Kentucky is one of the Southeastern states with a high number of snakes.
The state shares its populations with other nearby states such as Tennessee as there aren’t many exclusive species in Kentucky.
Are There Venomous Snakes in Kentucky?
Terrestrial and aquatic snake species are found across Kentucky. The state is home to 4 highly venomous snakes.
Eastern Copperhead, Timber Rattlesnake, Northern Cottonmouth, and Western Pygmy Rattlesnake are the venomous species of Kentucky. While rare, the bites of these snakes require immediate medical attention.
Venomous Snakes in Kentucky
1. Eastern Copperhead
Eastern Copperhead snakes (Agkistrodon contortrix) are some of the easiest to recognize among the venomous species of Kentucky.
This is due to their brown coloring with red undertones. This brown-red color with darker brown and brown-red dorsal markings is only specific to this species.
The snake itself is small, measuring anywhere between 20 to 37 inches as an adult.
This is a species known for its thick body, regardless of its short nature.
A dangerous ambush predator, this is a species likely to live around deciduous and mixed species woodlands.
They can be found on rock formations around these woodlands.
Eastern Copperheads are ambush predators. They mainly feed on small vertebrates but they can also eat spiders, bugs, and other insects.
2. Timber Rattlesnake
Similar rocky outcrops along woodlands are also the home of another venomous species in the state, The Timber Rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus).
Unlike the Eastern Copperhead, it’s the gravid female Timber Rattlesnake that prefers the warms of rocky terrains in the sun in late summer.
Still, both males and female Timber Rattlesnakes overwinter in limestone dens.
The venom of Timber Rattlesnakes can be deadly in high doses, but the snake rarely injects sufficient venom to kill humans in the cases of rare bites.
Timber Rattlesnakes are also known for giving warning signs before biting as well. They might rattle their tails and they might also try to approach humans or other animals they plan on biting.
Frogs and rodents are among the common prey Timber Rattlesnakes are interested in.
3. Northern Cottonmouth
Northern Cottonmouth snakes (Agkistrodon piscivorus) have at least 30 common names such as The River Rattler, even if they don’t rattle.
This is one of the most dangerous venomous snakes in North America as it may even kill people with its venomous bite.
Before biting, Northern Cottonmouth snakes prefer to take a defensive posture as they aren’t interested in a direct strike.
Juveniles might also be less venomous than adults. You can distinguish juveniles from adult Northern Cottonmouth snakes by coloring.
Juveniles have a tan base color with dark brown patterns while adults are dark brown to black without easily-distinguished patterns.
This is an aquatic species that like to feed on fish. It also eats birds and rodents making their way around ponds and marshes, the natural habitat of the Northern Cottonmouth.
4. Western Pigmy Rattlesnake
Western Pigmy Rattlesnakes (Sistrurus miliarius streckeri) are sometimes also referred to as Southern Pigmy Rattlesnakes.
This is one of the most venomous species in Kentucky and North America.
Like other highly venomous snakes in the state, Western Pigmy Rattlesnakes have short bodies. They grow to an average size of just 20 inches.
These snakes have a base gray color with dark patterns and orange spots along the dorsal side.
Bright and dark colors are also seen on the ventral side of the species, but in different styles as dark patterns are as small as a single scale.
These snakes are more prevalent in other Southeastern states compared to their Kentucky numbers.
Non-venomous Snakes in Kentucky
Most snakes in Kentucky are non-venomous. The following species don’t have a venom gland but some may have venomous saliva.
1. Gray Ratsnake
Gray Ratsnakes (Pantherophis spiloides) are some of the most common non-venomous snakes in the state. Forests are its ideal habitat.
It prefers dense vegetation forests as this snake can also climb. It uses climbing as a means of escaping an imminent threat.
This is a black and white snake but its juveniles look completely different.
Juvenile Gray Ratsnakes have tan and light brown coloring with blotches as opposed to the mainly black uniform dorsal color.
As its name suggests, this snake eats rodents but it also eats birds and bird eggs as it climbs.
This is a snake that needs to suffocate its prey before swallowing it. This is achieved through constriction.
2. Common Garter Snake
A black, green, or gray base color is specific to many Common Garter Snakes (Thamnophis sirtalis). Contrasting stripes on the dorsal side which are yellow, orange, or white are distinguished on this species.
Common Garter Snakes are among the frequently-encountered snakes with venomous saliva in Kentucky.
