Snakes of Chattanooga, TN

Chattanooga snake

Brown Snake
Latin name: Storeria dekayi
Size: 5 to 15 inches
Venomous: No
You may encounter the brown snake in many different habitat types across the state of Tennessee, although you might not always know that you are in close proximity to the reptile; it spends a lot of its time burrowing underground, and when it is above ground, it usually hides beneath rocks or boulders, fallen logs, piles of wood, or other types of debris and structures. Residential gardens and busy parks are just as suitable a home for this snake as the swamps, bogs, marshes and grasslands that it is known to inhabit in the wild.

Eastern Coachwhip
Latin name: Coluber flagellum flagellum
Size: 42 to 60 inches
Venomous: No
This eastern coachwhip snake is a motile species, which means that it moves around from habitat to habitat, often active first thing in the morning and then later on in the afternoon. They are known to travel great distances, even across roads and highways, and one of the biggest killers of this snake is collisions with road vehicles. Although this snake would much rather use its fast speed to flee from conflicts with bigger predators such as humans, male eastern coachwhips can be very aggressive and territorial during breeding season – mid to late summer/early fall.

Chattanooga snake Northern Copperhead
Latin name: Agkistrodon contortrix mokasen
Size: 25 to 36 inches
Venomous: Yes
The northern copperhead can be found across most of the state of Tennessee, occasionally interbreeding with the southern subspecies towards the western part of the state. It is a snake often mixed up with others, including the eastern hog-nosed snake, younger cottonmouths, and even milk snakes; being normally brown, black or gray in colour, with quite a thick body. A quick peek at the snout will tell you that this one isn't a hog-nosed snake, however; and the hourglass-shaped banding across the body also helps to identify this species.

Southern Copperhead
Latin name: Agkistrodon contortrix contortrix
Size: 25 to 36 inches
Venomous: Yes
It is in the very western areas of Tennessee that you may encounter the southern copperhead, a subspecies that has become a little tougher to identify since interbreeding with the northern subspecies. Copperheads are heavy-bodied snakes, often a rich brown in color, with darker bands that form an hourglass pattern in a much darker shade. The background color is tan or caramel brown. At times, this can look more gray. This snake likes to eat voles, mice, and other rodents. In fact, in most areas, it is believed that rodents make up more than ninety percent of its diet, meaning populations of these pests are kept down.

Red Corn Snake
Latin name: Pantherophis guttatus
Size: Up to 70 inches
Venomous: No
The corn snake, or red corn/rat snake, as it is also known in Tennessee, is a fairly common snake, non-aggressive, and one of the most popular docile snakes in the pet industry. Inhabiting a wide range of spaces along the southwest border, and also across the southern counties, you are just as likely to find this species under a boulder in your backyard as you are on rocky hillsides, woodlands, and farmland. It follows the number one food source on the menu: rats and mice. This often leads them into urban settings.

Chattanooga snake Western Cottonmouth
Latin name: Agkistrodon piscivorus leucostoma
Size: 30 to 42 inches
Venomous: Yes
This snake is also commonly called the water moccasin in the state of Tennessee, and it is usually a very dark brown, olive-brown or gray color, with some specimens almost entirely black. There is sometimes a pattern that criss-crosses the back of the snake, but this is often difficult to spot when the scales are already a dark color. This snake likes to live in murky waters, such as drainage ditches, swamps, and sloughs, but they can live quite happily close to most bodies of water and are also sometimes found along clearer rivers and streams.

Southeastern Crowned Snake
Latin name: Tantilla coronata
Size: 5 to 10 inches
Venomous: No
This snake is commonly found in both dry and damp forested and woodland habitats, and is often confused with the ring-necked snake because of the band of lighter color that separate the head and body. Eating termites, spiders, earthworms, centipedes, and beetle larvae, not an awful lot is known about this incredibly elusive snake, and even experts have a hard time tracking it down in the wild. Typically non-aggressive and slow to bite, it is non-venomous to humans, although there are venom sacks present, albeit rather small ones.

