Snakes of Detroit, MI

Detroit snake

Detroit snake Brown Snake
Latin name: Storeria dekayi
Size: 5 to 15 inches
Venomous: No
The brown snake is quite a striking snake to look at, with an interesting array of spots and blotches that can sometimes mimic the look of other snakes. Juveniles often have a ring around the neck, copying the ring-necked snake style. This fades as the snake matures into adulthood, replaced with two rows of darker spots running down the length of the back, with a lighter colouring between the two rows. The underbelly also has spots - small and darker - towards the edges of lighter, creamy-gray. The snake can be found in a wide array of different habitats, including residential gardens and parks, marshes of fresh water, grasslands and woods, abandoned fields and old farms, and in swamps and bogs. It prefers a moist environment, with plenty of structures (such as rock piles or loose ground covering) to hide beneath.

Eastern Fox Snake
Latin name: Pantherophis gloydi
Size: 4 to 8 inches
Venomous: No
The eastern fox snake is not a venomous snake species, nor is it a particularly aggressive one, although it does get killed a lot by humans who confuse it with a number of other, venomous snakes — the massasauga rattlesnake or copperhead snake, usually. This snake species is actually helpful to human populations; it eats rats and mice, keeping rodent populations down. Rodents aren't the only food on the menu, though; this snake will also eat amphibians, such as frogs, as well as reptiles and small mammals. They are a constricting species, so they wrap around their prey and suffocate it, before eating it whole.

Western Fox Snake
Latin name: Pantherophis vulpinus
Size: 35 to 70 inches
Venomous: No
Unfortunately for this snake species, it has a tendency to look a little like a rattlesnake, or the copperhead snake, both of which are venomous. The western fox snake, a species of rat snake, is not venomous, and is found in marshes, fields, pastures, prairies, farms and woodlands. This snake will feast on any animal that it is big enough to overpower, and being quite a large snake, that means quite large mammals can fall prey — rodents are regularly on the menu, but rabbits, birds, and amphibians are also eaten. With many defence mechanisms, the western fox snake can’t really be classed as aggressive — it releases a musky scent when threatened, and will also use its tail in the same way as a rattlesnake to ward off predators.

Detroit snake Butler’s Garter Snake
Latin name: Thamnophis butleri
Size: 14 to 30 inches
Venomous: No (Yes, but it doesn’t affect humans)
The Butler’s garter snake is a species that stands out, mostly because of its orange or yellow-toned stripes that run down the length of the body, often with an olive-brown, dark brown, or even almost black backdrop. Some specimens have darker patches or spots between these stripes, and these darker patches or spots are also present on the underbelly, which is pale yellow or green with much darker edges. This snake looks similar to a number of other snakes also present in the state: other garter snake species, mostly, but also the related ribbon snake. This particular subspecies of garter snake has a narrower head than the rest, and the particular scales with stripes is slightly different.

Detroit snake Eastern Garter Snake
Latin name: Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis
Size: 18 to 54 inches
Venomous: No
The eastern garter snake likes to inhabit spaces that are moist, with plenty of ground covering for protection, with bulky items on the ground for added security. This makes woodlands and river edges desirable spots, as well as ditches, ponds, lakes, and artificial bodies of water. You can identify this snake by looking for three stripes, usually yellow-green, on a darker background, normally dark brown, olive-green, or blue-brown, or even almost white. The stripes are positioned along the back of the body, as well as down the sides.

Smooth Green Snake
Latin name: Opheodrys vernalis
Size: 10 to 20 inches
Venomous: No
The smooth green snake is a relatively small snake, but it has a lot of skills that make it a very adaptable species. As well as having an impressive defense mechanism - a musky scent that puts off predators - it also has great climbing capabilities, and a tendency to come together with other adult eastern smooth green snakes during the winter, to hibernate. The snake prefers to be at ground level, and can be found in many habitats where ground covering is offered, such as foods and forests, marshes, stream and lake edges, meadows, and other, similar spots.

