| *Does not include all Michigan Species of Snakes
MICHIGAN SNAKE INFO PAGE
Snakes are legless reptiles that lack ear openings on their head. They have a forked tongue that is used to extract
chemicals from the air which assists them in finding prey, avoiding predators, and just simply moving about. Snake's
bodies are lined with muscles, which allows them to pull their body along on the ground or water, and also helps them
to swallow prey and pull it down the digestive tract. They also are able to “unhinge” their jaws, which allows them to
eat larger prey. Although some Michigan snakes lay eggs, other species actually give live birth. All snakes, as well
as other reptiles, have the ability to secrete an odorous fluid from the vent on their underside. This fluid is often white,
yellow, or a combination of the two, and its strong smell can often help to deter predators just as the odor of a skunk
can. Male snakes generally have a longer tail (portion of body past the vent), and females are generally larger and
thicker. All snakes are strict carnivores, with most species feeding on worms, insects, and/or rodents.
Butler’s Garter Snake: The Butler’s Garter Snake is the smaller species of the two Michigan garter snakes. It can
be recognized by its short black head, usually having two very small yellow stripes on it, and its black or gray body
with three distinct solid yellow, orange, or white stripes on it. This species tends to inhabit certain regions, and is not
as common as Michigan's other garter snake. Their diet usually consists of worms, and they are not aggressive,
although they will secrete a strong odor from their vent. Both species of Michigan garter snakes give live birth.
Common Garter Snake: The Common Garter Snake is the larger species of the two Michigan garter snakes, and is
also the most common snake species in Michigan. It can be recognized by its long black head and its black or gray
body with three blotchy yellow, orange, or white stripes on it. The two stripes on the side tend to blend in with the belly,
making them not as distinct as the Butler’s side stripes. There can also be red marks or lines on the Common Garter
Snake. This species tends to be at home in a variety of habitats, and can often be found close to human populations.
Although the snake can grow fairly large (over four feet long) they are not dangerous to humans or pets. They will tend
to defend themselves more than the Butler’s Garter Snake does, and they will often try to bite when handled. Their
small teeth feel like sandpaper, and can cause one to bleed if the snake is large enough and bites in the right
location. They can also secrete a large amount of odorous fluid from their vent when threatened. Their primary diet
consists of worms and amphibians, and they will sometimes eat small rodents. Both species of Michigan garter
snakes give live birth.
Northern Ribbon Snake: This snake is very similar in appearance to the garter snakes, although its body is
generally much thinner in comparison, its eyes are larger in relation to the head, and they have a longer whip-like tail.
Ribbon snakes usually have a pale yellow belly, whereas the garter snakes often have a gray belly with more defined
scutes. They tend to inhabit wetland areas, although we have found them quite a ways from any water source. They
are excellent swimmers, and can move quite quickly along the surface of the water. Ribbon Snakes tend to avoid
large bodies of water, generally remaining in small pond or swamp areas. Their primary diet consists of amphibians
and small fish that they find along the water’s edge, although they will eat worms and insects while away from the
water. The Ribbon Snake gives live birth.
Northern Red-bellied Snake: This small species of snake resembles a small garter snake from above, although it
usually has dark lines (if any) on its back. The snake is usually gray, black, brown or navy on its dorsal (back) side,
and has a red, orange, or pink belly. This colorful belly is often exposed when the snake feels threatened, in a hope
that it will deter the predator. The snake also has a tendency to either wriggle erratically or stiffen up (play dead) when
stressed. These snakes tend to live under logs, leaf litter, or rocks and are often not seen by humans, although they
do tend to come out to bask in the sun on roads or paths in the spring and fall. Their diet usually consists of small
worms, amphibians, and insects. The Red-bellied Snake gives live birth.
Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake: This is the only rattlesnake and the only venomous snake that we have in
Michigan. This snake is very reclusive, and often goes unseen by people. Although they are venomous, they have
difficulty delivering large amounts of venom through their two fangs, and this makes them less dangerous to humans.
The snake, when seen, is easy to recognize due to its enlarged, wide head compared to other snakes, and the rattle
that is usually at the end of their tail. There is also a pit between each eye and nostril that allows the snake to detect
heat. This also helps them to hunt their prey (primarily rodents) and avoid their predators, which are generally warm-
blooded. Massasaugas tend to live in open fields and wetland areas, and lay shelled eggs rather than give live birth.
