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What comes to your mind when you hear about the place Tennessee? Country music,  BBQ,  whiskey,  wild birds, and animals.  What else? Tennessee is home to reptiles including snakes. And today we will look at some of the interesting things about the snakes of Tennessee. 

There are some species that can be very dangerous,  but not all of them are bad and dangerous.  The Snakes of Tennessee have a bad reputation because of the poisonous ones.  They have given a bad reputation since Biblical times and many people do not find it a topic to talk about and care about.  But the truth is they play a crucial role in the ecosystem and make a good companion.  You will get to know about them once you understand them better and get over the stigma. 

Snakes of Tennessee

Why do many people fear snakes?  Although most of them are not poisonous,  people still find them dangerous.  It may be because they crawl on the ground or maybe they think that the snakes will chase and bite them. Sometimes even their slimy skin may fear some people. 

Every snake in Tennessee has a uniqueness and purpose in its existence.  No matter what we feel about snakes, it is better to be educated about their habits and their place in the environment. Let us see some most common snakes in Tennessee including their attributes, tips to identify, purpose, and threat. 

Venomous Snakes and the Species in Tennessee

Tennessee state has approximately 32 species of snakes,  and there are some varieties of subspecies.  Among them, there are only four snake species within the state boundary and are considered to be venomous.  Snakes actually prefer to stay away from humans because they are solitary animals and the snakes that come into contact with people will try to crawl away and escape. When they feel that they are threatened or trapped,  they will try to defend themselves. 

If you are going to travel in forests, water sources, or fields, you will come into contact with many snakes. It has been reported that approximately half of the venomous snake bites occur each year due to the mishandling of snakes and the molesting of people. In the state of  Tennessee, it is illegal to capture, keep, or kill venomous or non-venomous snakes, but it will allow you to kill a snake when it comes inside your house or endangers the livestock. 

But apart from them, they are very important to the ecosystem and they play a major role in controlling the populations of rodents. 

Why snakes are important? 

snakes in Tennessee

It is no doubt that snakes are often times seen in a negative light. They are feared and sometimes hated due to the historic stigma they have against their misconceived nature. These negative perceptions toward the species of snakes lead to various harmful actions by humans toward snakes. But there are many benefits of snakes living in the environment. 

They control the population of pests. If there are no snakes, the population of the pests will increase and it would be hard to keep them in control. Rodents are typically known for spreading diseases, and so the situation will be more severe for the health of humans. The snakes drastically reduce the spread of the diseases caused by rodents by keeping their population under control. 

The snakes promote the maintenance of biodiversity around the world, and they play a unique role within the food web. They typically hunt the small animals while they are also being hunted by large predators like foxes and eagles. And so they have a dynamic role within the food web and so their presence has an absolute necessity in order to maintain their ecosystems. 

Common snakes of Tennessee

Worm snakes

Worm snakes

Worm snakes have two subspecies in Tennessee,  and they are Eastern worm snakes found in the Unaka mountains and middle eastern worm snakes found in most areas of the State.  They look small with shiny and smooth scales.  They grow up to  7.5 to 11 inches in length with a small pointy head, slender body, and small tail.  They have a small triangular head that is perfect for borrowing and helps them to stay hidden. They have a sharp contrast between brown-black on the upper side and pink underbelly.  These snakes got their name because they eat and look somewhat like earthworms. 

You can identify them with the attribute of them having 13 rows of smooth scales on their body that separates them from genera like Virginia or Tantilla. you will notice that they have a split anal plate when they flip over. 

They will be mostly found hiding under small surfaces that are moist like rocks, leaves, logs, and debris in the forests.  They prefer to stay underground. They do not cause any threat to humans and don’t carry any potent venom. 

The diet consists mainly of earthworms,  but also they eat grubs, insects, larvae,  and other prey with soft bodies.  They mate during the fall and spring and the female worm snake lay up to  12 eggs under the rocks, logs, and other hidden places in the summer. 

When you pick them up, they emit a bad-smelling liquid. and the snake will poke you with it to get out from your hand. But if they get used to being handled, they make great pets. 


Tennessee has three subspecies of the common Kingsnake.  They are Eastern king snakes located in the Southeastern part of Tennessee,  the Eastern black kingsnakes found throughout Tennessee apart from North Eastern Tennessee, and the Speckled Kingsnake located in the  Western and Southwestern regions of Tennessee. The name Kingsnake is due to its ability to kill other venomous snakes and feed on them. 

They are grown to a staggering 36 to 48 inches (98 to 123cm) long and have one of the best hue profiles of all snake species. The snakes are brightly colored with spots, blotches, and patterns of yellow, black, white, and red, with stripes. They may look cute but are deadly. You can find the common kingsnakes in different habitats but are not limited to hardwood forests, suburbs, Wetlands, and wood debris. 

