever decide to take a trip into the heart of the wild.
Whether you love or hate snakes, this article is clearly for you. Let’s begin with one of the most common reptiles in Michigan:
1. Blue Racer
The Blue Racer, also known as the eastern racer, is a fast-moving snake species found in a variety of habitats across North America. These snakes prefer open grasslands, fields, and forest edges but can also be found in agricultural areas, suburban yards, and near different bodies of water.
The Blue Racer has a slender and long body with smooth scales that are typically blue-gray in color, often with black, brown, or white markings. They have large eyes and slender head, which is only slightly wider than their neck. On average, the Blue Racer grows up to 3-5 feet in length, with females being larger overall.
This snake is an opportunistic predator and feeds on a variety of prey, like insects, small mammals, lizards, frogs, and other snakes. They are known for their excellent hunting skills, and their speed and agility make them formidable predators.
Behaviorally, Blue Racers are active during the day, mainly in the early morning and late afternoon when the temperature is cooler. These snakes are fast and agile and can outrun most predators. When threatened, they may vibrate their tails, hiss loudly, and even bite, but they are not venomous and are not considered a danger to humans. If anything, they actually play a positive role in their ecosystem.
These reptiles are well adapted to a variety of habitats across North America and are an important part of their ecosystem, their presence usually indicating a healthy and stable environment. While they may be intimidating to some, Blue Racers are valuable and intriguing members of the animal kingdom that you’re bound to appreciate and even love with time.
2. Eastern Brown Snake
The Brown Snake is a small and unassuming species found throughout much of North America. These snakes are typically found in a variety of habitats, including woodlands, grasslands, wetlands, and suburban areas. They are particularly common in areas with a lot of vegetation, such as gardens and parks.
Depending on the species and the environment, brown snakes can grow between 17 inches and 7 feet and come with smooth, shiny, and brown scales with a lighter-colored underside. Some individuals may have darker stripes or blotches on their bodies. They have a round head with large eyes and a short snout and are pretty easy to distinguish if you know what to look for.
This snake is primarily insectivorous, feeding on a variety of small insects such as ants, spiders, and beetles. They may also eat earthworms, snails, and small slugs. As they are relatively small snakes, their prey items are usually small as well. Larger specimens consume other snakes, birds, small mammals, and other reptiles, as well.
Behaviorally, brown snakes are most active at night. During the day, they are usually found hiding under rocks, logs, or leaf litter, where they rest and hide from predators until nightfall. They are not particularly fast or agile, so they rely on their camouflage and ability to avoid predators. Needless to say, they aren’t aggressive towards humans, as they prefer to flee rather than stand their ground.
The brown snake is a fascinating and often-overlooked species that plays an important role in many ecosystems. While they may not be as flashy or impressive as some other species, they are an important part of the food chain.
3. Butler’s Garter Snake
The Butler’s garter snake is a small snake species found in the Great Lakes region of North America. These snakes prefer moist habitats, such as wetlands, marshes, and meadows, and can also be found in wooded areas and along streams, where food diversity is typically high.
I’d like to say that this species has a distinct appearance, except it doesn’t. It’s easy to identify, that’s for sure, but this is due to its resemblance to all other garter snakes you’ve seen. If you haven’t seen a garter snake before, expect a yellowish-orange body and three longitudinal stripes running down its back. The stripes are generally black or dark brown in color, and the scales between the stripes are typically lighter in color. They have slender bodies, and their average length ranges from 12-20 inches, so they’re fairly small and innocuous.
The snake’s diet consists primarily of small amphibians, such as frogs and salamanders. They may also eat small fish, insects, and other invertebrates. These snakes are known for their hunting skills and may actively search for prey or lie in wait for their prey to come within striking distance. Either way works, so long as they get a good meal out of it.
These reptiles are often found basking in the sun and may be seen in groups during the mating season. They are not venomous and are relatively docile, making them popular pets in some areas. It also doesn’t hurt that they’re quite widespread throughout the continent.
4. Copper-Bellied Water Snake
The copper-bellied water snake is a non-venomous snake species found in the southeastern United States, primarily in areas near water, such as streams, rivers, and swamps. These snakes are often found basking on rocks or logs near the water’s edge.
