black snakes in tennessee

Black Snakes in Tennessee: 6 Species to Watch Out For

With 32 species, Tennessee is somewhere in the middle in the US as far as snake diversity is concerned. Though many venomous reptiles inhabit the state, you are much more likely to come across one of the many black snakes roaming around its plains and mountains.

Are black snakes in Tennessee dangerous? How can you identify them by their appearance, and what should you do if they attack you? Keep reading to find out!

Black Snakes in Tennessee: Complete List

1. Eastern Kingsnake (Lampropeltis getula)

Eastern Kingsnake

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Eastern Kingsnakes are some of the largest reptiles in the state, with adults reaching up to 4 feet in length. They are shiny-black, smooth-scaled, and most of them have yellowish or white circular marks across their backs. The bands connect on the sides, creating a chain-like structure.

The width of the white or yellow bands depends on the snake’s habitat. For example, those present in the Coastal Plain have wide chains, while those roaming the Tennessee mountains either have thin bands or are fully black. You can also recognize these reptiles by their stout heads, beady eyes, and undivided anal plates.

Eastern Kingsnakes are most active during the summer, especially in the early mornings. They are not nocturnal reptiles, so they lie low when the sun goes down. You can find them in overgrown vegetation, cluttered areas, and dense woods.

These snakes are not venomous, but you should still be careful not to touch or attack them in any way. They may bite if they are agitated, and they are strong constrictors. Thus, you shouldn’t approach them as they could harm you.

Kingsnakes might come near homes if they can find regular meals and a place to live. Thus, you should aim to remove all rodents from your garage or yard. In addition, make sure that there is no wood or any other type of clutter around your house, as such places are perfect hideouts for these reptiles.

2. Rat Snake (Elaphe [Pantherophis] obsoleta)

Rat Snake

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These reptiles are grayish-black with some white specks visible between the scales, reaching over 6 feet in length. Their body is loaf-like rather than round, while the anal plate is divided. Along with their elongated head, these features make them quite easily recognizable.

As their name suggests, these snakes usually eat rats. However, they will just as readily eat mice, squirrels, birds and their eggs, frogs, lizards, and even other smaller snakes.

They live in wooded areas, abandoned buildings, overgrown vegetation, and swamps. Though they are non-venomous, they will bite if threatened. Still, their preferred mode of killing their prey is constriction.

3. Eastern Garter Snake (Thamnophis sirtalis)

Eastern Garter Snake

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Eastern Garter snakes usually range from 2 to 4 feet in length, with males being slightly longer than females. Their bodies are shiny and black, and they have three vertical yellowish stripes across their backs.

These reptiles live in various areas, including meadows, woodlands, marshes, overgrown grass, and hillsides. They prefer moist habitats, which is why you can mostly find them near natural water sources.

However, they can also live in suburban areas, especially if they can find food regularly. They like to hide beneath boards, in tall grass, wood logs, rocks, etc. In fact, these snakes are the most commonly found reptiles in human-populated areas on this list.

Garter snakes are not a danger to humans as long as they are left alone and not threatened. They feed on worms, salamanders, small rodents, toads, fish, slugs, and frogs.

You can expect these snakes to be active at any point during the day and night. They simply go out to hunt when they get hungry, no matter what time it is. Moreover, they might also be active during the winter, especially on warmer days.

4. Black Racer (Coluber constrictor)

Black Racer

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Black Racers are quite large, with most adults reaching 5 feet. Though they are completely black, these reptiles usually have some white coloring on their chins. Furthermore, you can recognize them by their large eyes, smooth scales, and slender bodies.

You can find these reptiles in all edge habitats. These include old fields, forest and wetland edges, as well as agricultural areas. As far as activity goes, they require warm weather to roam around, and they usually do it during the day. On the other hand, they like to hide in burrows or boards when it’s dark or cold.

Even though Black Racers are primarily terrestrial snakes, they can also climb rather well. That allows them to reach their prey even on high trees. They feed on large insects, lizards, birds, and rodents. In turn, they are preyed upon by most predatory birds.

As their name suggests, these snakes are incredibly fast, which helps them both catch their own food and escape from predators. When they catch their prey, they do not constrict it. Instead, they consume it alive.

While Racers are not venomous, you shouldn’t threaten them or come close without any experience in handling them. If you do so, you risk getting bitten. Thus, it is best to contact pest control if you notice these reptiles around your home.

5. Cottonmouth/Water Moccasin (Agkistrodon piscivorus)


Image source: Pinterest

Water Moccasins (usually around 3 feet long) are quite common in Tennessee, especially near water. Some of these reptiles are dark gray and back, while others are brown or even yellowish. You can also recognize them by their triangular heads and large, heavy bodies.

Cottonmouths can be active both at night and during the day. However, they prefer foraging for food at night during the hot summer months. As their nickname suggests, these snakes prefer living near water, so you can expect them in cypress swamps, heavily vegetated wetlands, and river floodplains. Moreover, they often find drying pools and live near them in order to feed on the trapped fish.

These snakes enjoy the sun, so you will often see them basking on rocks and logs. They can even climb up the trees near the water’s edge, although they will never go too high from the ground.

Interestingly, the name Cottonmouth comes from the appearance of the insides of their mouths. Namely, when these reptiles open their mouths, they appear as if filled with small bits of cotton.

Since Cottonmouths are venomous, you should steer clear of them and exercise caution near all permanent water sources in the state. However, you can remain safe even if you spot them as long as you don’t attack them. These snakes will never approach or bite you if they aren’t scared, so you should leave them be if you spot them.

If a Water Moccasin bites you, you should call an ambulance right away. The bite symptoms can appear in a few minutes or about an hour later, depending on the strength of your immune system. They include difficulty breathing, severe pain and swelling, and increased heart rate.

6. Eastern Coral Snake (Micrurus fulvius)

Eastern Coral Snake

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Coral snakes have lithe, slim black bodies with yellow and red rings along their entire length. These reptiles are the smallest on the list, with the longest specimens reaching just a little over 2 feet.

You can also easily recognize these snakes by the two thin fangs protruding from their mouths. None of the other species mentioned so far have such teeth.

These reptiles usually inhabit pine and scrub oak sandhills, as well as pine flatwoods and all other areas prone to seasonal flooding. However, they can also hide in debris and rubble in suburban areas, mostly due to their slim bodies and size.

Just like Cottonmouths, Eastern Coral Snakes are also venomous. Thus, never threaten them if you cross their path. Rather, call pest control and stay as far away as possible.

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