Knoxville lies at the heart of eastern Tennessee, a largely urbanized area that also includes the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. This portion of the state borders North Carolina, Kentucky and Georgia. Flora and fauna abound here, in both wild and tame spaces. The eastern part of the state is home to 23 of the 32 native snake species.
Most of the 23 snake species in eastern Tennessee are not venomous. They are the eastern milk snake, ring-neck snake, smooth earth snake, eastern worm snake, red-bellied snake, Dekay's brown snake, scarlet snake, rat snake, corn snake, black racer, rough green snake, queen snake, eastern ribbon snake, common garter snake, northern pine snake, southeastern crowned snake, eastern hog-nosed snake and the northern water snake. They inhabit a variety of habitats throughout the region, eating a variety of foods.
Of the four venomous snakes in Tennessee, the two found in the east are the timber rattlesnake and the copperhead. Both are pit vipers, using heat-sensing pits just behind their nostrils to detect prey. Timber rattlers can grow to over 6 feet long, and, as their name implies, they prefer forested terrain. Copperheads are smaller, at most 4 1/2 feet long, and may live alongside timber rattlers or in wet areas.
The northern water snake is a resident of eastern Tennessee that dwells in and near water, eating frogs, fish and mammals. This common, nonvenomous species is sometimes mistaken for an equally common snake, the cottonmouth. Also called water moccasins, cottonmouths are pit vipers and inject prey with hemotoxic venom, which breaks down red blood cells. Although they bear a superficial resemblance to northern water snakes in pattern and coloration, cottonmouths are endemic to western Tennessee. They do not inhabit the eastern part of the state.
Snakes play a vital role in controlling pest populations. None of Tennessee's 32 snake species are endangered or threatened, as categorized by the Environmental Protection Agency's Endangered Species Act. Indeed, many are common enough that they enjoy no special status. However, it's illegal in Tennessee to "harm, kill, remove from the wild, or possess" any native snake, unless you have the appropriate permits. Releasing captive snakes into the wild can introduce disease and parasites.