In theory, this is not a venomous snake as it lacks a true venom gland. However, its venomous saliva is sufficient to overpower very small vertebrates.
This is a snake species that like to live next to ponds and other water sources. It immediately moves away from polluted water, on the other hand.
Its habitat allows the Common Garter Snake to eat fish, as well as birds, mice, and slugs.
These snakes have also been found to eat juvenile snakes of other species.
3. Common Watersnake
Common Watersnakes (Nerodia sipedon) are among the frequent aquatic species of non-venomous snakes in Kentucky.
It’s also one of the most common large species of snakes in the state as it regularly measures more than 4 feet.
In their juvenile days, Common Watersnakes bear some resembling venomous Cottonmouths and may be killed by people as a result.
They have light brown coloring and wide brown crossbands. Adult Common Watersnakes in the state tend to be darker and they may even be black.
While a large snake, the common nature of the species also exposes it to many predators.
Its juvenile days mark the period of its life when the species is most exposed to the fox, raccoon, and other snake species predation.
4. Ring-necked Snake
Ring-necked snakes (Diadophis punctatus) are among the most common species in flatland forests.
This is an established species that is known for its preference for various shaded places up to an elevation of 7.000 feet.
Named after the contrasting ring behind their head, these dark snakes prefer to cover as they need plenty of moisture.
They can also hide in loose soil where they overwinter in dens. This is a species that might overwinter with other snakes.
In arid areas, the Ring-necked Snake shows adaptability. This is a species that retreats close to water sources if there’s thick vegetation for the species to hide in.
This species is known to live in colonies. Ring-necked Snakes show a tendency to live in groups of up to 100 in their habitats.
5. North American Racer
North American Racers (Coluber constrictor) share their habitat with Ring-necked snakes on flatwood terrains.
This is a species known for its dark color as these snakes are commonly black with white ventral coloring and white areas around the mouth.
North American Racer snakes are non-venomous but aggressive. This is a species that can bite at least once, although multiple bites have been reported.
Snakes of this family are further known for their signs before biting. For example, they might rattle their tails before biting.
Birds and their eggs are some of the most common foods of this species. North American Racers also eat the eggs of other snake species.
Females are seen laying eggs during the summer. They can lay up to 36 eggs after mating.
6. Eastern Milksnake
Eastern Milksnakes (Lampropeltis triangulum) are a common species in the state both in their natural habitat and in captivity as colorful pet snakes.
This species is found in suburban areas, farms, crops, and around human-populated areas.
A red-brown color is specific to this snake, along with brown nuances. White bands with black borders are also contrasting its dorsal side.
Eastern Milksnakes have a brown head and white coloring around the mouth.
Juvenile Eastern Milksnakes are known for having larger white areas around the body.
This species is named after the false belief it eats cow’s milk.
Some morphs come in gray to brown base colors with dark brown patterns that have black borders.
7. Dekay’s Brownsnake
Dekay’s Brownsnakes (Storeria dekayi) are some of the most common small snakes in the state and North America.
This species is sometimes confused with juvenile venomous Cottonmouth snakes.
However, Dekay’s Brownsakes aren’t a venomous species. This is a snake that only grows to 12 inches, at best.
It has dark brown coloring and it lives in different dry habitats up to high elevations.
The reduced size of the species, especially of its juveniles, makes Dekay’s Brownsankes a common prey for other larger snakes that eat snakes.
This species is also prey for other species such as birds and some of the largest toads in its habitat.
In turn, the species feeds on earthworms and snails.
8. Black Kingsnake
Black Kingsnakes (Lampropeltis getula) are a rare species known to eat other snakes, including those that are venomous.
This is snake species dominated by black coloring, sometimes with blue undertones.
White contrasting rings are seen all around its body.
Its dark color helps it avoid predation. But these snakes also spend most time of the day hiding either in leaf litter or in dense vegetation.
Black Kingsnakes live around woodlands, in riparian areas, and different other types of areas with plenty of foliage.
This is a snake that has adapted to eating other snakes and this makes it a natural control agent, including venomous snakes.
It eats copperheads and rattlesnakes in Kentucky. This is also a species that can eat venomous Massasassauga snakes in other nearby states.
9. Eastern Worm Snake
Eastern Worm Snakes (Carphophis amoenus) are an adaptive species found across multiple habitats, at different altitudes.
This is a snake that comes in brown, black, or black and red coloring as an adult.
