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Illinois Garden Snakes: Identifying the Most Common Snakes in Your Garden


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Although you most likely think about Chicago when you think about Illinois, hearing that the Prairie State has more farmland and grassy fields than cities might amaze you. But it’s true! 

According to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, there are 40 native snake types. That’s right, all that open grassy field and farmland provides these crawling rodent assassins lots of room to stroll. 

Fortunately, just 4 are poisonous and aren’t extremely typical. However, we’ll ensure you can determine poisonous snakes too.

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Which snakes are you more than likely to discover in your garden? Let’s learn the most typical Illinois garden snakes.

The Most Common Illinois Garden Snakes

There are numerous snakes that call Illinois home. Being able to determine them is essential so let’s go into the snakes you are most likely to see in the state.

Eastern Garter Snake (Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis)

Eastern Garter Snake On Log
Garter snakes are among the most typical Illinois garden snakes.

©Erik Agar/

One of the most extensive snake types in North America is the garter snake. Garter snakes inhabit any location with their preferred victim: frogs, salamanders, and little invertebrates. Most garter snakes take pleasure in more damp environments with a water body close by, however a couple of are more terrestrial.

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Eastern garter snakes are thin and seldom grow longer than 4 feet long. They’re simple to determine by 3 stripes that run the length of their bodies. This types is available in numerous colors, however a lot of are brown, black, or green with yellow stripes.

For several years, researchers thought garter snakes were nonvenomous due to the fact that nobody has actually ever suffered an extreme response to a garter snake bite. That altered numerous years ago when they found that garter snakes have bigger rear teeth and extremely moderate venom. But, due to the fact that the venom is prey-specific, it’s never ever done any long lasting damage to individuals. 

While they’re not aggressive, garter snakes are extremely protective. Garter snakes’ main defense is musk — a disgusting-smelling fluid they launch when they feel threatened. Some individuals call them “stinky snakes.” 

You can generally discover eastern garter snakes near a water source throughout Illinois. They likewise conceal under wet leaf litter, rocks, rotten logs, and other covers. Because they’re more cold-tolerant than other snakes, you’ll even see them basking on a warm winter season day.

Other garter snakes in Illinois Gardens

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Eastern garter snakes aren’t the only garter snake types in Illinois. There are more! One is an eastern garter snake subspecies that just resides in the northeast corner of the state — the Chicago garter snake (Thamnophis sirtalis semifasciatus). But the other is a different types: the plains garter snake (Thamnophis radix).

Chicago garter snakes resemble eastern garter snakes, other than that their side stripes aren’t stripes — they’re broken by black bars, which look a lot like the dotted lines painted on the roadway.

On the other hand, the plains garter snake (Thamnophis radix) takes place in the northern part of Illinois. Some individuals think that eastern garter snakes and plains garter snakes in some cases hybridize, however nobody understands for sure.

Plains garter snakes have a yellow or orange dorsal stripe flanked by 2 green or yellow lateral (or side) stripes. They likewise have light yellow areas on top of their heads and black vertical bars on their lips.

Dekay’s Brown Snake (Storeria dekayi)

Snakes In Maine - Dekay'S Brown Snake (Northern Brown Snake)
De Kay’s brown snake inhabits the majority of Illinois and is not poisonous.

©Jay Ondreicka/

The just North American snake called after not one, however 2 individuals in its binomial taxonomic name, Dekay’s brown snake’s taxonomic name is Storeria dekayi and honors James Ellsworth De Kay and David Humphreys Storer. 

This snake prevails in the eastern half of the U.S., however so shy and little that the majority of people never ever see it. Adults seldom determine more than 12 inches long and are safe unless you’re a slug, snail, or earthworm.

Slender and nonvenomous, Dekay’s brown snake differs from gray to brown with a lighter dorsal stripe. On either side of its dorsal stripe are little black areas. 

Dekay’s brown snake is docile and almost never ever bites. Even if it attempted to bite you, it can’t hurt you. An extensive garden assistant, this snake inhabits the majority of Illinois. You’ll discover it concealing in leaf litter, garden beds, and even underground sometimes. 

Northern Watersnake (Nerodia sipedon)

Northern Water Snake (Nerodia Sipedon)
Northern water snakes are not poisonous and are extensive throughout Illinois.

©Steve Byland/

Adult northern watersnakes might in some cases appear like water moccasins or cottonmouths, however they are not poisonous. Northern watersnakes are extensive throughout Illinois. The types grows to about 3 to 4 feet long with thick bodies.

Northern watersnakes are reddish, gray, brown, or brownish-black with dark crossbands on the neck that change into spots on the rest of their bodies. As they grow, the snakes darken and some turn almost black. 

Semiaquatic and water-loving, northern watersnakes spend the majority of their time in and around water bodies. They consume fish, frogs, tadpoles, little turtles, and anything else they can get.

One feature of northern watersnakes: beware of their teeth. They’re not poisonous, however northern watersnakes believe that the world is out to get them. So, if you select one up for any factor, it will bite like its life depends on it due to the fact that the snake truly thinks that it does! Because they consume a great deal of marine animals, they have razor-sharp teeth that help them get and hang on. Apply those teeth to your skin and you can quickly see the issue — they’ll leave several marks.

Gray Ratsnake (Pantherophis spiloides)

Common Snakes In Georgia
Gray rat snakes are snakes that like to climb up trees and rafters.

