Description: A large shiny black snake with a white chin and throat. Young rat snakes are patterned with dark blotches on a gray background, and traces of this juvenile coloration are often visible in adult specimens. This is Michigan's largest snake. Adult length: 3.5 to 8 feet.
Habitat and Habits: Rat snakes live in or near woodlands, often near water. They climb well, and often enter barns and abandoned buildings in search of rodents, a favorite food. When approached they may hold perfectly still, perhaps trying to escape notice. If cornered or grabbed these snakes may hiss and strike, but are non venomous and harmless to humans.
Reproduction: In early summer the females deposit 6 to 24 eggs under rotted wood or other cover. The young hatch in about 60 days.
Range and Status: Black Rat Snakes occur in the southern half of the Lower Peninsula, but are rare and declining. They are listed as a "species of special concern" by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, and are protected by state law.
Description: A large gray or blue snake with smooth scales. The head is usually darker than the body, though the chin and throat are white. The belly is light blue or white. Young racers are grayish, with a pattern of darker blotches and spots. Adult length: 4 to 6 feet.
Habitat and Habits: Racers inhabit a variety of places, including open woods, meadows, hedge rows, marshes, and weedy lake edges. They are alert, active snakes that may climb into low bushes to escape enemies. These snakes feed on rodents, frogs, smaller snakes, birds, and insects. Although they will bite if cornered or grabbed, racers are not venomous.
Reproduction: Females lay 6 to 25 eggs in rotting wood or underground during June and July. The young racers hatch in late summer and, as noted above, are colored differently than the adults.
Range and Status: Racers have been found through most of the Lower Peninsula (except the northernmost sections) and the southern tip of the Upper Peninsula. Once common, their numbers have fallen in many places. Needless persecution by humans as well as habitat loss are probable factors in this decline.
Description: A small brown or gray snake with a light stripe down the back bordered by black dots. These dots may join to form crossbars. The belly is white, cream, or pinkish in color. Adult length: 9 to 15 inches.
Habitat and Habits: Brown snakes may turn up in a variety of places, including old fields, vacant city lots, marshes, and woodlands. These shy little animals are rarely seen in the open, and spend much time under objects or underground. They feed on earthworms and slugs.
Reproduction: Females produce litters of 5 to 27 young in summer. The tiny (3.5 to 4.5 inch long) snakes are black or gray with a yellow "collar" around the neck.
Range and Status: Found throughout the Lower Peninsula and the southern tip of the Upper Peninsula, brown snakes can be common even in farming and residential areas.
Description: A small black, brown, or olive snake with three distinct yellow stripes down the back and a yellowish belly. Some specimens have dark spots between the stripes. The dark head is very small. Adult length: 15 to 27 inches.
Habitat and Habits: Butler's Garter Snakes prefer moist meadows, marshes, and lake edges. They can be common in urban vacant lots where there are objects to hide under and lots of earthworms, a favorite food. When frightened, these snakes may wriggle rapidly back and forth with little forward motion.
Reproduction: Females produce litters of 4 to 19 snakes in mid summer.
Range and Status: This species is locally common in the eastern and southern Lower Peninsula.
One of the larger snakes in Michigan, the copper-bellied water snake can grow to a length of 4-5 feet. Adult snakes are easily identified by their dark brown or black back which contrasts easily with the unmarked reddish-to-orange belly and chin. The young have a blotched pattern which may remain visible in some adult specimens.
This snake is extremely rare in Michigan. Its population is so low that it is listed as an "endangered" species in Michigan. It has also recently been listed by the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service as a nationally "threatened" species.
The copper-bellied water snake prefers to live near wooded floodplains, shrub wetlands, and adjacent to slow moving rivers. As excellent swimmers, they hunt aquatic species including tadpoles, frogs, salamanders, insect larvae, and crayfish. In the spring, tadpoles seem to be especially tasty to hungry copper-bellied water snakes.