Eastern Hog-Nosed Snake
Latin name: Heterodon platirhinos
Size: 15 to 42 inches
Venomous: No (Yes, but it doesn't affect humans)
The eastern hog-nosed snake is most associated with soft and loose soil found in open, sandy areas, or in open woodland, but it is adaptable enough to live in a wide variety of different habitats. It is believed that this subspecies is present in more than thirty U.S. states, and even in Canada. Although sometimes found close to water, the hog-nosed snake prefers ground that is relatively dry and drained, including in grasslands, woodlands, woodland edges, and farms or crop fields. Diurnal in nature, this subspecies tends to be most active around midday.

Kirtland's Snake
Latin name: Clonophis kirtlandii
Size: 12 to 18 inches
Venomous: No
It is in the southeastern regions of Michigan that you may encounter the Kirtland’s snake, named after a nineteenth century naturalist who mentored the man to first identify the species. It is known by a number of other names, including the spread head snake, Ohio Valley water snake, Kirtland’s red snake, and others. This snake species is one of a few listed as endangered in the state of Michigan. Despite being one of the water snakes of North America, it spends less time in water than the others and seems to prefer living on the outskirts of areas with large human populations, such as big cities and towns.

Detroit snake Blue Racer
Latin name: Coluber constrictor foxi
Size: 35 to 75 inches
Venomous: No
This snake is more of a blue-black than a bright blue, in most cases, but it can also fall anywhere from gray to turquoise and even to brown on the colour spectrum. In the northern part of Michigan, it is believed that this snake species is on the decline, but in the southern regions, populations have seen a boom. The lower peninsula is said to be the best place to spot it, although it's pretty speedy and is likely to have fled b y the time you get a chance to see it.

Detroit snake Eastern Massasauga
Latin name: Sistrurus catenatus
Size: 24 to 30 inches
Venomous: Yes
It is in lower Michigan that you may stumble across the venomous eastern massasauga rattlesnake – a snake that has the potential to be quite dangerous to humans but fortunately doesn’t bite that frequently. As with other species of rattlesnake, this one will vibrate its tail and make loud hissing noises to warn you that conflict is imminent. As well as keeping rodent populations in check, Michigan’s eastern massasauga rattlesnake population will also feed on insects and bird eggs (as juveniles), alongside birds, other snakes, frogs, and various small mammals.

Detroit snake Eastern Milk Snake
Latin name: Lampropeltis triangulum
Size: 24 to 52 inches
Venomous: No
The eastern milk snake is sometimes called the leopard-spotted snake, because of the way that the darker patches of colour look running along the body. Although a variety of colours and markings are seen with this species, the general look is darker, red-brown patches of colour on the top of a light grey or beige backdrop — looking very much like leopard print. This snake eats a wide variety of food, depending on what is available, and has been reported to consume small mammals, birds, bird eggs, insects, amphibians, fish, and more. Small mammals make up almost 80% of the eastern milk snake’s diet, however.

Queen Snake
Latin name: Regina septemvittata
Size: 13 to 30 inches
Venomous: No
The queen snake, also known as the willow snake, queen water snake, moon snake, seven-banded snake, and many more, requires very specific conditions in order to thrive, so it is highly unlikely that you will find this semi-aquatic species very far from a source of freshwater. Lakes, reservoirs and ponds sometimes make great dwellings, although rivers and rocky streams are preferred. This is a snake that eats mostly crayfish, so the body of water must contain an abundance of these, preferably juveniles as so to avoid getting pinched.

Great Rat Snake
Latin name: Pantherophis obsoleta obsoleta
Size: 40 to 100+ inches
Venomous: No
In all of Michigan this is likely the largest snake you'll see, but the species has seen a decline in populations over recent years. It is classed as a species of special concern in this state. The great rat snake inhabits forests, fields, and woodlands, and are even known to encroach on human territories from time to time, following the rats they prey upon. Where there is an abundance of rats or other rodents, there is usually a snake to prey on them.

