When encountering Michigan's snakes, it is best to leave them be - WNEM TV 5

When encountering Michigan's snakes, it is best to leave them be

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LANSING, MI (WNEM) -

Michigan is home to 18 different species of snakes, 17 of which are harmless to humans.

“Whether you think snakes are terrifying or totally cool, it is best just to leave them be,” said Department of Natural Resources Wildlife Technician Hannah Schauer.  

One snake the DNR gets many questions about is the eastern massasauga rattlesnake, the only venomous species found in Michigan. This snake is quite rare and protected as a species of special concern here in Michigan due to declining populations from habitat loss.

As its name implies, the massasauga rattlesnake does have a truly segmented rattle on its tail. It should not be confused with the other, harmless species of Michigan snakes that do not have segmented rattles but also will buzz their tails if approached or handled.

The massasauga rattlesnake tends to be a very shy snake that will avoid humans whenever possible. They spend the vast majority of their time in wetlands, hunting for mice and aren’t often seen. 

“When encountered, if the snake doesn't feel threatened, it will let you pass without revealing its location,” said Schauer. “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. 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. 

One snake that can cause quite a stir is the eastern hog-nosed snake. 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 snakes are harmless to humans.

Michigan snakes do not attack, chase or lunge at people or seek out human contact. If a snake is observed, 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.

Wondering what other kinds of snakes we have here in Michigan and how to tell the difference between them? Find out with the "60-Second Snakes" video series on the DNR’s YouTube channel.

To learn more about Michigan's snakes, visit mi.gov/wildlife (click the “Wildlife Species” button and select “Amphibians and Reptiles”).

Consider reporting any reptile or amphibian sightings to the Herp Atlas research project to help monitor amphibian and reptile populations in Michigan and protect these important residents for future generations. Visit the Michigan Herp Atlas website at www.miherpatlas.org for more information.

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