Northern Water Snake: This snake is fairly common in Michigan and is often found in or around lakes, ponds, and
rivers. They are usually brown, black, or gray, and sometimes have colorful bands on their back. They are often
mistaken for the Massasauga, or even the Water Moccasin, which does not even live in Michigan. The Water Snake
has a much smaller head, and lacks the rattle at the end of the tail. Water Snakes also tend to “run” when threatened,
whereas the Massasauga will often try to remain still and unnoticed. The Water Snake is not venomous, and is
therefore harmless to humans. If handled by a person, or picked up by a predator, they will defend themselves. Their
small teeth can draw blood, and the anti-coagulant in their saliva will help to keep the small wounds from clotting as
fast. They can often secrete large amounts of the "musky" fluid from their vent. Their primary diet consists of small
fish, amphibians, and small aquatic creatures. The Northern Water Snake gives live birth.
Milk Snake: This snake is usually cream or tan colored from head to tail, with brown, maroon, and/or red blotches
splattered throughout. The blotches are usually outlined in black, and can be in a variety of shapes. The eyes of this
snake are often an orange or red color. The Milk Snake gets its name due to the fact that it is often found around
farms, and some people once believed that they actually drank milk from cows on these farms. The truth is they don’t
drink milk from cows, and that they actually inhabit farms because their favorite prey, small rodents, thrive in these
areas. This snake sometimes feeds on other snakes, and from our experience will even kill and eat a snake larger
than them. The Milk Snake is a constrictor, and once it captures its prey, will usually squeeze them until they quit
moving before swallowing them whole. The snake tends to burrow under logs, straw, and soil. It is primarily
nocturnal, therefore humans do not often see it. When the snake does happen to be seen by people, they are
sometimes mistaken for a venomous snake. We have heard the Milk Snake referred to as a rattlesnake, and even as
a Coral Snake. The Coral Snake does not live anywhere near Michigan, and the Milk Snake is completely harmless
and has a much smaller head than the Massasauga, and also it lacks a rattle. The Milk Snake lays shelled eggs that
usually hatch within a few months.
Smooth Green Snake: This snake is named for its smoother dorsal scales, which are usually a light to dark green.
The snake’s underside is generally a cream, white, or gray color. This snake tends to live in open grassland areas
where it can blend in with its environment. They tend to feed primarily on insects, with crickets being one of their
favorites. These snakes tend to be fairly reclusive, although when encountered they usually “run” and avoid
confrontation. When they are cornered, they generally do not display aggressive behavior. Smooth Green Snakes lay
eggs that will usually hatch within a couple months.
Northern Ring-necked Snake: This small to mid-sized snake is named for the colorful band around its neck
region. The band is usually a red, pink, or orange color, while the body is usually black, gray, or dark blue. The belly-
side is usually similar in color to the neck band. Ring-necked snakes are very reclusive, and tend to be nocturnal.
They tend to remain underground or underneath objects during the day, and then move around at night. They
generally feed on small amphibians (especially Red-backed Salamanders), worms, and even smaller snakes such as
the Brown Snake and Red-bellied Snake. This species of snake lays shelled eggs that usually hatch within a couple
Brown Snake: This small snake looks like a little tan or brown garter snake with tan, brown or black lines and
blotches on its back. The belly-side is usually a light tan or cream color. They tend to live in woodland areas,
remaining underneath logs, leaf-litter, and soil. Their diet usually consists of worms and small insects. The Brown
Snake gives live birth.
Racer: This is a large snake that is named for its speed, although they are not moving as fast as they may appear to
be. They are usually solid in color, which can be blue, black, gray or a color in between. The young of this species
are usually a lighter color with darker blotches on the dorsal side. Although the snake is often said to be very
aggressive, it usually will try to escape rather than confront predators or humans. If it is cornered or picked up it will
aggressively defend itself, repeatedly striking and biting at the predator or person. It may even go on the offensive if it
feels threatened and “chase” the predator or person, which is something we have actually witnessed. The “chase” is
usually very short and is followed by a fast retreat. This behavior is meant to alarm the predator or human, basically to
catch them off guard. Although we have seen it work to their benefit, we also know that it has given them a bad
reputation and means many have been needlessly killed. The Racer, even the ones that can be up to six feet long,
can not really harm you unless you try to pick it up. They are not venomous, although they can have a painful bite. If
you accidentally corner one simply back away, and if by chance the snake comes toward you just keep moving away
from it. The snake instinctively knows you are larger and will eventually back away. The Racer’s diet consists of
rodents, amphibians, and even other snakes including the Massasauga. The Racer lays eggs that usually hatch within
a few months.