Rough Earth Snake
Latin name: Haldea striatula (Formerly known as Virginia striatula)
Size: 7 to 10 inches
Venomous: No
The rough earth snake feasts on insects, insect larvae, slugs and snails, but the number one preference is for earthworms and the snake has a pointed snout to make it easier to rummage around and dig them out of the ground. Being a fossorial snake, it spends most of its time slithering around beneath the ground, or beneath semi-permanent structures — rock piles, fallen tree logs, garden furniture, compost heaps, etc. A very shy and secretive species, it manages to hide well in areas of high human activity. It is not unusual to find a large population of them in parks, residential backyards, and similar.

Smooth Earth Snake
Latin name: Virginia valeriae
Size: 7 to 10 inches
Venomous: No
These snakes are small, slender, and well-camouflaged in the soft soils and loose leaf litter territories they inhabit, but the smooth earth snake can actually be any number of colours, from gray to brown, olive-green to almost black, and even almost red. The underbelly is usually cream, although some subspecies can see more of a yellow hue. These are found almost every across the state, in habitats that range from suburban areas to rocky hillsides, but it is more commonly to find them on the borders of woodlands, such as pinewood forests.

Common Garter Snake
Latin name: Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis
Size: 18 to 26 inches
Venomous: No
Throughout the state of Tennessee, this snake is thought to be the most common, found in a wide range of habitat types and super adaptable. It is more likely along streams, rivers, ponds, and lakes that you will find one, as well as other bodies of water — but it is very common for these snakes to stray more into human areas, such as back gardens, cemeteries, residential parks and open spaces, and farmlands. The snake eats food that it trends to find along rivers or streams, including tadpoles, frogs, toads, small fish, lizards, and earthworms (on land).

Northern Rough Green Snake
Latin name: Opheodrys aestivus aestivus
Size: 22 to 32 inches
Venomous: No
The northern rough green snake, as the name might imply, is a very green snake, although they can be more gray-green than bright green as juveniles. The underside is usually creamy-yellow, or a yellow-green color, and lighter than the rest of the body. This snake mostly inhabits areas with lots of vegetation to camouflage itself in the greenery. Territories close to water are preferred, and if tree branches hang over the water so the snake can rest and bask, all the more better. The areas around rivers, ponds, streams and lakes are preferred.

Eastern Hog-Nosed Snake
Latin name: Heterodon platirhinos
Size: 15 to 42 inches
Venomous: No (Yes, but it doesn't affect humans)
Also known as the bull adder, possum snake, hissing adder, spreading adder, and spread-head moccasin, the eastern hog-nosed snake is one that is often confused with other snakes — as you might have guessed: the water moccasin and the adder. This species is a non-venomous and relatively non-aggressive one, however; the venom it does have doesn’t affect humans (unless allergies are involved), and the rear-facing fangs of the snake also makes injecting the venom into humans quite a difficult task. This snake eats almost exclusively toads, but other amphibians and reptiles are occasionally on the menu.

Eastern Black King Snake
Latin name: Lampropeltis getula nigra
Size: 36 to 50 inches
Venomous: No
The eastern black king snake, also commonly referred to as just the black king snake, is one of a few subspecies of king snake found in the state of Tennessee. It looks very much like the common eastern king snake (the nominate subspecies), but the markings of yellow-white are slightly different, often making up bands rather than spots. They are less chain-like in appearance. All king snakes have a preference for water-based habitats, and you may come across the eastern black king snake in or around the edges of rivers, streams and other wetlands, in residential areas where ponds and streams are present, in woodlands, forests, fields, and even areas of high shrub growth.

Eastern King Snake
Latin name: Lampropeltis getula getula
Size: 36 to 50 inches
Venomous: No
Also known as the common king snake, this snake is found in the most southern areas of the state of Tennessee, where it is sometimes mixed up with gray and black rat snakes, racers, and even pine snakes. This snake is usually black in color, with a pattern that runs along and across the body that is made up of white or yellow spots, bands, or cross-bands. The markings can vary, especially from habitat to habitat, but generally, the pattern looks quite similar to a chain. One of the good things about the eastern or common king snake is that it helps to overcome other, venomous snakes in Tennessee, helping to keep populations in check.

