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The Michigan Department of Natural Resources gets many questions this time of year about Michigan’s snakes. Eighteen different species of snake call Michigan home, but only one of them poses any real harm to humans.
“Whether you think snakes are terrifying or totally cool, it is best just to leave them be,” said Hannah Schauer, wildlife communications coordinator for the DNR.
The snake the DNR gets the most questions about is the eastern massasauga rattlesnake, the only venomous species found in Michigan. This snake rarely is seen and is listed as a threatened species by the U.S Fish. and Wildlife Service due to declining populations from habitat loss. As its name implies, the massasauga rattlesnake does have a segmented rattle on its tail. It should not be confused with the other, harmless species of snake in Michigan that do not have segmented rattles but will buzz their tails if approached or handled.
“The massasauga rattlesnake tends to be a very shy snake that will avoid humans whenever possible,” said Schauer. “They spend the vast majority of their time in wetlands hunting for mice and aren’t often encountered.”
Schauer said that when a massasauga is encountered, if the snake doesn’t feel threatened it will let people pass without revealing its location.
“If you do get too close without realizing it, a rattlesnake will generally warn you of its presence by rattling its tail while you are still several feet away,” Schauer said. “If given room, the snake will slither away and likely will not be seen again.”
Rattlesnake bites, while extremely rare in Michigan, can and do occur. Anyone who is bitten should seek professional medical attention.
Another snake that can cause quite a stir is the eastern hog-nosed snake, one of the many harmless species found in Michigan. When threatened, hognose snakes puff up with air, flatten their necks and bodies, and hiss loudly – this has led to local names like “puff adder” or “hissing viper.” If this act is unsuccessful, they will writhe about, excrete a foul-smelling musk and then turn over with mouth agape and lie still, as though dead. Despite this intimidating behavior, hog-nosed do not pose a threat to humans.
Michigan snakes do not attack, chase or lunge at people or seek out human contact. If you have spotted a snake, stay at least 3 feet away from the head to avoid getting bit. Handling or harassing snakes is the most common cause for humans getting bit. Simply put, if left alone, Michigan snakes will leave people alone.
To find out what other kinds of snakes Michigan has and how to tell the difference between them, check out the “60-Second Snakes” video series on the DNR’s YouTube channel.
Please consider reporting any reptile or amphibian sightings to the Michigan Herp Atlas research project to help monitor amphibian and reptile populations in the state and protect these important Michigan residents for future generations. Visit www.miherpatlas.org for more information.