Skip to main content

Michigan's nonvenomous 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. Seventeen of these species are nonvenomous, with the only venomous snake being the eastern massasauga rattlesnake. 

Report observations of possible snake fungal disease to the DNR Wildlife Disease Laboratory at 517-336-5030.

You can view the entire playlist of our "60-Second Snakes" series on YouTube. 

A special thanks to Nature Discovery for the opportunity to film its live educational snake specimens.

  • 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.
    • Snakes' 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.
    • Nonvenomous 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.
      • Learn more about snake safety tips and snake bite treatment.
    • 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 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit.
      • Extended exposure to freezing conditions is fatal for snakes, 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.
  • 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.

    Seventeen 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.

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

  • You can help snakes by:

    • Learning all you can about our native snakes. Visit your local library, parks and nature centers 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 and helping us measure changes or trends in their populations.