Speckled King Snake
Latin name: Lampropeltis holbrooki
Size: 36 to 50 inches
Venomous: No
The speckled king snake can sometimes be found hiding underneath fallen logs and branches, or boulders and rocks, in hillsides that are wet, wooded, and rocky. This particular subspecies of king snake prefers moist environments than others, so it is somewhat uncommon for it to be sighted a great distance from a swamp, river, or other type of wetlands. You will need to hear into the southwestern/western territories of Tennessee to spot this particular subspecies, and it often breeds with other subspecies where the two habitats overlap, including the eastern black king snake.

Mole King Snake
Latin name: Lampropeltis calligaster rhombomaculata
Size: 30 to 42 inches
Venomous: No
In the east of Tennessee, you may encounter the mole king snake, or - as it is also known - yellow-bellied king snake. As well as being yellow-bellied (sometimes more white with a yellow tinge), there are markings on the underside of this snake that are dark and often on alternating scales. The back of the snake is normally more of a reddish-brown than its prairie king snake cousin, and there is usually a marking on the head that closely resembles an arrowhead.

Prairie King Snake
Latin name: Lampropeltis calligaster calligaster
Size: 30 to 42 inches
Venomous: No
You are unlikely to encounter a prairie king snake unless you are in central or central-west Tennessee, in habitats that are open, such as farmlands, fields, and prairie grasslands. This is where they'll find prey such as other small snakes, rats, mice, lizards, and voles, although they are adaptable and will feast on whatever it is available if these items are not. This snake is very glossy to look at and can be a variety of brown, gray, or tan colours, often with darker patches of color along the back.

Eastern Milk Snake
Latin name: Lampropeltis triangulum
Size: 24 to 52 inches
Venomous: No
This snake is a striking one to look at, often confused with the non-venomous corn snake and venomous coral snake. Bright red spots decorate a lighter gray or light brown backdrop, bordered with a black or dark brown rim, giving them an outlined look. This is a non-venomous species, and generally not to be non-aggressive. They are known to be on quite a display when threatened, however, including shaking the tail like a rattlesnake, hissing loudly, and releasing a musky fluid that drives predators away with its unpleasant scent.

Red-Bellied Mud Snake
Latin name: Farancia abacura reinwardtii
Size: 40 to 54 inches
Venomous: No
Also known as the western mud snake, the red-bellied mud snake has a bright red bellow, although it can also be pink-tinged, or with a slightly more orange hue. The top of the bottom is black, the scales are very shiny and smooth-looking, and it spends almost all of its time in or around water. This snake species eats a few specific items, amphibians mostly, and is very elusive. Sightings are rare, especially out in the open, and the water it chooses to live in is almost always quite murky.

Northern Pine Snake
Latin name: Pituophis melanoleucus melanoleucus
Size: 45 to 70 inches
Venomous: No
You will find the northern pine snake across most of the state of Tennessee with the exception of a few spots: the very central part of the state (Central Basin area), the very northernmost regions of the eastern part of the state, and parts of the west. If there is soft and sandy soils, with good drainage, and forests of hardwood trees, you've got the perfect terrain for this heavy, stout-bodied snake. This snake is primarily associated with rodents when it comes to food, but that's not the only food on the menu: they will also eat birds and bird eggs, if they come across them.

Queen Snake
Latin name: Regina septemvittata
Size: 13 to 30 inches
Venomous: No
Similar in color and appearance to the garter snake, the queen snake is commonly known by a few other names — striped water snake, olive water snake, and diamond-back water snake, to name but a few. It is a shy and elusive, semi-aquatic species that uses the water to find food (crayfish) as well as to get away from predators quickly, and it is known to inhabit just fresh water bodies with rocky bottoms. The conditions have to be perfect for the crayfish in order to be perfect for the queen snake.