The reptile has a distinctive appearance, with a bright copper-colored belly and a dark brown, black, or even dark blue back. They have keeled scales, which give their skin a rough texture, and their average length ranges from 2 to 5 feet. These snakes have long and thick bodies with slightly pointed heads and powerful jaws. They have the body construction of a venomous species, which often leads to cases of mistaken identity.
The water snake’s diet consists primarily of fish, although they may also eat other aquatic prey such as frogs, crayfish, and other snakes. They are skilled hunters and may stalk their prey underwater, using their strong jaws to grip and swallow their prey whole. No venom or constriction necessary.
Behaviorally, the copper-bellied water snake is diurnal and is most active during the day. They are often found swimming or basking on rocks or logs near the water’s edge and may be seen in groups during the mating season. These snakes are not aggressive and will generally flee if they feel threatened, but they don’t test their limits. They might bite if they feel they have no other option left.
5. Eastern Garter Snake
I seriously doubt there’s any American who hasn’t seen a garter snake before. The Eastern Garter snake is a common species found throughout much of North America, from Canada to Central America. These snakes prefer a variety of habitats, including meadows, fields, forests, and wetlands, and can often be found near bodies of water and even human settlements.
The Eastern Garter snake has a distinctive appearance, with three longitudinal stripes running down its back. The stripes are usually yellow or green in color, and the scales between the stripes are typically black or dark brown. They have slender bodies with an average length of 18-26 inches at most.
The diet of the Eastern Garter Snake consists primarily of small prey such as insects, earthworms, and other invertebrates. They may also eat small amphibians, such as frogs and salamanders, and occasionally small rodents. The preferred hunting method is stalking and even active chasing if the prey is close enough.
This diurnal snake is often found basking in the sun and may be seen in larger groups during the mating season for extra protection and reproductive-related competition. They are not venomous and are relatively docile, making them popular pets even in non-native areas.
6. Eastern Hog-Nosed Snake
The eastern hog-nosed snake is a non-venomous snake species spread throughout the eastern and central United States. These crawlers prefer open habitats such as grasslands, meadows, and sandy areas and can also inhabit wooded areas and wetlands along the edges.
The eastern hog-nosed snake has a distinctive appearance, with a flattened, upturned snout and a patterned body that ranges from tan to gray in color. They have keeled scales for a rough skin texture, and their average length ranges from 2 to 3 feet or even slightly more at times. These snakes have stocky bodies and slightly flat but pointed heads, giving them a peculiar and unexpected appearance.
The snake specializes in hunting and eating amphibians such as frogs and toads. They may also eat small rodents, birds, and other small prey if their primary food isn’t available. These snakes are skilled hunters that rely on looking for their prey actively. They do so by using their upturned snout to burrow in the soil and locate their meals with the help of their olfactory senses.
These snakes are known for their defensive behavior, which includes hissing loudly, inflating their body, and playing dead, but they can’t really cause any real harm to humans. They’re not venomous, so it’s all for show, hoping that you will leave them alone. Which you should.
7. Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake
This next one is not for show, though. Eastern Massasauga rattlesnake is a venomous snake species that you can find throughout the United States and parts of Canada. These snakes prefer wetland habitats, such as marshes, swamps, and bogs, and may also be found in adjacent upland areas. They may sometimes come close to human settlements, and we all know what that leads to.
Massasauga rattlesnakes have a distinctive appearance, with brownish-gray bodies and dark brown or black bands running across their back. They have triangular-shaped heads with powerful jaws and distinctive heat pits located between their nostrils and the eyes. These provide the Snake with Predator-like capabilities, as they are able to detect their prey in thermal vision. They also have a small, rattling tail that they use to warn potential predators, and you should take the warning seriously because these snakes don’t play around.
The Massasauga rattlesnake’s diet plan consists primarily of small prey such as mice, voles, and other small rodents. The primary hunting method relies on stealth and camouflage, combined with a lethal bite. Animals have no chance of escaping once the venom has been injected into their bloodstream.