©Gabbie Berry/

The next snake you may discover in your garden likewise likes climbing up trees and garage rafters. Some rat snakes even surprise individuals in kitchen areas!

Like other rat snakes, gray rat snakes, are fantastic climbers. They actively hunt little rodents, birds, bird eggs, and anything they can suit their mouths. 

Gray rat snakes are light gray with darker gray or brownish spots on their backs. They’re one of the couple of rat snakes that don’t darken to black in the majority of their variety. However, in northern areas, they can get as dark as eastern rat snakes. 

They grow as long as 6 feet, however a lot of are in between 4 and 6 feet long. You’ll discover gray rat snakes active throughout the day till the summertime weather condition gets too hot. Then, gray rat snakes switch to a crepuscular (early morning and night) schedule. It permits them to preserve their body temperature level while still looking for little mammals to consume.

Other Illinois Garden Snakes

Since Illinois has 40 types, the most typical nonvenomous snakes we cover here just scratch the surface area. There are numerous native king snakes, 2 hognose snake types, and 2 ribbon snakes. Here are a couple of more you might experience:

Venomous Snakes in Illinois Gardens

Illinois doesn’t have numerous poisonous snakes. What couple of reside in the state are primarily limited to the southern half or in separated pockets.

All the poisonous risk noodles in the state are pit vipers in the subfamily Crotalinae. They have loreal pits which are heat-sensing pits in between their nostrils and eyes. Pit vipers have a couple of things in typical:

  • Long, hollow, folding fangs connected to big venom glands
  • Large, triangular, or spade-shaped head
  • Heavily keeled scales
  • Vertical students that appear like a cat’s eye

None of these snakes prevail in Illinois. However, understanding how to determine them assists keep you and your animals safe from unsafe snake bites.

Massasauga (Sistrurus catenatus)

Center Frame On White Isolate: A Massasauga Rattlesnake
Massasaugas are among the tiniest rattlesnakes and just grow to about 30 inches.


One of the tiniest rattlesnakes, individuals typically error the massasauga for a juvenile of some other rattlesnake types due to the fact that of its size. The biggest adult massasauga just determines about 30 inches — less than 3 feet long!

This types is light gray with dark spots and a dark post-ocular stripe. The massasauga isn’t as heavily-built as other rattlesnakes, however still has a thick-for-its-size body that ends in a rattle.

You’re more than likely to experience a massasauga in the northern 2/3 of Illinois. It takes pleasure in bogs, damp grassy fields, old fields, and other locations that offer the cover it requires. It’s primarily diurnal however ends up being nighttime throughout the hot summertime. This snake tends to avoid human environments and isn’t typical near houses and towns. 

Timber Rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus)

Timber Rattlesnake On Rock.
Timber rattlesnakes just happen in the southern 1/3 of Illinois.


Also uncommon, lumber rattlesnakes just happen in the southern 1/3 of Illinois. They’re not aggressive and won’t bite without being stepped on or pestered. However, if they bite, it’s a medical emergency situation. Timber rattlesnakes in some cases grow to 6 feet long and can inject over 300mg of venom in one bite. 

They’re stunning snakes with a gray to brown base color, V or M-shaped markings, and a dorsal stripe that can be orange or nonexistent. In Illinois, lumber rattlesnakes can be almost black as grownups. Like numerous rattlesnakes, they have big, spade-shaped heads and a dark post-ocular stripe.

Timber rattlesnakes prevent individuals and choose forested locations with great deals of concealing locations. They don’t actively hunt, choosing rather to sit and wait on meals to come to them. This types consumes a range of little mammals and help manage the rodent population.

Copperhead (Agkistrodon contortrix)

What Does A Copperhead Snake Look Like
Copperhead snakes aren’t aggressive, however they are poisonous.

©Breck P. Kent/

Named for the copper-bronze color of their heads, copperheads prevail in the eastern half of the U.S. Copperheads typical 2 to 3 feet long and enjoy climbing up trees after cicadas, however they likewise consume mice and little rats. Their hourglass markings typically appear like chocolate kisses when seen from the side and their base color differs from light gray to pinkish brown.

This types is rather happy to live near houses and on the borders of towns. Fortunately, copperheads aren’t aggressive. However, like a lot of pit vipers, they don’t vacate the method rapidly, so you require to provide it more time.

Although they are poisonous, their venom isn’t thought about as unsafe as that of most rattlesnakes and other pit vipers.

Cottonmouth (Agkistrodon piscivorus)

1678831026 166 Illinois Garden Snakes Identifying The Most Common Snakes In Your
The cottonmouth will display its fangs if it feels threatened.

© DeBoer

Also called water moccasins, cottonmouths get their name due to the fact that their mouths are cotton-white inside. We see inside their mouths whenever they feel threatened.

Because they don’t move quickly (unless striking), a fast escape isn’t much of an alternative. Instead, they toss their mouths large open and display their fangs. However, they’re not going to chase you. Yes, we understand there are stories — however they’re simply stories. 

These snakes are the only semiaquatic viper in North America and move with dignity through the water. Their diet plan consists mostly of fish, frogs, and little mammals. 

Cottonmouths are relatively big and can reach 5 feet long, however a lot of remain smaller sized. Juveniles have comparable markings as copperheads, resulting in numerous misidentifications. However, where copperheads keep their pattern throughout their lives, cottonmouths end up being dark brown, black, or greenish-black. 

Like the other pit vipers in Illinois, cottonmouths are uncommon. You’ll just see them in the southern corner of the state.

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