Much of the lives of these snakes are unknown to humans as they spend a lot of time hiding underground.
This is a snake species known for its secretive nature as it requires moisture to survive.
It even digs deeper into the ground during the hot summer months.
Fossorial snakes such as the Eastern Worm Snake remain active until October or November before overwintering.
It prefers to hide in the ground or under leaf litter rarely being spotted above leaf litter as it tries to prevent dehydration in direct sunlight.
10. Rough Greensnake
Rough Greensnakes (Opheodrys aestivus) are some of the stereotypical species spotted on trees in woodlands. It might share the same habitat with fossorial Worm Earth Snakes, but it lives above the ground.
Snakes such as the slender Rough Greensanke are agile climbers. They go up trees where they can hide or look for small prey such as insects.
This is also a species that can swim but it might not prefer to go in the water all the time as it falls prey to species of fish.
This small snake is also common prey for other larger species which eat snakes in Kentucky.
Black Kingsnakes are an example species known for eating these small snakes and many other snakes throughout the state.
You can identify this species by its slender green body and larger head which is used to swallow prey easily.
11. Red-bellied Snake
Red-bellied Snakes (Storeria occipitomaculata) are one of the species which has a brown color in the juvenile stage.
This is a species that turns black dorsally and red ventrally as it matures. Small color changes are seen on the head of the species as it matures.
A small colored bright ring is seen behind the head of the snake, just as on Ring-necked Snakes.
These snakes live long lives but they also take a long time to mate as it takes up to a few years for them to reach sexual maturity.
While a small species, the female Red-bellied Snake gives birth to live young snakes in the summer.
Newborns are dark brown, turning light brown within days, to eventually turn dark brown and even black in adulthood.
Some of the areas where these snakes are most common are moist habitats where slugs live.
Queensnakes (Regina septemvittata) are some of the most sensitive snake species in the state. They are sensitive to habitat changes and may be used to establish water purity levels in an area.
Similarly to some Common Garter Snakes, Queensnakes primarily eat crayfish. This is only possible in the cleanest state waters.
Even small levels of pollution drive Queensnakes away. This is a species that depends on crayfish and has even adapted to consuming these species.
You can identify Queensankes by their dark green or gray-green dorsal color with dark olive green ventral stripes alternated with yellow or white ventral stripes.
The size of the species is similar to the size of most other water snakes in the state. Queensnakes grow up to a size of 21 inches and are generally docile.
13. Smooth Earthsnake
Smooth Earthsankes (Virginia valeriae) are named after their appearance and habitat. They have smooth scales and they live in the ground.
Small color variations are specific to this species.
Young Smooth Earthsnakes have a red to brown color while adults have a darker brown or brown-gray color.
A fossorial species, Smooth Earthsnakes aren’t a common sight to humans who may see them only by accident.
Some people might even confuse these snakes with earthworms themselves as they can be as short as 7 inches.
This underground snake species is widespread around Kentucky and the Southeastern US states except for Peninsular Florida.
People might spot females giving birth to live young in late summer as the species tends to be secretive for the rest of the year.
14. Eastern Hognose Snake
Eastern Hognose Snakes (Heterodon platirhinos) play an important role in the ecosystem. This is a species known to eat some of the most poisonous toads as it has adapted to survive their toxins.
The snake plays a vital role in controlling toad and frog populations.
An immune snake with too many toxins, The Eastern Hognose Snake is one of the species which also eats salamanders.
While it resists toxins, this snake also has its toxins generally known as venomous saliva.
This saliva isn’t harmful to humans as Eastern Hognose Snakes don’t have venomous glands.
They are known to have venomous saliva which overpowers small prey such as toads and frogs.
15. Plain-bellied Watersnake
Plain-bellied Watersnakes (Nerodia erythrogaster) are among the species which may be easily encountered by humans, particularly next to water sources.
This is a species known to come in a black dorsal color even if some Plain-bellied Watersnakes have a dark gray color.
As one of the species that are both diurnal and nocturnal, Plain-bellied Watersnakes are highly active in their habitat.
A good swimmer, the snake prefers to spend its time on dry land next to water and only enters the water to swim for fish or crayfish.
This species doesn’t bite humans and it prefers to escape either on water or on dry land.
It doesn’t readily bite if not roughly handled as it typically lives in areas where it can make a quick escape.