Chattanooga snake Northern Black Racer
Latin name: Coluber constrictor constrictor
Size: 36 to 60 inches
Venomous: No
The North American black racer is separated into two subspecies in Tennessee, and this is just one of them: the northern black racer, found in the eastern half of the state. Juveniles of this species are usually quite light in colour — a darker gray or brown as opposed to straight black, and they can sometimes have a darker pattern along the top, too. This fades out as they age and the snake gets darker and darker until it looks almost entirely black. Because of its coloring, the black racer is commonly confused with the eastern coachwhip, which can also be entirely black, and black or gray rat snakes, too.

Southern Black Racer
Latin name: Coluber constrictor priapus
Size: 36 to 60 inches
Venomous: No
The northern black racer takes over the eastern half of the state of Tennessee, but it is replaced in the western half by this subspecies: the southern black racer. This subspecies is sighted more frequently because of its highly active nature during the day, and it is more aggressive. All black racers are known to be quite aggressive, but this one doesn't fare well when handled even after many years in captivity. This species is having a hard time against humans at present, with habitat degradation, highways, and confusion over venom-status causing population decline. It is killed unnecessarily because of its tendency to look like other venomous snakes found in the state.

Gray Rat Snake
Latin name: Pantherophis spiloides
Size: 42 to 72 inches
Venomous: No
Just as the name suggests, the gray rat snake is a snake that eats mostly rats (and other rodents), and is a black or gray color. There are often white markings in a mottled or speckled design, but they are reported to be quite a range of markings and colours dependent on the exact areas they inhabit. Following the trail of rats and mice, the gray rat snake, also known as the chicken snake (because its known to eat chickens), the midland rat snake, and the pilot black snake, often finds itself in human areas, particularly farmlands, grain storage sites, and even more rural residential zones.

Western Pygmy Rattlesnake
Latin name: Sistrurus miliarius streckeri
Size: 16 to 24 inches
Venomous: Yes
Although a very small and well-camouflaged snake, and a rare one at that, there is still a chance that you might spot the western pygmy rattlesnake in the southwestern regions of Tennessee, close to bodies of water. This can include marshes and swamps, lake edges, and floodplains, as well as dryer lands — forests, flat-woods, and sand-hills. Also known as the ground rattlesnake, southern pygmy rattlesnake, and western ground rattlesnake, this pit viper has very distinct markings that often consist of oval-shaped and irregular patches of darker brown or black over a lighter, usually gray or beige backdrop.

Chattanooga snake Timber Rattlesnake
Latin name: Crotalus horridus
Size: 36 to 60 inches
Venomous: Yes
This snake species prefers dwellings that contain their preferred foods: small mammals and rodents, birds and their eggs, fish, toads and frogs ,and other snakes, including other rattlesnakes. It is more often the case, however, that they feed on garter snakes, often hiding in wait to ambush prey as it passes by. Much like other pit viper snakes, the timber rattlesnake does not lay eggs. They are instead incubated inside the body for around six months before up to 20 juveniles are released into the wild. They are considered to be independent from that point, although many will stick around close to their mother for a few months before embarking on life on their own.

Northern Red-Bellied Snake
Latin name: Storeria occipitomaculata occipitomaculata
Size: 8 to 16 inches
Venomous: No
This snake is commonly associated with daytime activity, but heavy rains and/or hot and dry weather conditions can encourage it to come out at night. The northern red-bellied snake actually prefers cool temperatures and moist air, so commonly inhabits woodlands and the edges around them, as well as areas that are close to bodies of water. The dampness is ideal to bring in prey items — earthworms, slugs, snails, and other soft-bodied insects. Also known as the fire snake, the red-bellied snake has a bright red belly in most cases. Occasionally, the belly can be more orange or pink than red, and some species, particularly hybridized ones, can (rarely) have a pale tan or gray underbelly.