Northern Red-Bellied Snake
Latin name: Storeria occipitomaculata occipitomaculata
Size: 8 to 16 inches
Venomous: No
You might've guessed that this snake has a red belly, but it can actually come in a wide range of colours with the northern red-bellied snake, including orange, yellow, pink, black or gray, although the latter two are said to be uncommon. The back of the snake is always dark, almost black, and it can be decorated with faint stripes, although this isn't usually the case. This species is sometimes mixed up with ring-necked snakes, Kirtland’s snakes, garter and ribbon snakes.

Northern Ribbon Snake
Latin name: Thamnophis sauritus septentrionalis
Size: 18 to 26 inches
Venomous: No
This snake is a long and slender one, usually brown or black in colour, with stripes that run down the back. At first glance, this species looks a little like a ribbon, giving it the name; and with the northern ribbon snake specifically, the stripes are usually yellow in colour. The northern ribbon snake inhabits areas close to water, such as streams, lakes, and ponds, making use of the abundance of food — insects, small fish, frogs and their tadpoles, and also lizards and salamanders. This snake is an excellent swimmer, but it spends just as much time on land as it does in the water.

Northern Ring-Necked Snake
Latin name: Diadophis punctatus edwardsii
Size: 10 to 15 inches
Venomous: No (Yes, but it doesn't affect humans)
Just as the name would suggest, this snake species has a ring around its neck that is different from the rest of the body. The different variations can change from subspecies to subspecies, but the ring itself is usually white, cream, or yellow-cream and the body is almost entirely black. It can be blue-black, gray-black, or even brown-black. The northern ring-necked snake is closely associated with pine and other hardwood forests. It is incredibly rare for it to be spotted in the open. Even when the snake is in ‘open land’, it will be hiding beneath logs or boulders, or slithering around underneath loose leaves.

Brown Water Snake
Latin name: Nerodia taxispilota
Size: 30 to 60 inches
Venomous: No
Although this snake isn’t a venomous one, it looks like the water moccasin, which is venomous, and property owners often kill this species as a result. In reality, this snake is non-aggressive and would much rather flee from conflict with humans, but females can deliver a nasty bite that is reportedly very painful. You will find this snake along rivers and streams as well as in swamps and marshes — anywhere with a body of water and plenty of catfish for it to eat. Choked vegetation helps to offer the snake some camouflage from the many predators it has, including alligators, other snakes, and birds of prey.

Copper-Bellied Water Snake
Latin name: Nerodia erythrogaster neglecta
Size: 24 to 42 inches
Venomous: No
The copper-bellied water snake is a semi-aquatic, endangered snake found near bodies of water in Michigan, usually close to swamps, bogs, marshes, streams, and along river valleys. It is non-venomous, but commonly mixed up with the venomous cottonmouth. It is also known to be a non-aggressive species, preferring to flee into the safety of water than try to fight a much bigger predator that it can't win against. With a bright red belly that can also be a little on the orange side, the rest of the snake’s body is black or a very dark brown shade.

Northern Water Snake
Latin name: Nerodia sipedon
Size: 20 to 55 inches
Venomous: No
The northern water snake is mostly known to be a solitary snake, but it is not unusual for them to come together for mating time, and also in the spring and fall, often basking with other same-species snakes in the warm rays of the sun. They are dark-coloured and spend a lot of their time in bodies of water, so they are often mixed up with the venomous water moccasin and killed (or chased out) as a result. Although the northern water snake isn't venomous, it can be very aggressive, especially during mating season, and close contact should be avoided.

Plain-Bellied Water Snake
Latin name: Nerodia erythrogaster
Size: 24 to 40 inches
Venomous: No
The plain-bellied water snake (also known as the copper-bellied water snake in Michigan), is mostly aquatic, meaning that it spends most of its time in the water, and also finds its prey in the water. This includes frogs, crayfish, small fish and salamanders, which it eats whole, without constricting it. Despite being a mostly aquatic snake, the plain-bellied water snake will travel great distances from water, particularly when temperatures are up. It will also leave a body of water and escape across land to get away from predators, which include other snakes (king snakes and cottonmouths), bass and other larger fish, and hawks.