Indigenous Snakes of Tennessee

By Nicole Papagiorgio
Copperheads are the most common venomous snake in upstate New York.
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Many different snake species are found across North America, some of which are native snakes and some of which are invasive species. The sate of Tennessee is home to 32 different snake species, four of which are venomous snakes. When subspecies are included, Tennessee has 44 species of snakes and five venomous species.

Venomous Snakes

Tennessee's venomous snakes include the western pigmy rattlesnake, the western cottonmouth, the northern copperhead, the southern copperhead and the timber rattlesnake. All of these species of venomous snake belong to the pit viper family, named so because of a heat sensing pit on the sides of their face that helps them locate prey animals. Pit vipers have neurotoxic venom that attacks the central nervous system, but fewer than 1 percent of human pit viper bite victims die.

Rear-Fanged Snakes

The eastern hognose snake is the only rear-fanged snake that is indigenous to the state of Tennessee. This snake has a very mild venom that is comparable to a bee sting, although if an allergic person is bitten, he may have a reaction. The eastern hognose snake has brown and white bands with a checkerboard-patterned belly as well as a flat, shovel-shaped nose for burrowing. When threatened, the eastern hognose snake can flatten itself out, puff up or play dead.

Colubrids

Colubrid snakes are also known as common snakes, a large group of snakes that include many smaller, nonvenomous snake species. Colubrids eat small prey items such as fish, rodents, lizards and birds. Among the colubrids indigenous to Tennessee are king snakes, snakes, water snakes, corn snakes, garter snakes, milk snakes, ribbon snakes, brown snakes, ring-necked snakes, black racers, pine snakes, queen snakes, mud snakes, earth snakes, and the northern red-bellied snake.

Protection

All native snakes in Tennessee are protected by law. In Tennessee it is illegal to remove, kill or harm indigenous snake species, including venomous snake species. It is also illegal to release captive snakes back into the wild because they can carry dangerous organisms that will kill wild populations of snakes.