These reptiles are relatively docile and will usually attempt to avoid humans if possible. However, if they feel threatened, they may rattle their tail and strike defensively, which isn’t the ideal scenario for you or the snake. Because of it, the snake may not be able to eat until the venom glands replenish the lost venom, while you simply risk dying. Which is noticeably worse.
While they may be venomous and potentially dangerous to humans, these rattlesnakes play a critical role in the food chain as both predator and prey. So, it’s best to leave them undisturbed.
8. Eastern Milk Snake
The Eastern milk snake is a non-venomous and rather confusing snake species found throughout much of North America, from Canada to Central America. These snakes prefer a variety of habitats, including forests, fields, and rocky areas, and can often be found near bodies of water with a variety of hiding places and hunting grounds available.
This snake has a not-so-distinctive appearance, with a patterned body that ranges from tan to gray to orange to red in color, with dark brown or black bands or blotches. They have smooth scales, and their average length ranges from 2-4 feet. The reason why I said milk snakes are confusing is that orange and red specimens are often mistaken for corn or coral snakes. This is thought to be intentional, at least with regard to coral snakes, which are venomous, while milk snakes are not.
Milk snakes eat primarily small prey such as rodents, birds, and other small animals. They prefer to stick to small animals, which they can subdue and consume with ease, but won’t refuse any meal if it presents itself.
These snakes are primarily nocturnal and prefer to hide under rocks, logs, or leaf litter during the day. They are not aggressive and will generally flee if they feel any danger nearby, although they may vibrate their tails and hiss as a warning first. This is quite a resourceful and intelligent species, which is why it’s so popular in the pet trade.
9. Northern Red-Bellied Snake
This reptile is among the smallest on today’s list, only capable of reaching 12 inches in length. Northern red-bellied snakes are small and colorful and are usually found in the northeastern and midwestern regions of North America. Here, they inhabit moist habitats, such as wetlands, meadows, and forests, as well as suburban areas, so long as they provide excellent hunting opportunities as well as security.
The Northern red-bellied snake has a distinct appearance, with a red belly and black or dark brown back, sometimes covered with lighter-colored spots. They have smooth scales, and their average length ranges from 8 to 10 inches, with some going slightly above that.
The small reptile feeds primarily on small invertebrates such as earthworms, snails, and slugs. They may also eat small amphibians, such as frogs and salamanders, if given a chance, but only larger adults can achieve this feat.
These diurnal snakes are often found hiding under rocks, logs, or leaf litter and may be seen basking in the sun at times as well. They are relatively docile and will generally flee if they feel threatened, with biting being the last resort. They are not venomous and have small jaws that can only deliver mild bites, so they pose no danger to humans.
10. Northern Ribbon Snake
This species is a close cousin of the garter snake, at least in appearance. The Northern ribbon snake is a small and slender species found in the northeastern and north-central regions of North America. The preferred habitats include ecosystems close to various water sources. Think wetlands, streams, marshes, and adjacent upland areas, preferably with a lot of vegetation around.
If you know what the garter snake looks like, you already know what to expect here as well. This medium-sized reptile comes with a long and slender body that ranges from greenish-gray to brown in color. The snake has a distinctive white or yellow stripe that runs down the length of its body, bordered by narrower stripes. They have smooth scales and range in length between 18 and 32 inches.
The ribbon snake eats primarily small prey such as insects, spiders, and other invertebrates, but may also occasionally consume amphibians, such as frogs and salamanders. They tend to eat more often than other snakes because their prey is small with a low calorie input.
These diurnal reptiles are often found basking in the sun near water or along the edges of wetlands. They are relatively docile and will generally flee if they feel threatened, although they may vibrate their tails and hiss menacingly first. Because of their small size, they can’t inflict any meaningful damage on humans, so you shouldn’t consider them a danger.
11. Northern Ring-Necked Snake
This is another small and cute crawler that’s highly recognizable and widespread throughout North America. These snakes prefer habitats with moist soils, such as woodlands, fields, and wetlands, and prefer to spend their time under logs, rocks, or leaf litter.
