Tennessee, like all other states, has venomous snakes. There is a chance you may even bump into one while you are out hiking, like I did on this hike. But most of the time, snakes keep to themselves and stay incognito. There are a total of 34 species of snakes in Tennessee, 4 of which are venomous.
Here are Tennessee’s 4 species of venomous snakes
Northern and Southern Copperhead
The northern copperhead is the most common sub-species and can be found in most of Tennessee. The southern is found mainly in the southwestern part of the state. Copperheads ca reach up to 36 inches in length. Their heads often have a very coppery look giving them their name.
They eat mainly mice but will also eat small birds, lizards, small snakes and amphibians. Generally shy and lethargic, they do not like human encounters, but when disturbed they will often vibrate the tail, mimicking a rattlesnake.
Copperheads are probably the common venomous snakes and account for the most snake bites by a venomous snake, but are also our least venomous snakes. According to Wikipedia, There have only been 7 confirmed deaths from copperhead bites in the history of the US, none of which were in Tennessee.
Commonly known as a “water moccasin”, the cottonmouth is found mainly in the western half of the state. It’s habitat is mainly going to be in or around bodies of water such as rivers, creeks, lakes, swamps and wetlands. They are North America’s only venomous water snake.
These snakes are generally not aggressive and will try to escape if confronted by a person, however the are very venomous and their bites can be fatal if not treated quickly. The question commonly comes up “can a water moccasin bite underwater?” from what I gather the answer is a definitive yes, so be careful.
They may open their mouths to expose the white lining inside letting you know “don’t mess with me”. There are several types of water snakes which are often mistaken for cottonmouths, but a cottonmouth has a distinct triangle shaped head. If unsure, steer clear.
The timber rattlesnake is one of the most dangerous venomous snakes in the eastern half of the US. They can grow up to almost 5 ft in length and are the second largest venomous snake in the eastern part of the country. Timber rattlesnakes are a protected species so do not attempt to kill or trap one.
Bites are rare but this is still one to watch out for. They are highly venomous and can get rather large. If you come across a rattlesnake of any species, avoid it at all costs.
Pygmy rattlesnakes are venomous but are not considered as dangerous as its cousin above, the timber rattler. So death is highly unlikely from a bite, but more a loss of a digit if left untreated. This species can only grow to about 2ft long and is very rarely spotted in the wild.
The pigmy rattlesnake is included in the list of protected snake species by North Carolina and Tennessee law. The patterns on the pygmy are very unique looking and it should be relatively easy to identify based on this and it’s small size.
How to identify a venomous snake
One thing that I always remember is to look for the triangular shaped head. Look at the color patterns, most snakes in the US that are solid colored are harmless. Obviously look out for rattles at the end of the tail. Another thing is to look for a large vent or extra nostril near the eyes. This is indicative of a pit viper.
As always, just steer clear of snakes altogether, they do not want to be bothered so just don’t bother them and they will not bother you.
Non-venomous snakes living in Tennessee
As I mentioned there are 34 species in Tennessee, only 4 of which are venomous snakes. This leaves 30 other snakes that are non-venomous. Below is a quick list of those snakes:
- Broad-banded Watersnake
- Common Watersnake
- Dekay’s Brownsnake
- Diamond-backed Watersnake
- Eastern Coachwhip
- Gray Ratsnake
- Kirtland’s Snake
- Eastern Hog-nosed Snake
- Mississippi Green Watersnake
- North American Racer
- Northern Red-bellied Snake
- Northern Pinesnake
- Eastern Milksnake
- Plain-bellied Watersnake
- Eastern Gartersnake
- Red Cornsnake
- Eastern Ribbonsnake
- Ring-necked Snake
- Eastern Wormsnake
- Rough Earthsnake
- Rough Greensnake
- Scarlet Kingsnake
- Eastern Black Kingsnake
- Smooth Earthsnake
- Southeastern Crowned Snake
- Western Mudsnake
- Western Ribbonsnake
- Yellow-bellied Kingsnake
What to do if you get bit
It goes without saying I hope to seek medical treatment immediately. Until then you take take the following steps:
- Allow the bite to bleed freely for 30 seconds then rinse around the bite with water and clean any visible poison from the skin
- Remove any rings, jewelry or other things around the area as it may swell
- Cover the wound with a sterile dressing or bandage
- Call for help via cellphone, if this isn’t possible walk to get help asap
Many trails go way off the grid and you get no cell service. You can always invest in a satellite phone such as this one on Amazon. Technology like this may come in handy for other reasons as well, but being smart and responsible goes a long way. You should be just fine in regards to snake encounters on a hike in Tennessee, but it never hurts to take precautions.
Alternatively you can check into getting some snake proof hiking boots. These are extra high boots made of a special material so that fangs or thorns can’t get through. These are a solid choice from Amazon.