Eastern Ribbon Snake
Latin name: Thamnophis sauritus sauritus
Size: 7 to 40 inches
Venomous: No
The eastern ribbon snake is also commonly referred to as the common ribbon snake, and it is a long, thin snake, hence the ‘ribbon’ name. Usually black or very dark brown with three bright yellow stripes that run down the centre of the back of the body and along each side, humans very often get it mixed up with the garter snake. This is another non-venomous and relatively harmless species found in similar habitats — both in and out of water, but usually around streams, lakes, and other, similar wetlands.

Northern Ribbon Snake
Latin name: Thamnophis sauritus septentrionalis
Size: 18 to 26 inches
Venomous: No
The body of this snake is usually very dark, either black or dark brown; and it has a paler, often yellow-tinged underbelly. The ribbon snake is often confused with garter snakes and other species because of the stripes of lighter, brighter colours running down the length of the body. In the northern subspecies, that bright stripe is yellow. Much like other ribbon snakes, the northern subspecies eats a lot of amphibians and crustaceans, as well as eggs and occasionally small mammals.

Western Ribbon Snake
Latin name: Thamnophis proximus
Size: 17 to 50 inches
Venomous: No
The western ribbon snake can usually be found close to bodies of water, in habitats that have plenty of vegetation, such as brush, to offer protection. Around lakes, streams, and ponds is ideal — there are wide, open areas suitable for basking, plus vegetation and water to retreat to if predators come around. It will head below ground once the temperatures start to drop, hibernating until they rise again. This particular snake species eats almost entirely frogs and a few other amphibians, and it has developed quite an interesting approach to capturing them, by tricking victims with a series of head movements.

Mississippi Ring-necked Snake
Latin name: Diadophis punctatus stictogenys
Size: 10 to 15 inches
Venomous: No
In the western part of Tennessee, the northern ring-necked snake is replaced with this subspecies — the Mississippi ring-necked snake. Unlike it's northern cousin, the ring of white or creamy-yellow around the neck of this snake is broken and incomplete, and the yellow underside is also spotted. Often mixed up with the brown snake, the ring-necked snake has smooth scales, whereas the brown snake has scales that are rough to run your hand down, with raised segments, known as keeled.

Northern Ring-necked Snake
Latin name: Diadophis punctatus edwardsii
Size: 10 to 15 inches
Venomous: No
The northern ring-necked snake is the subspecies of ring-necked snake that you will find in the eastern regions of Tennessee, and it stands out from its Mississippi cousin by having a plain or almost plain underside, and also with a ring around the neck that is basically complete, without breaks. The body itself is a gray or gray-brown colour, with few, if any markings, and an underside that is yellow or creamy-white. Although quite a common species in the state, the ring-necked snake is seldom seen in the moist woodlands they inhabit. They usually hide underneath rocks, boulders, branches, logs, low-growing shrubs, underground in burrows and dens, or beneath loose leaves and other debris.

Chattanooga snake Northern Scarlet Snake
Latin name: Cemophora coccinea copei
Size: 14 to 20 inches
Venomous: No
You are unlikely to see a northern scarlet snake during the day in Tennessee; they spend pretty much all of daylight hours underground, being a fossorial species, although landowners frequently report turning over fallen logs, rock piles, leaf litter, or trash/debris and finding snakes like this one hiding underneath. Like most fossorial snakes, this one is very secretive. It backs away from fights, sometimes releasing a musky-scented fluid as a defense mechanism, and rarely bites, even when handled by humans. Although somewhat mimicking the distinct colouration of venomous snakes, such as the coral snake, you have little to fear from the northern scarlet snake.

Green Water Snake
Latin name: Nerodia cyclopion
Size: 30 to 55 inches
Venomous: No
Although a non-venomous snake, there are two things you should know about the green water snake, also known sometimes as the Florida or Mississippi water snake. Firstly, it can be very aggressive when threatened or provoked, and being a large snake, bites can be quite painful; and secondly, it looks very much the same as venomous snakes, such as cottonmouths, which live in similar bodies of water. One of the water snake’s biggest predators is man for this reason. The main color of this snake is usually green, or green-brown, and there are markings over it that don’t form a uniform pattern and are often quite dark in color.