The Northern ring-necked snake has a distinct appearance, with a black or dark gray back and a bright yellow or orange ring around its neck. It also possesses smooth scales and spans in length from 10 to 15 inches. These snakes have slender bodies and pointy heads that are as wide as the rest of the body.
These snakes eat primarily small invertebrates, such as earthworms and slugs, but can also indulge in small amphibians, such as frogs and salamanders. These are active hunters that rely on their agility to secure and consume their prey relatively fast.
The ring-necked snake is primarily nocturnal and is most active at night, usually found hiding under logs, rocks, or leaf litter during the day. These are docile and reclusive animals that prefer to live in solitude and avoid humans as much as possible. So, you have nothing to fear them.
12. Northern Water Snake
This is a non-venomous and generally harmless snake species found in the eastern and central regions of North America. These distinct snakes prefer habitats near water, such as streams, rivers, and ponds, as they prefer aquatic environments for exploration and hunting.
The snake is fairly distinctive, with a patterned body that ranges from brown to black in color and displays reddish or grayish-brown blotches or bands. They have keeled scales, which give their skin a rough texture and come with average lengths of 2 to 4 feet. These reptiles have stocky bodies and slightly larger heads with powerful jaws.
Northern water snake eats primarily fish, although they may also hunt other aquatic prey such as frogs, crayfish, and other snakes. They are skilled hunters and may stalk their prey underwater, using their strong jaws to grip, kill, and swallow their prey whole.
Behaviorally, the Northern water snake is diurnal, so it’s most active during the day. They are often found swimming or basking on rocks or logs near the water’s edge, where they only spend little time before going back into the water. They are also non-aggressive, so they’re unlikely to cause any harm to an adult.
13. Queen Snake
The queen snake is a non-venomous snake species found in the eastern United States throughout habitats like streams, rivers, ponds, and a variety of other aquatic ecosystems. They are reclusive and fairly bland in appearance, but quite recognizable overall.
The queen snake has a distinctive appearance, with a patterned body that ranges from grayish-brown to olive-green in color, with distinctive light-colored stripes running along its underbelly. They have smooth scales and can reach up to 25 inches at most. Most specimens have very thick bodies with slender necks and small heads.
This species consumes primarily crayfish, which they capture by stalking and seizing with their sharp teeth. They are skilled and adaptable hunters, though, and may eat other aquatic prey such as fish, tadpoles, and even other reptiles.
These are generally docile and friendly reptiles, but they prefer to avoid human contact, despite their overall easygoing behavior. They are also rather feral, so they’re not exactly pet material.
14. Smooth Green Snake
The smooth green snake is a non-venomous snake species found in the central and eastern regions of North America. These snakes are popular in habitats with moist soils, such as woodlands, fields, and wetlands, and can often be found hiding under logs, rocks, or leaf litter.
This snake looks exactly as its name suggests it does. The reptile has a distinctive appearance, with a bright green back and a yellow or cream-colored belly. Some specimens are entirely green, just of different shades. They have smooth scales, and their average length ranges from 16 to 26 inches. They also have very small heads with big black eyes for a plus of personality. They should be fairly easy to identify thanks to their simple, yet noticeable appearance.
Smooth green snakes consume small invertebrates such as insects and spiders for the most part but won’t refuse small frogs, lizards, and other small prey, either. Because of their small size, these reptiles can’t hunt large prey, but they don’t need to. They are quite experienced hunters that rely on speed and agility to secure their meals; they don’t mind hunting and eating several times per day in some cases.
Few snakes are as elusive and reclusive as this one. They don’t wait to identify the danger coming their way; instead, they will flee the scene immediately to keep the risk at a minimum. So, you’ll have difficulties spotting or getting close to one in the wild.
15. Eastern Fox Snake
The Eastern fox snake is a non-venomous species found primarily in the Great Lakes region of North America. These snakes prefer habitats with open fields, wetlands, and woodlands and can often be found near rocky areas or water-rich ecosystems.
The snake has a yellowish-tan to brown body with large, dark brown or black blotches. They also showcase keeled scales for a rougher texture and average from 3 to 5 feet in length. The snake’s body markings remind of those covering rattlesnakes, often causing people to mistake one for the other. The 2 species bear many differences, the most noticeable one being the head shape. Fox snakes have small and narrow heads, while rattlesnakes have large, triangle-shaped heads with powerful jaw muscles.
