Tennessee is a state with a wide ecosystem to host both terrestrial and aquatic snake species. Both venomous and non-venomous snakes can be found here, just as in the rest of the country.
As always, it’s best to stay clear of all snakes. Some in the state such as Cottonmouths are known to be particularly dangerous by being very aggressive. Others aren’t venomous and they even play dead in the hopes people or other animals will move on without confrontation.
Are There Venomous Snakes in Tennessee?
There are 4 species of venomous snakes in Tennessee. Rattlesnakes, Coral snakes, Cottonmouths, and Copperheads are all venomous species found in the state.
These snakes can eventually kill a person. People need medical attention whenever these snakes bite as some of them have hemotoxic venom.
Types of Snakes in Tennessee – Identification Guide
The following species of venomous and non-venomous snakes are most common in Tennessee.
1. Gray Ratsnake
Scientific name: Pantherophis slides
Common name: Gray ratsnake
Gray Ratsnakes are the most common snake species in Tennessee. These snakes are identified by a gray body with dark gray square blotches and a light gray underside.
Gray Ratsnakes aren’t known to be venomous. However, they have higher levels of aggression compared to other non-venomous species in the state.
Snakes of this genus are known to grow to a size between 42 and 72in, which means their bite can be painful, even if without venom.
Known to live around forests, this species feeds on rats and frogs. Most of this small prey is swallowed directly.
2. Common Watersnake
Scientific name: Nerodia sipedon
Common name: Common watersnake
This blotched snake is the most common water snake in Tennessee. Its appearance and habitat make some people confuse the species with venomous Cottonmouths.
One of the easiest methods to distinguish Common watersnakes from Cottonmouths is by their coloring. Common watersnakes have blotches while Cottonmouths have bands.
Common watersnakes are known to come in gray, brown, or tan coloring. Snakes of this species grow between 24 and 55 inches being very similar to Gray Ratsnakes size-wise.
Live snakes are born by Common watersnakes. The species give birth starting in April. They continue to give birth to young snakes until mid-summer.
The species is known to exhibit size differences between the genders. Females need to carry live snakes and are generally known to be larger.
3. Common Garter Snake
Scientific name: Thamnophis sirtalis
Common name: Common garter snake
Common Gartner snakes are the most common thin-bodies snakes in Tennessee. The species is known for growing up to 53 inches but with a thin body, these snakes are rather small and often subject to predation.
The Common Garter Snake is an adaptable species. It lives in woodlands, forests, marshes, and next to the water. It likes to eat snails, crayfish, and other types of insects in these environments.
A common snake in the state, the Common Garter snake is known to be more resilient than other species with better thermoregulation which allows it to be very active during the day.
Common Garter snakes enter hibernation at the end of October. They only begin to be active again at the beginning of March.
4. Ring-necked Snake
Scientific name: Diadophis punctatus
Common name: Ring-necked snake, ringneck snake
The Ring-necked snake is one of the smallest common species in the state. These snakes are known to grow up to 14 inches and they can be found in various habitats.
Ring-necked snakes are known to live in hardwood forests. They are often seen in areas with pine trees.
Stumbling upon one of these snakes isn’t that easy in Tennessee since the snakes are nocturnal.
Their reduced size often makes them a target for predators. This is why Ring-necked snakes have tacts to defend themselves.
Curling is one of these tactics. Snakes of the genus are also known to roll over to exhibit their colorful (typically orange) underbellies which might make them seem poisonous to some predators.
Ring-necked snakes can also release foul smells to keep all types of predators away.
5. Black Kingsnake
Scientific name: Lampropeltis nigra
Common name: Black kingsnake
The Black kingsnake is one of the common black species in Tennessee. Snakes of this genus are often confused with venomous species, especially due to their large size.
Black Kingsnakes are known to grow up to 4 feet, which makes them one of the largest common species in the state.
You can identify these snakes by their black bodies with yellow spots.
Black Kingsnakes are found in habitats such as forests, farmland, and even in suburban areas where they look for food.