16. Prairie Kingsnake
Prairie Kingsnakes (Lampropeltis calligaster) are small to medium-sized species growing up to a size of 40 inches.
However, most snakes of this family measure around 30 to 35 inches in real-world conditions.
A type of snake found in vast open lands with minimum vegetation or on grasslands, this snake mainly feeds on rodents and lizards.
If its prairies are close to marshes, the snake might also eat smaller frogs.
Prairies Kingsnakes also live around crops, farms, and in suburban or rural areas.
These snakes spend most of their time hiding under logs, rocks, or in foliage and they rarely come out or bite.
Clutches of eggs might be found as laid by females. The female Prairies Kingsnake can lay up to 17 eggs after mating.
17. Diamondback Watersnake
Diamondback Waternsakes (Nerodia rhombifer) are among the stable aquatic species in the state which eat frogs, toads, and fish.
This snake has been unsuccessfully introduced in other areas but it tends to be a victim of diseases in other US states such as California.
Diamondback Watersnakes are known to eat the American Bullfrog, one of the largest frogs on the continent.
This snake isn’t particularly docile either. This means people should stay away from it as the snake can bite with little warning.
High levels of pain are described with its bite not because of its venom as it’s a non-venomous species but due to its long teeth that are sharper than on other snakes.
Female dark brown Diamondback Watersnakes are known to be as large as males which reach a size of up to 3 feet.
The female of the species gives birth to a very large number of live juveniles. Up to 50 young snakes can be born at a time from a single female.
18. Kirtland’s Snake
Gray, brown, and mostly black coloring is specific to Kirtland’s Snake (Clonophis kirtlandii). This is a species that only lives in the Northern parts of Kentucky.
Unlike other water snakes, Kirtland’s Snake is also less dependable on water but it does live in the proximity of water.
This is a species that has brown base coloring on the part of its body closest to its head and black coloring towards its tail. Its head is black and white.
A non-venomous species, Kirtland’s Snakes are some of the smallest in the Northern Parts of the state.
Some adults only measure 12-13 inches while only the largest snakes of the species reach a size of 18 inches.
19. Ribbon Snake
Ribbon Snakes (Thamnophis saurita) are some of the most aggressive non-venomous snakes in Kentucky. This is a species known for its contrasting stripes across its dorsal side.
Ribbon Snakes are among the few species in the state that don’t eat mammals or warm-blooded animals.
Efficient predators, these snakes are only found in areas with medium to tall vegetation where they use ambushing techniques against these prey.
Ribbon Snakes aren’t the largest in Kentucky and often fall prey to other species themselves.
Large mammals are among the most common predators of the species.
Birds often snatch these snakes as well when found in open areas away from their typical tall vegetation hiding spots.
20. Corn Snake
A red to brown or a brown snake, this species (Pantherophis guttatus) is one of the arboreal snakes in the state.
Corn Snakes can easily climb trees, but only as adults as the juveniles of the species remain on the ground at first.
The climbing abilities of these snakes only surface a few months into the lives of juveniles.
Corn Snakes are among the species that live on farms, looking for rodents. The climbing capacity of the species also allows it to go up trees where it eats birds and their eggs.
Corn Snakes might bite, even as a non-venomous species.
You should look at initial warning signs first as this snake rarely goes for a bite directly. It prefers to shake its tail as an initial warning sign.
21. Southeastern Crowned Snake
Some of the most common types of snakes in the Southeastern Coastal plains is the Southeastern Crowned Snake (Tantilla coronata).
This is a species that’s present in very small numbers in states such as Kentucky as well.
Much of the lives of the snake are unknown as it spends its days hiding under leaf litter.
A brown or red brown species with a dark head, this is one of the rare insectivore snakes of Kentucky.
It only eats small flies, spiders, and bugs as it’s a small species itself. They only measure a few inches as adults.
Southern Crowned Snakes lay eggs in the summer, soon after mating. Females lay 1 to 3 eggs at the end of the summer.
22. Banded Watersnake
This dark snake species (Nerodia fasciata) comes in gray, brown, and black coloring. All of these colors are dark making the crossbands on the dorsal side barely visible.
Banded Watersnakes are an aquatic species that can bite, but it does it rarely as it tends to escape into the water.
The snake is among the larger species in Kentucky.
Even the smallest Banded Watersnakes measure more than 20 inches while some of the larger individuals may be double in size, measuring up to 41 inches.