Mating takes place in May, and one to two dozen young are born in September or October. It is one of ten species of snakes that do not lay eggs but bare live young.
Habitat for the copper-bellied water snake has declined dramatically. Wetlands drainage and development in preferred habitat has limited distribution to only a few small populations. It has been found only in the southern third of the Lower Peninsula. Indiscriminate killing of snakes has also been a problem in local areas. It is listed as ENDANGERED by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and is protected by law in the state. Any sightings of adult copperbelly water snakes should be reported to the DNR Wildlife Division in Lansing. Only adults should be reported because young copperbelly water snakes are easily confused with red-bellied snakes. Any sightings should be reported to the DNR Wildlife Division in Lansing.
Keeping this species as part of Michigan's natural heritage will require protection of remaining habitat and management of lowland hardwoods. If you find a copper-bellied water snake, count yourself lucky to be one of a very few to experience this unique heritage species.
Description: A medium sized striped snake with variable coloration. Most are gray, brown, or greenish with three yellowish stripes down the back, and there may be black spots between the stripes, making the snake look "checkered". The belly is pale white, green, or yellow. The tongue is red with a black tip. Adult length: 2 to 4 feet.
Habitat and Habits: These snakes are found almost everywhere in fields, marshes, woods, parks, and backyards. They feed on earthworms, frogs, toads, tadpoles, fish, and small mammals. Like many snakes, they release a musky smelling anal secretion when threatened or handled.
Reproduction: From 6 to 50 young are born in mid to late summer. They are 5 to 9 inches long and colored like the adults.
Range and Status: This species is the most common Michigan snake. They inhabit both peninsulas and survive even in urban areas.
Description: A thick-bodied, slow-moving snake with a flattened, upturned "nose." Color is variable some have dark spots and blotches on a yellow, orange, or brown background, but other specimens are solid black, brown, or olive with little or no visible pattern. Easily identified by defensive behavior (see below). Adult length: 20 to 40 inches.
Habitat and Habits: A snake of open, sandy woodlands - found in the wooded dunes of western Michigan. The upturned snout is used to burrow after toads, a favorite food. When threatened, hognose snakes puff up with air, flatten their necks and bodies, and hiss loudly. (This has led to local names like "puff adder" or "hissing viper.") If this act is unsuccessful, they will writhe about, excrete a foul smelling musk, and then turn over with mouth agape and lie still, as though dead. Despite this intimidating behavior, Hog-nosed snakes are harmless to humans.
Reproduction: Female Hog-nosed Snakes lay from 4 to over 50 eggs in early summer, usually in an underground burrow. The young snakes hatch out about 60 days later, and are usually grayish with black blotches. Adult coloration appears as they mature. The young spread their necks and hiss immediately upon hatching.
Range and Status: Though recorded from most of the Lower Peninsula and the southern tip of the Upper Peninsula, Hog-nosed Snakes are most common in the western and northern LP. Their numbers have declined in many places, in part due to persecution by humans who mistakenly believe they are dangerous.
Michigan's only venomous snake is a rare sight for most state residents. Historically, they could be found in a variety of wetlands and nearby upland woods throughout the lower peninsula. During the late spring, these snakes move from their winter hibernation sites, such as crayfish chimneys and other small mammal burrows in swamps and marshlands, to hunt on the drier upland sites - likely in search of mice and voles, their favorite food.
Females give birth to 8 to 20 young in late summer. The young snakes have a single "button" on their tails; a new rattle segment is added at each shedding of the skin, which occurs several times per year.
The massasauga can be characterized as a shy, sluggish snake. Its thick body is colored with a pattern of dark brown slightly rectangular patches set against a light gray-to-brown background. Occasionally, this coloration can be so dark as to appear almost black. The belly is mostly black. It is the only Michigan snake with segmented rattles on the end of its tail and elliptical, ("cat like") vertical pupils in the eyes. The neck is narrow, contrasting with the wide head and body and the head appears triangular in shape. Adult length is 2 to 3 feet.
