Tennessee Snakes Pictures and Identification Help

picture of a Copperhead snake, one of four types of snakes that are poisonous, and part of the Tennessee snakes collection

Tennessee snakes fit into the midrange of snake diversity in the United States. Tennessee’s southern neighbors have more snake species and their northern and eastern neighbors have less diversity. Of the thirty two species of Tennessee snakes, four are venomous and their names, cottonmouth, copperhead and rattlesnake are familiar to all.

The top picture shows a copperhead snake.

The remainder of this article highlights some of the most common Tennessee snakes, again with names such as ratsnakes, milksnakes, gartersnakes and watersnakes, that are familiar to all. Odds are that checking out these snakes first will help with most snake identification questions.

Please press the green snakes button to see additional snake pictures and information.

Racers and Whipsnakes

picture of a Black Racer snake, credit Bobistraveling Flickr
Tennessee hosts two species in the racer or whipsnake family. Of late there is debate about whether to place these snakes in the genus Masticophis or genus Coluber, the racers. Any internet search using either genera will bring up these snakes.

Black Racers (Coluber constrictor) live all over the state, and can even be found in residential areas. They are long, thin snakes with a black body, and as the picture highlights, white chins.

picture of a Red Racer Whipsnake (Masticophis flagellum), credit: Ashley Tubbs, Flickr, part of the coachwhip snakes collection
Coachwhips or Whipsnakes (Masticophis flagellum) rank as the most common species, with subspecies living in states from Florida, west to California. Many of the subspecies have different color patterns from red to yellow to brown to dark to tan. Body color in these snakes is very much a function of geography and climate.

Hog-nosed Snakes

picture of an Eastern Hognose snake
Depending on the source, up to five species of Hognose Snakes live in the United States:
  • Eastern hognose snake
  • Plains Hog-nosed Snake (Heterodon nasicus)
  • Dusty Hog-nosed Snake (Heterodon gloydi)
  • Mexican Hog-nosed Snake (Heterodon kennerlyi)
  • Southern Hog-nosed Snake (Heterodon simus)
All Hognose snake species are characterized as having thick bodies that can grow to four feet in length.

Eastern Hognose snakes (Heterodon platirhinos) can assume a variety of colors and are the most wide ranging of species.

Kingsnakes and Milk Snakes

picture of an Eastern Milk Snake
Eastern Milk Snakes (Lampropeltis triangulum) are very adaptable snakes, inhabiting multiples areas from fields to forests to farms. Finding Milk Snakes in the east can be as easy as taking a hike and flipping over a few big rocks or logs. The can grow up to on average about three feet in length and the red to orange to dull rust color of the bands makes them easy to spot.

picture of a Prairie Kingsnake or Yellow-bellied Kingsnake (Lampropeltis calligaster), credit Mike Keeling, Flickr
To the uninitiated, the muted brown colors of the Prairie Kingsnake could easily lead to a misidentification of the snake as a faded milksnake. Milksnakes do come in a variety of colors. However, this species is in the same family, and it’s a completely different species.

Prairie Kingsnakes spill over into Tennessee from their Midwest home range. They inhabit open areas of fields and forests.


picture of a Diamondback Water Snake
Many Tennessee snakes can be found along its ponds and lakes. The common name Water Snake applies to the five species in the genus Nerodia that live in the state. Northern Watersnakes (Nerodia sipedon) are the most common with a range across the entire state.

Physically, water snake bodies grow anywhere from three to six feet in length. Their dark, often blotched skin, helps them blend into their environment.

In the South, the venomous Water Moccasin shares a similar habitat and slightly resembles a few water snake species. The shorter and thicker body of the Water Moccasin can normally be used as field identification clues to distinguish between them.

While Water Snake species are not venomous, many species are known to be ill tempered, and quick to bite when startled. Wildlife officials often recommend that boaters avoid drifting under low hanging branches (their favorite basking places) in order to decrease the possibility that the snakes drop in for a ride.

Rat Snakes

picture of a Gray Ratsnake
Gray Rat Snakes are also very common across the state. Like other rat snakes, they grow to be very large, over six feet in length. The common name gray is really a very generic gray. They varies in color with some populations having light gray and others having dark gray bodies. Their bodies also have a pattern.

In terms of size, because adults can grow so large, they become a very imposing snake for the average person to cross paths with. As a result of an encounter, many homeowners inquire into snake control measures when they see these large snakes.

First and foremost, most large rat snakes are as afraid of people as people are afraid of them. In residential areas, they are basically only passing through. There is never a sufficient amount of rodents or other food sources for them.

picture of a Corn Snake, also known as a red rat snake
The corn snake (Pantherophis guttatus) are most plentiful in the longleaf pine forests of the Southeast.

The picture highlights two facts. First the orange to red color explains a common nickname, red rat snake. Second, they, like other rat snakes are very good climbers. They climb trees primarily in search of bird prey. However, they can also fall prey to the large predatory birds such as raptors.

picture of a ring-necked snake face and neck
Ring-necked Snakes (Diadophis punctatus) are also very common across Tennessee.

The dual color body, dark on the top and a bright shade of orange or yellow on the bottom serve as the best field identification clues. The picture highlights the snake’s characteristic ring neck mark. While ring-neck snake bites are rare, touching them is not recommended. They can secrete a foul smelling chemical.

Garter Snakes

close-up of a common garter snake
Tennessee Garter snakes show the same minimal diversity as most of its eastern neighbors where the the Common Garter Snake or Eastern Garter Snake is the dominant species. The picture is a rather bland looking species and easy to identify by the stripe dows its back. Two ribbon snakes, the Western Ribbon Snake (Thamnophis proximus) and the Ribbon Snake (Thamnophis sauritus) inhabit Tennessee.

Here’s a quick list of additional Tennessee Colubrid or nonvenomous snakes.

  • Scarlet Kingsnake (Lampropeltis elapsoides)
  • Black Kingsnake (Lampropeltis nigra)
  • Scarletsnake (Cemophora coccinea)
  • Queen Snake (Regina septemvittata)
  • Pinesnake (Pituophis melanoleucus)
  • Rough Greensnake (Opheodrys aestivus)
  • Rough Earthsnake (Haldea striatula)
  • Kirtland’s Snake (Clonophis kirtlandii)
  • Dekay’s Brownsnake (Storeria dekayi)
  • Red bellied Snake (Storeria occipitomaculata)
  • Southeastern Crowned Snake (Tantilla coronata)
  • Eastern Wormsnake (Carphophis amoenus)
  • Smooth Earthsnakes (Virginia valeriae)
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