While exploring the forests, rivers and mountains of Tennessee you may come across a snake. Luckily, only four of Tennessee's 32 native snake species are poisonous. There are various ways to identify whether or not a Tennessee snake is poisonous. It is illegal in Tennessee to kill, harm, threaten, catch or possess any wild snake, poisonous or not.
Identifying Non-Poisonous Snakes
All of Tennessee's venomous snakes belong to the pit viper family. Pit vipers have a heat sensing pit at the front of their head, between their eyes. Due to this, non-venomous snakes have rounder eyes and their heads extend very little from their necks, making it difficult to tell where their neck ends and their body begins. A poisonous snake will have a more defined head extending from its body. Some species of non-poisonous snakes are more slender, longer and better climbers than their venomous counterparts. Non-venomous snakes may imitate the behavior of poisonous snakes as a defensive mechanism. This mimicry includes vibrating their tail to imitate a rattler, hissing, narrowing their head into an arrow and extending their jaws and taking an S-like strike stance. All of Tennessee's poisonous snakes give live birth, so if you see a snake guarding a nest of eggs you can assume it is not venomous. Only Tennessee's non-venomous snakes have a row of two overlapping scales on their underside, spanning from their vent to the tail tip.
Two varieties of rat snakes live in Tennessee: red and grey. These long, slender snakes can reach lengths of 42 to 101 inches. The red rat snake, also called a red cornsnake, is striped, while the grey rat snake's coloring is blotched. They are constrictors that feed on eggs, birds and mice.
Kingsnakes and Milk Snakes
Three types of kingsnakes inhabit Tennessee: the prairie kingsnake, the black-speckled kingsnake and the scarlet kingsnake. As its name suggests, the prairie kingsnake frequents open fields and prairies. It varies in color, but is usually some shade of brown with black or green splotches. The black-speckled kingsnake, also known as the salt and pepper kingsnake, has black and white stripes. The scarlet kingsnake, a member of the milk snake subspecies of the kingsnake, is red with black-rimmed yellow bands. It is often mistaken for the coral snake; however, unlike the venomous coral snake, the scarlet kingsnake's bands do not encircle its body. Kingsnakes are constrictors, and in addition to rodents, lizards, eggs and birds, they feed on other snakes, including venomous snakes.
Many of Tennessee's water snakes -- which include the broad-banded water snake, the common water snake, the Mississippi green water snake, the northern diamondback water snake and the copper-bellied water snake -- are mistaken for the copperhead because of their stout, heavy bodies and ability to flatten their heads into an arrow shape. Their usual dark or grey coloring is typically so intense that their patterns and markings do not show. As their name suggests, they live in the water, including Tennessee's rivers, swamps and creeks.
The common garter snake is prevalent throughout Tennessee. A medium-sized snake, the garter snake is typically pale green, yellow or brown with black stripes running down the length of its body. The coach whip is an incredibly fast, slender and long snake that is sometimes seen escaping into a tree or a small burrow when being pursued. The northern rough green snake is very slender and small in length. It has a bright green color.