As Southern Crown Snakes, these snakes also mate in the summer. However, they don’t lay eggs and give birth to a higher number of live snakes.
Up to 20 young snakes can be born from a single gravid female.
23. Scarlet Kingsnake
This (Lampropeltis elapsoides) is one of the rare snakes which may occasionally be spotted around homes in the state.
Scarlet Kingsnakes are some of the most proficient predators of skinks, and they go to great lengths to get them.
These are the snakes known for looking under dead or decaying trees, in humid areas where skinks and other reptiles might be found.
Snakes of this genus come out when it rains as this is also a very good time to find various reptiles to feed on.
As climbers, Scarlet Kingsnakes are also sometimes found on roofs, on garages, or on any other man-made structure with decaying wood that attracts potential prey.
The Southeastern United States is home to Mudsnakes (Farancia abacura). This is an aquatic species still found in Kentucky.
The species doesn’t resemble any other type of snake in the state as it has red ventral coloring which continues up the sides while its dorsal color is plain black.
Large smooth scales are seen on this black species.
Mudsnakes are some of the most elusive snakes in the state as they spend most of their time in the water.
This is also a swamp species that immediately flees into vegetation whenever spotting humans.
This species might bite people if roughly handled.
One of the myths surrounding Mudsnakes also implies this species bites itself.
However, seeing one of these snakes is not common as it’s a rare species in Kentucky.
Even more, Mudnsakes are nocturnal without any changes of being spotted during the day when they hide and rest in the water.
25. Western Ribbon Snake
Western Ribbon Snakes (Thamnophis proximus) are some of the most contrasting snakes in the state apart from Mudsnakes.
This is a species with a dark gray, black, or olive green color.
Yellow or orange stripes contrast its dark body. The species has a dark head without any stripes but with a contrasting dot that matches the color of the central dorsal stripe on the species.
Western Ribbon Snakes also stand out with their wide size variation.
They can grow up to 50 inches but most are shorter. An average length of 25 to 30 inches is specific to the snakes in the state.
26. Green Water Snake
Green Water Snakes (Nerodia cyclopion) are marked by their dark green colors. The green dorsal nuance on the body of this species may appear black in shaded places.
A yellow ventral color contrasts the dark green dorsal coloring of this snake.
An aquatic species, Green Water Snakes are non-venomous. They grow to various sizes between 20 and 50 inches.
Fish and crayfish are the main foods of the Green Water Snake.
27. Pine Snake
Also known as The Gopher Snake, Pine Snakes (Pituophis melanoleucus) are associated with mixed pine and oak woodlands.
This species is still a rare sight across Kentucky but it has a presence in the Southeastern United States.
Female Pine Snakes may be spotted in the summer when they lay eggs. Sandy soils are ideal places for the females to lay large white Eggs.
28. Scarlet Snake
Black, red, and white, The Scarlet Snake (Cemophora coccinea) is one of the rare non-venomous species of Kentucky.
Scarlet Snakes don’t bite even if many people kill them by wrongly associating them with Milksnakes which are also subject to myths they drink cow’s milk.
This species is a small to medium snake in the state. It has high size variations as it grows from 14 inches up to 26 inches in adulthood.
In the heartland of Kentucky, where rolling hills and lush greenery create an enchanting backdrop, lies a hidden world teeming with wonder and mystery. Thirty-two species of snakes call this diverse and thriving state home, and as we’ve ventured into the depths of their existence, we’ve uncovered a captivating tapestry of nature’s finest creations.
But what we’ve explored here is only the beginning—a mere glimpse into the intricate world of venomous snakes. There’s a treasure trove of information waiting to be uncovered, and we invite you to delve deeper into the world of these serpentine wonders by reading more on our Venomous blog.
Here, you’ll find a wealth of knowledge and insights that will not only enrich your understanding of Kentucky’s snake population but also inspire you to become a passionate advocate for their conservation. As we’ve witnessed firsthand, these creatures are vital to the delicate balance of our ecosystem, and their existence deserves our enthusiastic appreciation.
So, whether you’re a nature enthusiast, a curious explorer, or simply someone seeking to expand their horizons, we encourage you to read more. Unearth the secrets of Kentucky’s 32 snakes and join us in celebrating the enchanting tapestry of life that thrives within the Bluegrass State. The adventure continues, and there’s so much more to discover. Dive into the world of venomous snakes, and let your passion for nature soar to new heights.