Milk snakes are a type of kingsnake. It is a dominant species that eats other snakes. They are opportunistic hunters with a strong feeding response, so cannibalism is a possibility.
Most snake handlers believe that it is safer to house milk snakes separately. Cannibalism and fighting are more likely to occur if your milk snakes are different sizes or if it’s mating season.
That’s not to say that all snakes should always be housed apart, but it’s recommended. We’ll explain why milk snakes are best kept apart, and reveal which species of snake can co-habit safely.
Can You Keep Two Milk Snakes Together?
You shouldn’t keep two milk snakes in one enclosure because one snake might eat the other. This is particularly true of juvenile milk snakes.
There are many interesting myths about snakes, so you’d be forgiven for thinking that cannibalism is just another legend. However, there’s some truth in this particular statement.
Some experienced snake handlers have kept milk snakes together without any adverse consequences. For example, if the snakes are equal sizes and there are enough resources to go around, milk snakes may be able to thrive in a cohabiting situation.
However, this is the exception rather than the rule and should certainly not be attempted by a beginner snake handler. It may be cheaper to put two snakes in the same tank, but it’s also riskier.
Risks of Keeping Two Milk Snakes Together
It’s not just cannibalism you need to be aware of when keeping milk snakes together. Other hazards include the following:
Aggression and Injury
Milk snakes can be intolerant towards conspecifics (the same species as them) during mating season. Two male milk snakes might be happy living together for most of the year, but as springtime approaches, there will inevitably be signs of aggression.
Many species of snake demonstrate “conspicuous territoriality” in their behavior (i.e., marking their territory in time for the mating season).
Stress and Anxiety
Two milk snakes living together will need to share (or compete for) resources. Milk snakes can grow up to 60” long so you’d need to offer a big enclosure to accommodate two snakes.
Make sure each snake has adequate access to heat, light, water, and hide boxes. More often than not, one milk snake will be more dominant than the other, and the submissive snake will suffer.
The submissive snake may become very stressed, refuse to eat, and become ill.
Keeping snakes together can spread disease because the vivarium will get soiled quicker. It might be harder to notice and pick-up any excrement.
You shouldn’t house opposite-sex milk snakes together until the female is at least three years old. If milk snakes mate too early, this could result in serious injury.
It’s not that uncommon for milk snakes to be incorrectly sexed so you may think you’re housing two males together when, in fact, you’re accommodating a male with a female.
If you’re planning to breed milk snakes, it is advisable to keep them apart for the rest of the year. Brumating snakes before mating can prevent aggression when bringing them together.
Other Snakes that Cannot Live Together
It’s not just milk snakes that are unsuited to co-habiting. The following species pose an even more significant threat to each other:
- Black-Headed Python (Aspidites melanocephalus) – Snakes belonging to the Aspidites Genus are habitual reptile eaters, so the potential for cannibalism is high.
- Woma Python (Aspidites ramsayl) – Male woma pythons display aggression to each other throughout the entire year so should not be kept together.
- Kingsnakes (Genus Lampropeltis) – Kingsnakes prey upon small snakes and are resistant to several types of snake venom – hence their name “king.”
Can You Ever Put Two Snakes in an Enclosure?
Can multiple snakes be housed in one vivarium? This topic certainly divides opinion in the snake-handling world.
According to some herpetoculturists, all snakes (no matter the species) should be housed one-to-a-cage. But could this be an over-generalization of a very diverse species?
The notion that all snakes should be housed separately stems from the belief that all snakes are non-sociable animals.
While snakes are less sociable than most other creatures, there’s evidence to suggest that some snakes interact with other members of their species in a meaningful way.
According to BMJ, some snakes have an inbuilt tendency to aggregate (cluster together). These snakes huddle together even when there are adequate resources to go around.
This suggests that the snakes are not just huddling together to fight for resources. They might be more sociable than we give them credit for.
This certainly hints at the possibility that some snakes could benefit from being housed together. You shouldn’t try to co-habit snakes until you have experience of handling snakes.
What Snakes Can be Safely Housed Together?
Some species of snakes do not prey upon reptiles, so the chances of inadvertent cannibalism are much lower. There’s also some evidence to suggest that the following snakes frequently aggregate (come together) and are more relaxed when a partner is in their enclosure.
- Garter Snakes (Genus Thamnophis) – In the wild, garter snakes hibernate together during the harsh winter, and they may aggregate for other reasons, too. Many snake handlers believe garter snakes do better when living in pairs or groups. Garter snakes are a non-constricting species and generally would not eat reptiles in the wild.
- Brown Snake (Storeria dekayi) – These small snakes feed exclusively on earthworms and slugs, so cannibalism is very unlikely to occur. According to OUP, juvenile brown snakes aggregate (come together) even in scenarios when they are not sharing resources. This indicates social interaction may be necessary for their well-being.
- Corn Snakes (Pantherophis guttatus) – Corn snakes might eat other reptiles in the wild, but the chances of cannibalism in captivity are quite low as long as there are enough resources to go around. But do not house opposite-sex corn snakes together before 24 months (breeding age) as this could cause injury to the female snake.
Precautions When Putting Two Snakes in a Cage
It would be wrong to assume that co-habiting is the “easy option.” Although you might save a bit of space, you’ll need to spend time observing your snake in order to make sure they’re happy and healthy in their communal environment.
Saving space, time, and money shouldn’t be your primary reason for wanting to keep snakes together. If you follow these precautions, you’re less likely to encounter any issues:
Never Feed Snakes Together
Whether you’re cohabiting garter, brown, or corn snakes: never feed them in the same enclosure. Move each snake to a separate enclosure for feeding.
Snakes have a strong feeding response, and they will fight over food. Juvenile garters and corns could inadvertently eat each other when feeding.
Keep a Record
All snake handlers should keep a record of their snake’s skin shedding and feeding behavior, but it’s particularly important if you keep multiple snakes in one vivarium.
This information is useful for checking on the health and development of your snakes.
Carry out regular visual checks for signs of disease (blistered skin, trouble breathing, discharge in the mouth) and isolate an infected snake immediately.
Stay on Top of the Cleaning
Clean the enclosure regularly, and make sure you replace the water every 1-2 days. An unclean enclosure can lead to the spread of illness and disease.
Never Co-habit Different Species
Different species have very different needs when it comes to temperature, lighting, and humidity.
Determine the Sex of your Snakes
Single-sex co-habiting is recommended, unless you want baby milk snakes.
If aggression does occur, it will probably be because there are insufficient resources. Each snake should have at least two hide boxes.
Make sure each snake can access the basking light/warm side of the enclosure – or provide multiple basking lights. Ensure that the enclosure itself is big enough to house your snakes.
Regular observation is crucial to ensure the welfare of your snakes. Just because a snake enjoyed living communally as a juvenile, that doesn’t mean it will enjoy co-habiting as an adult.
If a snake is refusing to eat, moving slowly, or shedding less often, it might do better in its vivarium.
Is It Ever OK to Co-Habit Milk Snakes?
For the most part, milk snakes should be kept separately because there is a risk of cannibalism. The risk might be small, but it’s nonetheless real.
Very experienced snake handlers might be able to successfully co-habit milk snakes, but most would probably avoid doing so because the risks far outweigh the potential gains.
If you want to house several snakes in one enclosure, opt for a garter, corn, or brown snake instead. These snakes are much more tolerant of their own species and may thrive in a communal environment. Read our milk snake care guide for further species-specific information.