Michigan's Snakes

Eighteen species of snakes are found in Michigan and they are an important part of our state’s ecosystems. Snakes can survive in a variety of habitats such as forests, grasslands, lakes, rivers, marshes, farms, and cities.

Watch Our 60-Second Snake Identification Videos:

Massasauga Rattlesnake Video and more - Click to Play
A special thanks to Nature Discovery for the opportunity to film their live educational snake specimens.

Report observations and find species occurrence maps at The Michigan Herp Atlas

Michigan Species

Adaptations

Snakes belong to the reptile family along with turtles, lizards, crocodiles, and alligators. Reptile young are hatched from shelled eggs or born alive and are essentially miniature versions of their parents. Reptiles depend on the outside environment for body heat because they do not produce it internally.

  • Snakes do not have eyelids! Their eyes are covered by a protective transparent scale.
  • Snakes hear by picking up vibrations through their skull and jaw bones.
  • Snakes smell with their tongue! Odor particles are picked up by the tongue and deposited on a special organ in the roof of the snake’s mouth which then sends information to the brain. This sense of smell assists the snake in finding food and identifying potential mates or enemies.
  • A snake’s dry and scaly skin provides protection as they move over rough or prickly terrain.
  • The outer skin covering is shed and replaced several times during the year and shed skins are good clues to the presence of secretive snakes.
  • Snakes are predators. The smaller Michigan snakes feed on invertebrates such as worms, slugs, or insects. The larger species take larger prey, such as frogs, rodents, birds, or other reptiles.
  • Snakes must swallow their food whole. This is possible due to flexible connections between many of their skull and jaw bones and stretchable skin, which allows them to swallow prey larger than their heads.
  • Non-venomous snakes have tiny, recurved teeth that are useful for holding and swallowing prey.
  • Venomous species have these same recurved teeth, as well as enlarged teeth for injecting venom.
  • A rattlesnake’s fangs are hollow and function like hypodermic needles to conduct venom into the body of its prey.
    • The amount of venom injected in a bite varies, depending on the angle and force of the strike and the supply of venom available.
    • A bite from Michigan’s one venomous species, the Massasauga, should get prompt medical attention.
  • Simply leaving snakes alone and using care when walking in natural areas will prevent nearly all bites – these creatures do not seek confrontation with humans, and accidental bites are rare.
  • All snakes are cold-blooded, which means that they do not produce their own body heat. Because of this, they must absorb heat from an external source such as the sun. Like nearly all reptiles, snakes adjust their body temperature by moving in and out of warm or cool places.
    • In Michigan, most snakes probably prefer a body temperature of about 75° F to 85° F.
    • Extended exposure to freezing conditions is fatal, so they pass the winter in a dormant state in underground rodent burrows or other natural, frost-free shelters.
    • Accessible basements and houses with cracked foundations may also attract shelter-seeking snakes.

Reproduction

Snakes usually mate in early spring. Although the majority of reptiles reproduce by laying shelled eggs, many snakes give birth to babies that develop inside the mother’s body. Of Michigan’s 18 snake species, 10 are live-bearing and only 8 lay eggs.

  • Egg-laying usually occurs in early summer, with the eggs deposited in an empty rodent burrow, in moist sand or soil, or under a log or stump.
  • Depending on the snake species, clutch size ranges from 1 to 50 eggs.
  • Most snakes abandon their nests soon after the eggs are laid, but females sometimes coil about the eggs for varying time periods.
  • Hatching occurs in late summer or fall when the baby snakes cut their way through the leathery egg shell using a specialized “egg-tooth.”
  • Live-bearing snakes give birth about the same time in late summer
  • The number of young born can vary from 5 to 50 depending on the species.
  • The babies often emerge enclosed in a thin membrane which soon ruptures.
  • There is no parental care of the young, though they may remain near the female for several hours.

Snakes and People

Snakes are one of the most misunderstood and feared of all animals in Michigan. Snakes are fascinating members of Michigan’s wildlife community that, if given the chance, will avoid contact with humans. Snakes do not chase, attack, or otherwise, approach humans.

17 of 18 Michigan snake species are harmless, and the one venomous rattlesnake can be identified with minimal training. All snakes can be avoided with simple precautions when visiting natural areas. Learn more about snake safety tips and snake bite treatment at mnfi.anr.msu.edu/emr/safety.cfm

This short video shows how to safely remove a snake from a building: 60-Second Snakes: Snake Removal

Conservation and How You Can Help

You can help snakes by...

  • Learning all you can about our native snakes. Visit your local library, parks, and nature center that offer programs on snakes and other reptiles.
  • Knowing state and federal laws that protect snakes and their habitats.
  • Purchasing a fishing license.
  • Supporting efforts to protect snake habitat.
  • Not keeping them as pets! Michigan snakes belong in the wild.
  • Adopting a “live and let live” approach to snakes you see on or around your property.
  • Leaving snakes alone, and encouraging others to do the same.
  • Reporting any snake sightings at miherpatlas.org and helping us measure changes or trends in their populations.