The Eastern fox snake’s diet consists primarily of small mammals, such as mice and voles, as well as birds, eggs, and other small prey. They are very skilled and experienced hunters that often search for prey actively in their habitat.
This diurnal reptile prefers to explore its ecosystem and bask in the sunlight for most of the day and qualifies as a generally peaceful and docile animal. However, they can become aggressive and even attack if they feel trapped or threatened directly. And just because they’re not venomous doesn’t mean that their bites are completely harmless, so watch your steps!
16. Gray Rat Snake
The gray rat snake is another rattlesnake impostor that can fool you with its confusing appearance. This is a non-venomous snake species found in the eastern and central regions of North America, thriving on open fields, rocky areas, and woodlands, as well as near various water sources.
The rat snake’s gray or brownish-gray body comes with large, dark brown or black blotches or bands, causing the reptile to resemble a second-hand rattlesnake. They also have keeled scales and vary in length between 3 and 7 feet, so they’re fairly large. Interestingly, the snake also has a wide head, typically triangle-shaped, which also reminds of a venomous species. It’s the round pupils and the lack of venomous fangs that give it away, though.
As the name suggests, the gray rat snake consumes primarily rodents, such as mice and rats, as well as other small mammals, birds, and eggs. They are active and powerful hunters and typically rely on jaw strength to kill and incapacitate their prey.
Gray rat snakes are primarily diurnal and are often spotted basking in the sun or hiding under logs or rocks during their active hours. These snakes are relatively docile and will generally flee if they feel threatened but can turn defensive if cornered or provoked.
17. Kirtland’s Snake
Kirtland’s snake is a small, non-venomous snake species that’s only found in a limited range in the midwestern United States. These snakes prefer habitats near water, such as wet prairies, marshes, and bogs, where they keep a low profile and are rarely spotted in the open.
The reptile has a unique and distinct appearance, with a reddish-brown body and three yellow stripes that run along its body, separated by black stripes. They have smooth scales and can reach up to 18 inches at most, although most individuals won’t go past 14.
Kirtland’s snakes consume mostly earthworms, slugs, snails, and, occasionally, small insects, especially as juveniles. You won’t have the opportunity to observe this one hunting in the wild, though, due to its rarity and reclusive lifestyle.
Kirtland’s snake is primarily nocturnal and is most active at night, which is when it performs most of its activities. They prefer to hide under rocks, logs, or debris during the day to digest their food and avoid predators. These snakes are docile and will flee if they feel threatened, so you should give them space on the off-chance that you actually encounter them in the wild.
Kirtland’s snakes are a rare and threatened species due to habitat loss and degradation. Conservation efforts have been initiated to protect their habitat and preserve the population, but you also need to do your due diligence and avoid harming or capturing them.
18. Western Fox Snake
There are very few differences between Eastern and Western fox snakes because they’re basically the same species, with only minor variations. This is a non-venomous snake species found in the central and western regions of North America that also inhabits open fields, prairies, and woodlands.
The Western fox snake showcases a yellowish-tan to brown body with large, dark brown or black blotches. They have keeled scales and can span up to 5 feet, just like their Eastern counterparts. These snakes also mimic the appearance of the rattlesnake and look very similar to the Easter fox snakes, making it difficult for a casual to identify them correctly.
The snake’s diet consists primarily of small mammals, typically rodents, as well as birds, eggs, and small reptiles. The primary hunting method is the sit-and-wait routine, combined with the ability to strike fast and kill and consume the prey in a similar manner.
These snakes are generally elusive and docile, but you should keep your distance anyway, especially if you’re not sure of the animal’s species. You may actually mistake a juvenile rattlesnake for a fox snake, which can lead to some unpleasant outcomes, as you may suspect.
The conclusion one could draw from today’s list is that Michigan has a fair share of reptiles, most of which are relatively harmless. But then you have the ominous rattlesnakes here and there to balance things a bit. So, always watch your surroundings and, as a general rule, start with the premise that every snake you encounter is a venomous species.