The snakes are very adaptable and not afraid to confront some of the most feared predator snakes in the state. Black Kingsnakes are known to be even immune to the venom of other venomous snakes.
6. Eastern Copperhead
Scientific name: Agkistrodon contortrix
Common name: Eastern copperhead
The Eastern Copperhead is the most common venomous snake species in Tennessee. Snakes of the genus are recognized by their triangular all-brown heads.
Eastern Copperheads grow to a size between 24 and 40 inches. They typically have a tan body color with dark brown bands that are shaped like hourglasses.
These snakes are known to be opportunistic in their feeding habits. While they can be active during the day, these snakes are also known to come out in the evening and the first part of the night to feed.
Not as aggressive as other venomous snakes Eastern Copperheads aren’t deadly to people in most cases.
They only tend to bite when handled or threatened.
7. Dekay’s Brownsnake
Scientific name: Storeria dekayi
Common name: De Kay’s brown snake, De Kay’s snake, Dekay’s brownsnake, brown snake
These are some of the smallest snakes in the state. They grow up to 13 inches but are rarely seen in size above 10 inches in Tennessee.
Snakes of the genus get their name from the colors of their bodies. They have a brown dorsal and a tan underbelly.
Short and narrow-bodied, these snakes hider under leaves in forests during the day.
Generally afraid of people, they only come out to look for food. Soft-bodied food is preferred by the species.
Earthworms are their easiest food source as they are found in high numbers in woodlands.
8. North American Racer
Scientific name: Coluber constrictor
Comon name: North American racer, Eastern racer
North American Racers are long slender snakes. They grow up to 54 inches but are known for their thin black bodies.
Snakes of the genus live in all types of dryland locations. This also means they eat all types of prey.
Some of the favorite North American Racer prey includes small mammals and bird eggs.
Snakes of this genus immediately try to escape when seeing people.
They only bite when handled or when cornered. No warning sign can be distinguished apart from wiggling their tails.
North American Racers aren’t venomous.
9. Timber Rattlesnake
Scientific name: Crotalus horridus
Common name: Timber rattlesnake, canebrake rattlesnake, banded rattlesnake
Timber Rattlesnakes are a venomous species found at low and high altitudes both on dry land and next to water sources.
These snakes grow up to 60 inches and they have a brown coloring, albeit other colors such as black are also common for the species.
Snakes of this type aren’t particularly interested in biting people. However, they don’t hesitate to deliver a venomous bite if provoked.
Timber Rattlesnakes are known for living long lives. The species is known to reach sexual maturity after 2-3 years when they begin to mate.
They might be seen in forests and open land seeking rabbits or other rodents such as squirrels.
10. Pygmy Rattlesnake
Scientific name: Sistrurus miliarius
Common name: Pygmy rattlesnake, ground rattlesnake, hog-nosed rattlesnake, little rattlesnake, miliar(y) rattlesnake, North American smaller rattlesnake, oak-leaf rattler, pygmy ground rattlesnake, small rattlesnake, Southeastern ground rattlesnake, Southern ground rattlesnake, Southern pygmy rattlesnake, spotted rattler, spotted rattlesnake, Southern rattlesnake
These snakes are known for having 3 rows or lateral spots and for growing up to 22 inches.
Pygmy Rattlesnakes come in multiple colors and color combinations such as gray, brown, and orange.
They are known for delivering venomous bites although seeing one from a short distance isn’t always easy.
3 subspecies of Pygmy Rattlesnake are found in the state and some may live next to the water while others away from water.
All subspecies are known to be very good at looking for food. They ambush small mammals and lizards effortlessly.
11. Rough Greensnake
Scientific name: Opheodrys aestivus
Common name: Rough greensnake, grass snake, green grass snake
The Rough Greesnake is the most common arboreal species in Tennessee. These snakes are known for their green coloring and their body size which reaches 32 inches.
You can further identify this species by a very slender agile body which allows them to climb shrubs and trees, and handle any type of vegetation.