These rattlesnakes avoid confrontation with humans; they are not prone to strike - preferring to leave the area when they are threatened. Like any animal though, these snakes will protect themselves from anything they see as a potential predator. Their short fangs can easily puncture skin and they do possess a potent venom. It is best to treat them with respect and leave them alone. The few bites that occur to humans often result from attempts to handle or kill the snakes. Any bite from a massasauga should receive prompt professional medical attention. When compared to other rattlesnakes found in the United States, the massasauga is the smallest and has the least toxic venom.
Massasaugas are found throughout the Lower Peninsula, but not in the Upper Peninsula (thus there are no poisonous snakes on the Upper Peninsula mainland.) They are becoming rare in many parts of their former range, throughout the Great Lakes area, due to wetland habitat loss and persecution by humans. They are listed as a "species of special concern" by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, and are protected by state law.
Description: This is a slender, smooth scaled snake with reddish or brown blotches on a gray or tan background color. There is usually a light "Y" or "V" shaped marking just behind the head. The belly is white with a black checkerboard pattern. Adult length: 2 to 4 feet.
Habitat and Habits: Milk snakes occur in woods, fields, marshes, farmlands, and suburbs. They normally stay out of sight, often hiding under boards and trash near buildings. Despite their name, these snakes do not (and could not) milk cows, but will seek mice and rats in and around farm buildings. They also eat other reptiles. These snakes are harmless to humans, though they may vibrate their tails and bite if cornered or handled.
Reproduction: From 6 to 20 eggs are laid in June. The brightly colored young hatch in late summer.
Range and Status: Milk snakes are fairly common throughout the Lower Peninsula, but are rare in the Upper Peninsula.
Description: A large yellowish or light brown snake with dark brown or black blotches down the back and sides. The head may be reddish or orange, and the belly is yellowish, checkered with black. Two species of the fox snake occur in Michigan (see below) but their ranges do not overlap. Adult length: 3 to 5 feet.
Habitat and Habits: The Western Fox Snake (Elaphe vulpina) inhabits woods, old fields, and dune areas. The eastern form (Elaphe gloydi) prefers marshes and adjacent wet meadows. Fox snakes feed on rodents, frogs, and birds. When threatened, they may coil, vibrate their tails, and strike, but are non venomous and harmless to humans.
Reproduction: From 7 to 29 eggs are laid in early summer, usually under a log or in humus or rotted wood. The young, colored much like the adults, hatch in about 60 days.
Range and Status: The western fox snake is found in the Upper Peninsula, where it is often called a "pine snake." The eastern fox snake, of the Great Lakes marshes in the southeastern Lower Peninsula, is listed as a THREATENED species by the Michigan DNR and is protected by state law. Their numbers have been reduced by habitat destruction and, locally, by pet trade exploitation.
Description: A small reddish brown snake with four rows of black (often indistinct) blotches down its back, and a black head. The belly is pink or red with a row of black dots along each side. Adult length: 12 to 18 inches.
Habitat and Habits: Found in damp meadows, vacant lots, and open swampy woodlands. These earthworm and slug eating snakes stay underground much of the time, frequently using rodent or crayfish burrows. They flatten their bodies when threatened, but rarely bite and are completely harmless.
Reproduction: Females give birth to 5 to 8 young in late summer. Young Kirtland's snakes are about 5 or 6 inches long.
Range and Status: The few recent records for this species have been in the southern Lower Peninsula. Kirtland's Snake is listed as ENDANGERED by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, and is protected in the state. Any sightings should be reported to the DNR Wildlife Division in Lansing.
Description: A very slender black or brown snake with three bright yellow or white stripes down the back. The head is black, though the scales above and below the mouth are white. The belly is white or light yellow. Adult length: 18 to 38 inches.
Habitat and Habits: Ribbon Snakes inhabit marshes and the edges of lakes, ponds, and streams. They are very alert and active, and swim well (but rarely dive). Their diet includes frogs, tadpoles, salamanders, and small fish.
