Michigan, located in the Great Lakes region of the United States, is home
to a multitude of terrestrial and aquatic wildlife. Among these creatures
are a selection of venomous water snakes that can pose a threat to humans
and pets if encountered. In this article, we’ll take a closer look at these
often misunderstood reptiles.
Identifying Venomous Water Snakes in Michigan
Michigan has two main types of venomous water snakes: the Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake and the Northern Copperhead. Both of these snake species are
pit vipers, meaning they have heat-sensing pits on their heads that help
them detect prey. Their coloration and patterns can vary, making it
difficult to identify them by sight alone. However, there are some
features that can help distinguish these venomous snakes from their
Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake
The Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake (Sistrurus catenatus catenatus) is the
only venomous rattlesnake native to Michigan. They are typically found in
wetlands, such as marshes and swamps, but can also be found in grasslands
and forests. Their coloration can range from light gray to dark brown with
a series of dark bands or blotches on their backs. The tail ends in a
small rattle, giving the snake its name. Eastern Massasaugas have a
triangular head and vertical pupils like most pit vipers.
The Northern Copperhead (Agkistrodon contortrix mokasen) is another venomous snake found in Michigan,
albeit much less common than the Eastern Massasauga. These snakes
prefer wooded areas near water sources, such as streams and ponds. Their
coloration is typically a reddish-brown or copper hue with darker bands
that create a distinctive hourglass pattern. Like the Eastern Massasauga, Northern
Copperheads have a triangular head, vertical pupils, and heat-sensing pits.
Effects of a Venomous Snake Bite
When a venomous water snake bites a human or pet, its venom causes
localized tissue damage, pain, and swelling. Systemic symptoms can
include nausea, dizziness, difficulty breathing, and in severe cases,
cardiovascular collapse. Bites from venomous water snakes should be
considered a medical emergency and require immediate attention. To treat a snakebite, the
victim should remain as calm as possible and seek emergency care at the
Protecting Yourself and Your Pets
While the chances of encountering a venomous water snake in Michigan are
relatively low, it’s essential to take precautions when exploring their
natural habitats. To protect yourself and your pets, follow these safety
- Avoid reaching into or stepping near areas where snakes might hide, such as brush piles, tall grasses, and under rocks.
- Stay on well-traveled trails and paths, avoiding off-trail excursions.
- Wear protective footwear, such as closed-toe shoes or boots, when traversing snake habitats.
- Keep pets on a leash while in snake territory to prevent them from engaging with a venomous snake.
- If you encounter a venomous snake, maintain a safe distance and allow it to move away.
The venomous water snakes of Michigan, while potentially dangerous, play a
vital role in maintaining the region’s ecological balance. With proper
respect and caution, humans and pets can coexist peacefully with these
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
1. Are there venomous water snakes in Michigan?
Yes, there are two primary venomous water snakes in Michigan: the Eastern
Massasauga Rattlesnake and the Northern Copperhead.
2. How can I tell if a snake is venomous or not?
Venomous snakes in Michigan typically have a larger, triangular head,
vertical pupils, and heat-sensing pits near their nostrils. However, it’s
essential to exercise caution around all snakes and avoid handling or
3. What should I do if I am bitten by a venomous snake?
If bitten by a venomous snake, remain as calm as possible, keep the affected area immobilized, and seek immediate emergency care at the nearest