Rough Greensnakes aren’t keen on seeing people. They resort to making a quick escape by climbing trees or by staying motionless on the ground to make the most of their camouflaged look.
12. Northern Cottonmouth
Scientific name: Agkistrodon piscivorus
Common name: Northern cottonmouth
Northern Cottonmouths are venomous snakes with a semi-aquatic profile. They are seen in the water with most of their bodies out.
Known to grow up to 48 inches, the species of snakes is highly dangerous. Unlike other venomous snakes, Northern Cottonmouths are ready to stand their ground and bite without resorting to fleeing.
Known to be almost entirely brown, these snakes are easily distinguished by their triangular head shape.
Food preferences include birds, mammals, lizards, and many other types of juvenile snakes.
13. Banded Water Snake
Scientific name: Nerodia fasciata
Common name: Banded water snake, Southern water snake
The Banded Water snake is a species that grows to a maximum of between 24 and 48 inches in length. It can be identified by its brown-orange body albeit it also comes in numerous other colors.
This snake is known for having wide darker blotches in the middle and narrower at the sides.
Snakes of this genus are active both during the day and during the night and sightings are numerous as a result.
Banded Water snakes are always known for relaxing on overhanging vegetation above the water.
They use a higher vantage point to locate and catch small fish.
14. Diamond-backed Watersnake
Scientific name: Nerodia rhombifer
Common name: Diamond-backed watersnake
This snake species is known to resemble most other watersnakes in behavior and diet. It moves sideways with undulations to make its way through the water.
Active from April to October, the species is known to reside next to water sources such as streams, lakes, and marshes.
Snakes of the genus are primarily identified by their long bodies which can measure more than 60 inches.
Individuals of the species are known for having a dark green or a black body with a white or a yellow underbelly.
Fish and amphibians are among their favorite foods. These snakes also eat frogs and other prey specific to their aquatic environment.
15. Eastern Hog-nosed Snake
Scientific name: Heterodon platirhinos
Common name: Eastern hog-nosed snake, spreading adder
Eastern Hog-nosed snakes are seen in many colors. Gray and black Eastern Hog-nosed snakes are common.
These snakes are known for having an upward-facing snout that inspires their name.
One of the largest attributes of the species is the capacity to play dead. Snakes of this genus are normally using this defensive tactic to fend off predators.
Unlike other species that play dead, Eastern Hog-nosed snakes are also known for their capacity to regurgitate their recent meals to appear truly dead.
They defecate and remain motionless for up to a few minutes until the predator or the human in the range moves on.
16. Eastern Milksnake
Scientific name: Lampropeltis triangulum
Common name: Eastern Milksnake, milk snake, milksnake
Eastern Milksnakes are common on farmland and crops. These snakes are tricolored with gray and red coloring alongside brown or black.
Popular belief used to promote the idea Milksnakes were interested in drinking cow’s milk, mainly due to their occurrence next to barns and on crops.
But these snakes cannot digest milk and they’re interested in rodents and eggs of birds found on farms.
Eastern Milksnakes are some of the longest snakes in Tennessee. While most measure about 2 feet, it’s not uncommon to find snakes of this genus that grow up to 3.5 feet.
17. Ribbon Snake
Scientific name: Thamnophis saurita
Common name: Ribbon snake
The Ribbon snake species gets its name from its long ribbons. These are snakes commonly found in the Southern US and Tennessee.
Slender with a narrow head, these snakes grow to a maximum length between 16 and 28 inches.
The species is semi-aquatic with adaptation to water as well as to the terrestrial living.
Green ribbon coloring allows this species to maintain camouflage and catch small fish as well as reptiles around streams, ponds, and lakes.
18. Eastern Worm Snake
Scientific name: Carphophis amoenus
Common name: Eastern worm snake
The Eastern Worm snake gets its name from its small worm-like body as well as from its diet which mainly consists of worms.
Eastern Worm Snakes are fossorial. These dark-colored dorsal and bright-colored underbelly snakes are known to live underground.