The diet consists of rabbits, bird eggs, rats, lizards, and other snakes. But their venom is not harmful to humans. They are oviparous cause they lay eggs that spend little to no time incubating inside the mother. The mating time depends on the climate with snakes in warmer climates mate earlier in the spring and snakes in colder climates mate in the late spring or summer. The females often have more than one clutch of eggs per season. 

Timber Rattlesnake 

Timber rattlesnake

The only rattlesnake that can be found in East Tennessee is the Timber Rattlesnake. Of Tennessee’s four venomous snakes, the timber rattlesnake is the largest and the most dangerous. It is considered to have one of the most potent bites of any venomous snake in North America. 

The color of the timber rattlesnake is highly variable and it’s often a shade of gray with a black tail.  It has distinct black chevron-shaped cross bands down the body and carries the characteristic rattle. 

It tends to live in the remote wooded areas around the stream corridors and mountains. You can find them coiled up near logs or on the rocks. It is very shy when it comes to humans and it avoids contact whenever possible. Before attempting to strike, it gives a lot of warning with its rattle. They are skilled climbers who have been discovered in trees at heights of more than 80 feet. 

They primarily feed on small to medium-sized rodents like shrews, mice, chipmunks, and squirrels. They are recognized as ambush predators and capture their prey by waiting patiently and striking quickly. They bite and inject venom into them. 

They are viviparous as they give birth to live young. In a single litter, they will have three to thirteen snakes. When the young snakes grow they create room to grow additional rattles. 

Cottonmouth snakes

These species are also known as Water Mocassins. This is one of the most well-known water snakes found in Tennessee. Moreover, they are considered semi-aquatic venomous species found in West Tennessee. 

The name cottonmouth comes from one of their characteristics, where during trouble, they tend to open their mouths and reveal a white cotton-like interior. 

These snakes are large with a heavy bodies. They grow to about 30 to 42 inches (76 to 107cm) in length. These snakes have keeled scales, and triangular heads, and are olive-brown in color, along with tan or gray underbellies and dark blotches. 

They are not found throughout all of Tennessee but in the western third of the state. The Male species are larger and heavier than the females. They are not aggressive but there are misconceptions. Instead, they bite defensively. 

They try to escape in random directions and will move towards you even though they meant to run away. They are active during the day or night. Their diet consists of rodents, fish, snakes, lizards, and frogs.

Cottonmouths have a reputation for being dangerous snake species, but they rarely bite humans only if they are picked up or stepped on feeling a threat. They may stand their ground against potential predators, including humans, by using defensive behaviors.

Pygmy Rattlesnake

Pygmy rattlesnake

This is a small and colorful snake that can only be found in a section of Western Tennessee in the Highland Rim that runs along the Tennessee River. They are gray or tan in color with orangish-brown strips running down the back. There are some dark bar-shaped blotches running along the length of their back. 

These snakes are very rare and listed as a threatened species. They are usually found close to the water and feed on frogs, lizards, and other small snakes. They have a unique buzz sound closer to that of an insect than a rattlesnake. 

This is one of the four venomous snakes of Tennessee, but the venom of the Pygmy rattlesnake is not enough to kill a person. But it can make the person’s health severe and so should be treated immediately. They are known to become aggressive if they feel threatened but they are shy and will avoid being disturbed by humans. 

Ring-necked snake 

Ring-necked snakes of Tennessee are in two species. They are the Northern Ring-necked snakes found in East Tennessee and the Mississippi Ring-necked snake found in west Tennessee. 

The Ring-necked snake species also known as “Corkscrew” or “Thimble” look small, and slender, and will grow to about 10 to 15 inches (25-38cm)  long. This snake species can be identified with the black or gray hue with an underbelly that looks orange or yellow in color. They have a unique yellow or orange ring around their necks, and this differentiates them from other Tennessee snake species. These snakes of Tennessee are nonvenomous and cause a minimum threat to humans.

The difference between the Northern Ring-necked snake species is they have a uniform ring and a plain hue on their bellies to differentiate them and the Mississippi Ring-necked snake species have an incomplete ring and spots of different hues on their bellies. 

They got their name because when threatened by predators, they coil around tightly and reveal their colored bellies.

They eat small snakes, lizards, earthworms, and larvae.

And mate during the spring, and females lay their eggs in the summer, which take seven to eight weeks to hatch.

The laws against the threat of snakes in Tennessee 

Tennessee has strict laws and is quite clear about how to handle a snake you find in the wild. They have made it illegal to catch, keep, or kill snakes even if they are venomous. 

It’s important that you need to think and be alert when going into areas where snakes are likely to exist and watch where you step. If you see a snake, make sure to go the other way. 

If you wish to keep a snake as a pet, you must follow certain rules You should buy the snakes kept as pets from a reputable source. Moreover, you must maintain the information about that source as well as the receipts to prove that your snake was lawfully purchased and not captured from the wild.

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