Reproduction: From 3 to 26 young are born in late summer. They are 7 to 9 inches long and colored like the adults.
Range and Status: The snake can be found throughout the Lower Peninsula, and is locally common where suitable wetland habitat exists.
Description: A water snake with dark bands or blotches on a light brown or gray background color. Some old adults may appear solid black or brown. The belly is white with reddish half moon shaped markings; some specimens have an orange belly speckled with brown or black. (The endangered Copper Bellied Water Snake has an unmarked reddish or orange belly.) Adult length: 2 to 4 feet.
Habitat and Habits: These snakes inhabit the shorelines of lakes, ponds, or streams. They swim well, seeking food (frogs and fish) and safety in the water, and often bask on objects hanging over the water. Water snakes are not venomous, but will bite if cornered or handled. They are sometimes mistakenly called "water moccasins" (which are not native to Michigan).
Reproduction: Females give birth to their 7 to 9 inch young in late summer. There are 8 to 48 babies in a litter. The young are gray or brown with bold black bands.
Range and Status: Northern water snakes are found throughout the Lower Peninsula and the eastern Upper Peninsula. Needless persecution by humans has eliminated water snakes from many places where they were once common.
Description: This is a slender gray or brown snake with a whitish or yellow stripe on each side of the body. Three narrow black stripes may be visible on the back. The light colored belly has four dark lengthwise stripes. Adult length: 15 to 36 inches.
Habitat and Habits: Queen Snakes occur in or near shallow streams, canals, or ponds, and often bask in shrubs hanging over the water. They feed mostly on crayfish.
Reproduction: From 6 to 20 young are born in late summer. The 7 to 9 inch snakes are colored like the adults but have bolder striping.
Range and Status: Queen Snakes are found in the southern two thirds of the Lower Peninsula, and are generally uncommon and local in Michigan.
Description: A very small brown or gray snake with faint stripes down its back. The belly is red, pink, or orange (without the double row of dots seen in the rare Kirtland's Snake.) Adult length: 8 to 16 inches.
Habitat and Habits: Red-bellied Snakes inhabit both fields and woods, but are most often found under boards and other objects at the edges of lumber piles or trash dumps. They feed on worms, slugs, and snails.
Reproduction: Up to 12 tiny (3 to 4 inch long) snakes are born in the summer.
Range and Status: These snakes are locally common throughout Michigan.
Description: A small black or gray, shiny scaled snake with a yellow ring around its neck. Michigan ring-neck snakes have a plain yellow belly, sometimes with a few black dots down the midline. Adult length: 10 to 24 inches.
Habitat and Habits: This snake lives in moist woodlands, usually staying hidden under logs, bark, or other objects. They feed on earthworms, salamanders, and smaller snakes.
Reproduction: Females lay from 1 to 7 eggs in rotting wood or under bark or flat rocks, usually in June. Hatching occurs in late summer.
Range and Status: Ring-necked Snakes have been recorded throughout Michigan, but are generally rare and local. They are common on some of the larger islands in Lake Michigan.
Description: A small, smooth scaled bright green snake with a whitish or yellowish belly. Young green snakes are olive, brown, or gray. An occasional adult specimen will retain the juvenile color. Adult length: 12 to 20 inches.
Habitat and Habits: These gentle little snakes are usually found in grassy places where their color makes them difficult to see. They feed on insects, caterpillars, and spiders. They rarely bite when handled, but will smear a captor's hand with a musky anal secretion.
Reproduction: Females lay from 3 to 12 tiny eggs under a rock or other cover in early summer. The young may emerge in a month or less, and reports exist of smooth green snakes retaining eggs in their bodies until hatching.
Range and Status: Smooth green snakes have been found throughout Michigan, but seem to have disappeared from much of the southern Lower Peninsula. Their insect diet may make them vulnerable to the effects of chemical pesticides.