Their narrow body is known to only grow up to 11 inches.
As fossorial snakes, Eastern Worm snakes make their way underground by digging or by squeezing through cracks and crevices.
They mostly feed on worms they find underground.
Female snakes don’t bear live young but they lay clusters of 12 eggs at a time after mating.
19. Northern Red-bellied Snake
Scientific name: Storeria occipitomaculata
Common name: Northern Red-bellied Snake, redbelly snake, red-bellied snake
The Northern Red-bellied snake is part of a group of small woodland snakes that live under leaves or on the ground.
Snakes of this species are thin and short. They grow to a size between 4 and 11 inches.
Northern Red-bellied snakes are identified by their bright red underbelly. These are the only woodland snakes with a red underbelly in Tennessee.
Most of these snakes are found hiding under leaves and rocks. They live secretive lives and might not be seen by people at all.
Once they reach the age of 3 Northern Red-bellied snakes are mature for reproduction.
Female Northern Red-bellied snakes give birth to multiple live young snakes.
20. Northern Pinesnake
Scientific name: Pituophis melanoleucus
Common name: Northern pinesnake, pine snake
Northern Pinesankes are some of the largest burrowing snakes in the state. Snakes of this genus grow to a size of up to 66 inches.
As their name suggests, these snakes live in forests. They like all forests, particularly pine forests.
Just like other snake species, Northern Pinesnakes are known to live multiple years.
They differ in mating habits, on the other hand. Female Northern Pinesnakes are known to lay eggs together.
Females lay some of the largest snake eggs in the country.
Both juveniles and adults may sometimes be seen in abandoned fields and in sandy soils where they can burrow easily.
21. Plain-bellied Watersnake
Scientific name: Nerodia erythrogaster
Common name: Plain-bellied water snake, plainbelly water snake
Plain-bellied Watersnakes are semi-aquatic species that like to live in temporary wetlands such as marshes.
These high humidity areas are preferred due to being the place where they find many amphibians.
Snakes of this genus get their names from the pink-red underbelly and a dark gray dorsal.
Plain-bellied watersnakes grow to a maximum length between 30 and 48 inches.
Studies show these are mobile snakes. They move from one wetland to another whenever they cannot find food.
As many as 9 wetlands can be visited by Plain-bellied watersnake per season.
Most people see these snakes basking in the sun or crossing roads.
Scientific name: Regina septemvittata
Common name: Banded water snake, brown queen snake, diamond-back water snake, leather snake, moon snake, North American seven-banded snake, olive water snake, pale snake, queen water snake, seven-striped water snake, striped water snake, three-striped water snake, willow snake, yellow-bellied snake, queensnake
Queesnakes are some of the most common aquatic species in Tennessee. These snakes are identified by 2 white or off-white lines that run along their body.
Snakes of this genus are shorter than other similar species. They only grow to an average length of 25 inches.
Snakes of the genus are primarily found in aquatic areas with crayfish. They feed almost exclusively on crayfish.
Queensnakes prefer soft crayfish or younger crayfish to hard-bodied mature crayfish.
Female Queesnakes give birth to live young in the summer. Up to 23 young snakes are born from a single female per mating season.
23. Corn Snake
Scientific name: Pantherophis guttatus
Common name: Corn snake
Corn snakes are identified by their brown and red coloring. These snakes grow to a maximum length between 30 and 48 inches.
High altitude exposed terrains and woodlands are among the favorite habitats for this species. They are known to prefer living at higher altitudes in areas with plenty of mammals and mammal burrows.
Corn snakes can climb. They’re often seen going up trees.
Many people only see these snakes on farms, crops, or even in suburban areas.
They are mostly chasing rodents found around barns and homes. Corn snakes are found hiding behind chopped wood, under logs and dead trees, or leaves.
Summertime nights are the best time to find one of these snakes they switch their diurnal activity to a nocturnal profile to hide from the summer sun and to hunt nocturnal prey.