Diamondback Water Snake
Latin name: Nerodia rhombifer
Size: 30 to 50 inches
Venomous: No
This non-venomous snake is one of the most common water snakes within the areas it inhabits, including Tennessee, where it will forage for food in slow-moving water found in rivers, streams, or swamps. It does this by using tree branches to dangle down into the water, where it snaps up fish. The diamondback water snake isn’t aggressive, but it will defend itself when threatened – and this bite is said to be very painful. Its teeth are designed to grab hold of slippery fish in the water, so they are sharp and can hold on tight.

Northern Water Snake
Latin name: Nerodia sipedon
Size: 20 to 55 inches
Venomous: No
The northern water snake is an adaptable, scavenging, usually solitary snake that is more active during the day, but can be active both during the day and night. It is actually one of the more aggressive snakes found in the state of Tennessee, easy to anger and quick to snap. Fortunately, it is not a venomous snake, but bites are still said to be quite painful. You will find this snake species in still water during the warmer months, basking in the sun. They make use of many water-based habitats, however, including marshes, swamps, bogs, lakes, streams, rivers and ponds.

Plain-Bellied Water Snake
Latin name: Nerodia erythrogaster
Size: 24 to 40 inches
Venomous: No
‘Plain-bellied water snake’ is used as a name for two previously known subspecies of the snake in Tennessee: the yellow-bellied water snake and the copper-bellied water snake. The latter is commonly found in the middle of the state, with the former more commonly inhabited southern and southwestern regions. As the name suggests, the plain-bellied water snake usually has a copper (red/orange) toned underside, or yellow-cream. The rest of the snake is usually solid in color, with no/minimal markings, usually dark red/brown/olive to black. Younger snakes tend to have darker markings, making the species difficult to properly recognize.

Southern Water Snake
Latin name: Nerodia fasciata
Size: 24 to 40 inches
Venomous: No
As the name might suggest, the southern water snake is a semi-aquatic snake species that spends most of its time either in or around bodies of freshwater. This can include ponds, streams, rivers, cypress swamps, and river sloughs. If there are overhanging branches, they can sometimes be seen basking over the water during the summer, or in open expanses of water. Being water-based snakes, the southern water snake's diet is made up of prey that is mostly found in or around water, such as tadpoles and frogs, toads, crayfish, and salamanders.

Chattanooga snake Eastern Worm Snake
Latin name: Carphophis amoenus amoenus
Size: 7 to 11 inches
Venomous: No
It is in the eastern areas of Tennessee, in the mountains, that you might spot the eastern worm snake, but it's also known to inhabit the Great Valley area, too. This is a small snake, slender, and quite shiny-looking, often the same color as an earthworm: pink, pinky-brown, or purple-brown. The underbelly is usually lighter — a paler shade of pink. This snake likes to eat earthworms, using its pointed head to find them as it burrows in soft substrate. This snake likes to live under the protection of some sort of cover, spending time beneath the surface, under loose leaf litter, and curled up under rocks, logs, fallen branches, or boulders.

Midwestern Worm Snake
Latin name: Carphophis amoenus helenae
Size: 7 to 11 inches
Venomous: No
You may find the midwestern worm snake, one of two subspecies of worm snake found in Tennessee, across most of the state, with the exception of the mountainous region in the east of the state, where the western subspecies takes its place. The head of this snake gives you an idea of where it likes to live: it is small, and pointed, perfect for slithering and burrowing under the surface of the earth, or underneath loose leaf litter. Although quite a common snake, sightings are quite rare because it is such a shy, fast-to-retreat one.

Western Worm Snake
Latin name: Carphophis vermis
Size: 7 to 11 inches
Venomous: No
It is across the central part of Tennessee that you may encounter the occasional western worm snake, although the snake is a very secretive one that spends almost all of its time underground rather than on top of. Chances are, you wouldn’t ever know if you were close to this species. Quite a small snake in both length and width, it looks very much like its namesake – the worm. A bright red-pink underside contrasts the pink or purple-brown color that adorns the top of the body of this snake, however. In some cases, the snake can look so dark that it appears black.