24. Rough Earthsnake
Scientific name: Haldea striatula
Common name: Brown ground snake, brown snake, ground snake, little brown snake, little striped snake, small brown viper, small-eyed brown snake, Southern ground snake, striated viper, worm snake, rough earthsnake
The Rough Earthsnake is a common sight in forests with cover such as leaves, bushes, and vegetation.
These are some of the smallest snakes in the state as they grow up to 10 inches. Identification is based on their red, gray, or green uniform color.
Non-venomous and generally afraid of people, Rough Earthsnakes are known to feed on earthworms.
Females are known for giving birth to live young snakes. Up to 10 young Rough Earthsnakes are born by females in the summer.
25. Scarlet Kingsnake
Scientific name: Lampropeltis elapsoides
Common name: Scarlet kingsnake
The Scarlet Kingsnake is identified by its red, black, and yellow body. This small-head snake species is known to inhabit pineland.
However, seeing Scarlet Kingsnakes isn’t easy as the species is secretive. They spend most time hiding under logs or other debris.
Scarlet Kingsnakes should not be handled. These snakes aren’t venomous and dangerous but they can still painfully bite.
Snakes of this genus always bite those handling them directly.
Scarlet Kingsnakes are known for eating lizards. They can also eat the juvenile snakes of other species along with amphibians.
Scientific name: Cemophora coccinea
Common name: Scarletsnake
The Scarletsnake is a species that mostly grows to 20 inches.
These snakes are nocturnal and secretive. Mostly unseen during the day, they prefer to hide under rocks, logs, or leaves on the ground.
They come out at night looking for eggs. Adapted teeth allow Scarletsnakes to feed on some of the largest eggs they can find.
The eggs of lizards and even the eggs of other snakes are eaten by Scarletsnakes.
Female Scarletsnakes are also known for laying eggs. They can lay anywhere between 2 and 9 eggs in the summer.
27. Smooth Earthsnake
Scientific name: Virginia valeriae
Common name: Smooth earthsnake
The Smooth Earthsnakes gets its name from its smooth scales that help it make its way underground. As a fossorial species, the Smooth Earthsnake is known to spend most of its life under rocks, logs, and in loose soil.
Smooth Earthsnakes grow to a maximum length between 7 and 11 inches. They have a small pointed head that helps them dig and move through leaves.
As they have a reduced size these snakes are mostly known for having a limited diet.
They only consume earthworms and insects. However, they prefer soft insects to hard-shell insects.
People can see these snakes in the summer mainly by turning stones and logs where they hide during the day.
28. Southeastern Crowned Snake
Scientific name: Tantilla coronata
Common name: Southeastern crowned snake
Southern Crowned snakes are primarily identified by their yellow ring-like markings around the neck.
Snakes of this genus are rather small, growing to a size between 8 and 10 inches. They are known to live in dry woodlands. Pine woodlands are preferred by the species.
Most people cannot easily see these snakes as they prefer to hide underneath various objects such as logs.
Furthermore, these snakes are nocturnal which means they’re only active at night.
Southern Crowned snakes only look for food at night.
Preferred foods include centipedes and spiders.
These snakes are rather small and often subject to predation. They don’t bite people but they can release a bad odor to deter potential predators.
Scientific name: Farancia abacura
Common name: Mudsnake
Mudsnakes are commonly known as Hoop snakes. This nickname comes from the false belief this snake bites its tail.
Mudsnakes don’t bite their tails but they curl up in a ball to avoid predation.
As some of the most secretive snakes in Tennessee, Mudsnakes are very difficult to see. These are aquatic snakes that live in shallow bodies of water that are often overgrown with vegetation.
These snakes are identified by a red and black body as juveniles and a black-pink or black-yellow body as adults.
Spending most of their lives in water, these snakes easily find invertebrates to feed on that also live in water. This is why these snakes feed on Giant salamanders and their eggs frequently.
One of the best times to see these snakes is on rainy days when they tend to come out of their aquatic habitat more.
30. Western Ribbon Snake
Scientific name: Thamnophis proximus
Common name: Western ribbon snake
These snakes have long lines that run from head to tail. Most snakes of the genus also exhibit a light patch on top of the head.
As with other ribbon snakes, the Western Ribbon snake mostly lives in riparian zones. These are vegetation zones next to water.
As a semi-aquatic snake, the Western Ribbon snake is known for eating amphibians and fish.
Given there are sufficient food abundances these snakes can grow up to 2 feet.
Snakes of the genus can be seen on vegetation overhanging water. They are seen laying on branches and waiting for fish to come within close range to jump in the water for food.
31. Yellow-bellied Kingsnake
Scientific name: Lampropeltis calligaster
Common name: Prairie kingsnake, yellow-bellied kingsnake
Yellow-bellied Kingsnakes are common and not protected in Tennessee. These snakes are known as adaptable and they can handle changes in their habitat better than other species.
Snakes of this genus are known for living in different habitats such as prairies, suburban areas, and crops.
Yellow-bellied Kingsnakes are known for their red and black coloring that stands out in the natural habitat.
Mice and lizards are commonly eaten by Yellow-bellied Kingsnakes. This species also eats juveniles of other snakes.
Scientific name: Masticophis flagellum
Common name: Coachwhip, whip snake
Coachwhips are some of the largest snakes in Tennessee. This species is known for its long thick body that often measures up to 8 feet.
This large body doesn’t stop Coachwhips from being one of the fastest snake species in Tennessee.
Snakes of this genus are known to have an almost black head. This coloring fades towards the tip of the tail which might be white.
This gradual discoloration and its large size make for easy identification.
Coachwhips are some of the snakes that are easiest to see in Tennessee as they are diurnal and like to come out in the summer.
They only go back to rest in burrows at night.
Coachwhips are also known to be present at various altitudes and in various habitats.
They are known to feed on insects, lizards, and other snakes.
33. Mississippi Green Watersnake
Scientific name: Nerodia cyclopion
Common name: Mississippi green watersnake
These dark green snakes are known for their high aggressiveness. Mississippi Green Watersnakes always bite when cornered.
Even juvenile Mississippi Green Watersnakes are known to bite.
This species is highly aquatic living and looking for food next to slow-moving waters.
Most snakes of this genus are known for making a quick escape into the water when seeing people.
They only resort to biting whenever a quick escape isn’t possible.
Known to grow up to 55 inches, these snakes don’t use constriction. They swallow prey such as fish alive.
34. Speckled Kingsnake
Scientific name: Lampropeltis holbrooki
Common name: Speckled kingsnake
The speckled Kingsnake is a species known for its wetland preferences. It prefers swamps and riparian zones to a larger extent compared to other Kingsnakes.
Identification is based on its speckled body. The snake has dark and yellow speckles and it grows up to 48 inches.
Frogs, fish, and even mammals are frequently eaten by this species.
Like many aquatic species, the Speckled Kingsnake has an aggressive nature and many defensive mechanisms.
It’s known to shake its tail similarly to rattlesnakes. This snake also uses bad odors to deter potential predators.
While not venomous, the snake can still bite people.
Its attacking tactics are mainly based on constriction. It uses force to constrict prey and prevent it from escaping until it consumes it.
35. Eastern Kingsnake
Scientific name: Lampropeltis getula
Common name: Eastern kingsnake, common kingsnake, chain kingsnake
Eastern Kingsnakes are some of the strongest constrictor snakes in Tennessee. These are known to efficiently constrict mammals and other prey.
These snakes aren’t as aggressive as other constrictors. Eastern Kingsnakes are often seen as a good choice as a snake pit.
Identified by an almost entirely black body, Eastern Kingsnakes grow to a maximum size between 36 and 48 inches.
These snakes are also known for being active during the day. The best time to see an Eastern Kingsnake is early in the morning.
This snake returns to burrows in the evening.
It’s often confused with a venomous snake species as it’s known for living in the same place as pit viper snakes such as venomous Cottonmouths and Rattlesnakes.
Eastern Kingsnakes are most common in forests.